“Papers in the roadside
Tell of suffering and greed
Fear today, forgot tomorrow
Ooh, here besides the news
Of holy war and holy need
Ours is just a little sorrowed talk.” — Simon Le Bon
The defense of the ex-president in the upcoming Senate trial is based on two primary points. One of those is the president’s. He has gone through multiple legal teams because no one has been willing to take up his narrative. His narrative is that the election was stolen. That has been demonstrated overwhelmingly false. I’d love to spend a lot of time on that, but we will set that aside for now.
The second point is one that is imminently more persuasive. It is essentially that it is unconstitutional to impeach someone that doesn’t hold elected office. Since that has never happened before it is fair to question whether it should ever be able to happen. It’s a fair question that is slightly undercut by the fact that the impeachment vote happened before he left office. The Senate (Mitch McConnell) slow walked it to the point where January 20th came and went. It’s the government equivalent of the four corners offense in basketball.
The obvious retort from here is that we shouldn’t reward people for running out the clock. The Supreme Court has already done that with some of the lawsuits around the Emoluments clause. Essentially, Justice Roberts didn’t want to deal with the ex-president obviously using his office to fatten his wallet, so he stalled until it wasn’t an issue anymore. Quite simply, that isn’t justice.
However, the more important point comes down to the simple fact that we are sending a message from here on forward. The rule of law is not trivial. The rule of law has no expiration date. The rule of law doesn’t leave when someone leaves office. We have an ex-president that spent four years (or more) launching an all-out offensive against the rule of law. It’s time for the rule of law to fight back.
My very favorite unit to teach in Government was the Bill of Rights. I was very saddened when I found out that our current Government teachers don’t teach it. Supposedly, it is covered in U.S. History, but I’m skeptical about that. To me, there is nothing more important for a citizen to know than the rights the government gives them. This is not only those rights but the logical and legal limitations to those rights.
No right is absolute and freedom of speech is no different. There are legal limitations and what I might call natural limitations. Free speech is not the same as consequence free speech. If you tell a knowing lie you will suffer blowback. If you shout speech that most in society find to be morally repugnant than you will suffer blowback.
The legal limitations are simple enough. If your speech causing injury then you are liable. Period. That could be in the form of a libel or slander lawsuit. In the case of the ex-president it could be in the form of criminal prosecution. You have a right to your speech, but you also are responsible for it. If your speech incites a riot then you are partially responsible.
The question from a legal standpoint is how responsible you are. One could argue that the intent was not there to incite a riot. That is a fair argument to take because no one can prove outright that the intent was clear. Unfortunately, that counterargument falls short. For one, the ex-president has a habit of inciting violence and riling up his base. He has been warned on multiple occasions. Many of us have long maintained that this would happen at some point. It’s hardly a surprise.
More importantly, his actions after the fact negate any reasonable defense that his intent was anything other than what happened. He didn’t respond in horror. He didn’t immediately call for backup for the Capitol police. His video asking protesters to stand down was the combination of a hostage video and one where he abandoned the message half-way through. Everything he did reinforced the idea that this is exactly what he wanted to happen.
The last point asks us to consider the current political reality in comparison with what is normal. What we currently have is not normal. Normally, an ex-president has no significant power whatsoever. So, if things were normal I would get the argument that we should let bygones be bygones. I certainly felt this was the case when Bush left the White House. His power was done.
Just in the last couple of weeks a host of Republicans including Kevin McCarthy and Majorie Taylor Greene have met with him. Why? He’s the ex-president. He has no power. Except that’s obviously not the case. He still holds power and influence over the Republican party. He’s threatening to run again in 2024. He likely won’t, but he will use that threat as a way to grift people out of their hard earned money.
The ex president is a cancer on the Republican party. If they don’t excise that tumor it will kill them as a national party. Furthermore, you could claim that the Republican party is a cancer on the United States as a whole. Mind you, I know many conservatives that will read that statement of become angered. That visceral reaction is understood. However, it needs to be read carefully. It is the Republican party and not conservatism that is the cancer. Conservatives believe in personal responsibility. Conservatives believe in law and order. The problem is the Republican party doesn’t seem to want to stand up for those values. If you don’t stand up for those values that you yourself espouse then you cease to exist as any meaningful positive force in American politics.