Opinion | Tony Jones: Another day of infamy

Tony Jones

Tomorrow is Jan. 6, a day of infamy that will reside alongside Dec. 7 and Sept. 11 as turning points in American history. Just as those earlier days remind us of our enemies without, Jan. 6 reminded us that we have enemies within as well. But unlike those other infamous dates, where America afterwards experienced a period of political unity, Jan. 6 has only further divided us. While in the immediate aftermath, Republican politicians called out the insurrection that occurred that day for what it was, most quickly changed their tune due to political concerns. So much for country over party.

In rationalizing this change of heart, some Republicans compare the Jan. 6 insurrection to the Black Lives Matter protests. I think there’s some validity to that, as the riots that ensued after several BLM protests resulted in casualties and extensive damage to cities. But the BLM protests were a mostly decentralized movement that occasionally turned deadly and destructive. And they were foremost an attempt to bring awareness to the issue of bias in policing, something we could all see with our own eyes thanks to camera phones. Contrary to that, the Jan. 6 committee has shown that the insurrection was motivated by accusations that have been proven false and are now called the Big Lie. It was a coordinated attempt to overthrow our democratically elected government.

Sadly, that committee has also shown that it was the leader of our country that led the effort. So tomorrow should be a day of reflection for all Americans about what the unchecked power of the executive and the dereliction of duty by those whose job it is to check that power can lead to. It should also remind us about the importance of character and adherence to standards and norms when it comes to selecting individuals for consideration for higher office in the United States. 

The Jan. 6 insurrection has also shown the inadequacy of the U.S. Constitution’s impeachment clause. If there was ever a clear case for impeachment, of presidential high crimes and misdemeanors, it would be Donald Trump’s incitement and involvement in the actions that led to the insurrection. And while he was impeached with a bipartisan vote by the U.S. House of Representatives for those acts, the Senate voted for a second time to enable his misdeeds. 

The two impeachments of Trump demonstrate weaknesses in our Constitutional system. As documented in the excellent book, “Unchecked,” the attempts to remove him from office both failed, not due to a lack of evidence or reasoning for impeachment, but instead due to politics and the quest for power by both parties. Whether it was Nancy Pelosi hamstringing her impeachment team for fear of turning swing voters, who had given the Democrats control in the house, against her party, or Mitch McConnell refusing to provide members of his party the ethical leadership needed to vote against the leader of their own party, political considerations won out over securing the future of our country. One outcome of Republicans’ strategy, which held that the president can’t be impeached after being voted out of office, is the terribly dangerous precedent that there is immunity for presidential actions taken after losing an election but prior to the inauguration of the next president.

This has also shown that our constitution’s impeachment clause is effectively a paper tiger with no teeth when it comes to being able to remove a president. Trump was the poster child for impeachment due to his pressuring of a foreign power to assist in his reelection efforts and his incitement of riot and giving aid to insurrectionists. If Congress can’t find the political will to impeach such blatantly dangerous actions by a public official, it’s frightening to consider what it would take to do so. Thankfully, the Jan. 6 committee has done an admirable job of illuminating the events that led up to that particular day of infamy. It’s now up to the Justice Department to take the baton and criminally prosecute the ex-president. Doing so will set a new precedent that while removing a president from office via impeachment is hostage to political winds and basically unachievable, there are other avenues that can be taken to prosecute high-level government officials who are guilty of such egregious behavior.

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