America is traumatized by a singular event — the assault on the Capitol precipitated by the highest governance official in our country. Compared to earlier impeachment initiatives related to a break-in of a Watergate office, Clinton ethics or confusing Ukrainian policy entanglements, the authoritarian issues surrounding the seditious storming of the nation’s august Capitol are vastly more serious.
The one concern about Congress going forward with a second Trump impeachment that remains worrisome is the lack of knowledge of what the social consequences will be.
Will an unprecedented second impeachment de-legitimize “Big Lie” tactics and authoritarian impulses and, thus, the Trump presidency, or will there be an unleashing of anarchistic violence and social division?
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Recognizing that many sincere citizens will differ, I have nonetheless decided to join two dozen former Republican members of Congress in calling for impeachment. The underlying issue is integrity. The president over and over again asserted that massive electoral fraud took place in critical states that he didn’t carry. Actually, no evidence exists of decisive fraud in any state. Hence, every state’s governor and Secretary of State (or equivalent office) signed off on the electoral count.
Week after week, the president claimed that the election was rigged to favor his opponent. Ironically, the evidence is clear that it is the president, rather than his opponent, who attempted to manipulate the vote count.
After all, the president a) vigorously appealed to the vice president to brook the Constitution and reject the Electoral College ballots submitted to the Congress; b) personally requested with an implicit threat that the Republican Secretary of State in Georgia “find” sufficient votes to reverse the outcome in his state; and c) inspired a mob to coercively de-legitimize Electoral College ballots by attacking the citadel of American democracy.
► The latest Wednesday: Live impeachment updates as the House debates on President Trump’s second impeachment
While 8% of the Senate and approximately 28% of the House voted to reject the results submitted by a handful of states, neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives acquiesced to the president’s call to reject the vote count.
By background, a major newspaper (The Washington Post) chronicled 20,000 falsehoods that President Trump uttered or tweeted in the first 3½ years of his presidency. Our current president thus averaged projecting 15 falsehoods a day. Big or small, falsehoods of one kind or another reveal character traits inappropriate for public office.
From a historical perspective, authoritarian leaders have revealed how “Big Lies,” especially if repeated, take on a persuasive power of their own. Goebbels, the master propagandist of the Third Reich, for example, was adept at using new media as well as subliminal cues and provocative violence to manipulate the truth. By contrast, democracy requires mutual respect for individual rights. At election time, campaigns are expected to be violence-free, and candidates are expected to peacefully honor voting results.
Little is more blatantly authoritarian than for President Trump to have claimed without tangible evidence this fall that massive fraud in critical states was so pervasive that he intended to stay in office and maintain what he described as “continuity of power” even if absentee ballots establish that another candidate receives more votes. This presumptive, egocentric refusal to agree to follow America’s hallowed peaceful transfer of power tradition stands as the greatest political umbrage ever propagated in our democracy.
The end result in the 2020 election is what Donald Trump forewarned. By embracing intimidating chaos, the president cannot be considered innocent to the mobocracy he set in motion on Capitol Hill.
Jim Leach is a former 15-term Republican member of Congress. Subsequently, he taught at Princeton, Harvard and the University of Iowa and served as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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