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The violent mob that besieged the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, forcing Congress to be evacuated, had not even been expelled from the building before a chorus of voices, from both outside and inside the government, was uniting around a single message: Trump must go now.
By the wee hours of Thursday morning, with administration staffers beginning to resign and President-elect Biden’s victory certified by Congress, that chorus included at least one Republican Congressman, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who posted a video explaining why Trump should be removed via the 25th Amendment.
Members of Trump’s cabinet were said to be meeting and discussing invoking the 25th Amendment, according to CBS News. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar announced she was drawing up articles of impeachment.
That’s all well and good. Trump encouraged this insurrection against our democracy and tweeted his support for the rioters while he refused to deploy the National Guard to defend the Capitol. He can’t be trusted one more hour in power. Invoking the 25th will remove him immediately (the “appeals” process takes longer than two weeks), and Congress can still impeach and convict him to make sure he never holds power again.
But it can’t end with Trump out of power. We have an active fifth column in American society that has tried to overthrow a democratic election, and it extends from the White House to the streets.
One of our two major political parties is an active participant in this. Nearly 150 Republicans in both houses of Congress objected to Biden’s victory and tried to scuttle its certification on completely fabricated grounds. U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas have appeared to encourage Wednesday’s mob violence before they made their requisite anodyne condemnations from the Capitol’s lockdown. Among the barbarians breaching the Capitol was Derrick Evans, a sitting member of the West Virginia Legislature, and Pennsylvania Sen. Doug Mastriano was apparently involved in organizing the mob.
We can hope Trump will soon be gone. In less than two weeks, he will be, and Democrats will have control of the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time in six years. The question is what to do then.
President-elect Biden has already laid out an aggressive plan for combating the coronavirus and rebuilding the economy. He’s filled out his cabinet largely with competent professionals, most of whom adhere to a conventional liberalism—the more left-leaning exceptions being U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, nominee for Interior Secretary, and Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, tapped to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget.
But Biden hasn’t said much about the very real anti-democratic threat this nation faces from Trump, his enablers in power, and his supporters across the nation. When asked before now if he would pursue criminal action against Trump, he’s only said he wouldn’t stand in the way of his Justice Department, which looks like it will be led by D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland—by many accounts a moderate consensus pick, and hardly the crusader for justice this moment demands.
We can’t have a repeat of 2008, when the incoming administration of President Obama declined to investigate George W. Bush and his administration for leading the country into the disastrous Iraq War. Obama wanted to make a gesture of bipartisanship and unity. Two years later, he lost the House of Representatives, and in 2014, lost the Senate. Mitch McConnell became majority leader, all progress stopped cold, and the stage was set for Trump to run rampant through the halls of power, lighting fires and demanding to know who called the fire department.
The fear on the left always has been that Biden will just be more of the same, that he would put his relationships with Republican senators ahead of the nation’s demand for justice, and that the Republicans would treat him with the same contempt as they did Obama.
Two things have changed. One is that, come Jan. 20, the Democrats will control the Senate and the White House, and for at least two years the Republicans will not be able to block legislation.
That in itself might have made Biden feel more comfortable being himself, to spend his political capital to truly try to be a unifying leader.
That would be a mistake, because the other thing that’s changed is the United States’ first attempted coup since the 1898 violent overthrow of the elected government of Wilmington, North Carolina, by a racist mob. Wednesday’s insurrection should force Biden’s hand.
There can be no unity when one of the two parties has demonstrated its contempt for democracy. There can be no mending of the country when those who are still breaking it have not been held to account. There can be no reconciliation with domestic terrorists who wouldn’t hesitate to use violence against us and our government again, and in fact have promised to do so.
It’s hard to watch live video and see pictures of neo-Nazis swarming the Capitol rotunda, sitting in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the well of the Senate where the votes had been counted just a short while before. It’s repulsive to see someone marching through the Capitol flying the Confederate battle flag—something that never happened even during the Civil War.
It’s also hard to watch the Capitol Police, who had plenty of warning that this event was happening, falter in the face of a violent mob of White supremacists who brought guns, explosive devices, and zip-ties. Video has emerged showing police simply letting the thugs through the security barriers, and standing by and posing for selfies with the invaders in the halls of the Capitol building. These are but the latest examples that demand a reckoning across the nation for police who have routinely taken the side of White supremacy against civil rights and democracy.
Biden won an undeniable victory and must go big and go bold to ensure that a Republican Party that would undermine democracy cannot hold power ever again. That means he must abandon “bipartisanship” or “burying the hatchet” or “moving along for the good of the country” or whatever pabulum from the last century he might use. The Republicans always would have opposed him at every step, and Wednesday’s actions, if nothing else, should serve as a wake-up call.
Protecting democracy, and indeed the future of this country, means passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would expand access to voting, restoring court pre-clearance of states with a history of racially discriminatory practices. As has been remarked before, we don’t have swing states, we have voter suppression states. And no state shows what is possible when Black people are allowed to show up to vote better than Georgia, where a concerted movement led by Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project led directly to record turnout, turning the state blue for the first time in more than 20 years and handing Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.
And speaking of voting rights, Biden and the Democrats will need to address other inequities that go back more than a century, and grant statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia so they will have voting representation in Congress.
It also means prosecuting the crimes committed by Trump and his administration in the last several years—and they are legion, going back to working with our enemies to influence our elections in 2016.
There is a legitimate debate on the policy left on whether to bring criminal prosecutions immediately or seek a complete public accounting of all this administration’s crimes, even if it means granting immunity to some of those who enabled Trump. This was an issue during South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
I think something akin to a truth and reconciliation commission is necessary, because the very nature of many criminal prosecutions, especially for federal crimes under national security statutes, means that some information is never made public. Prosecutors also sometimes do not bring forth damning evidence if it does not fit the narrow scope of a legal statute. There is appalling, antidemocratic, fascistic behavior we may never learn about for that reason.
But going down the route of openness and a full accounting can’t come at the expense of justice. The danger to our democracy is too severe, too immediate.
The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department moved in and began arresting the mob (and journalists covering it) Wednesday evening after a 6 p.m. curfew, taking over for the besieged and possibly complicit Capitol Police. The FBI is actively investigating people in the pro-Trump mob who took part in the violence. U.S. attorneys across the country have promised action.
That won’t be enough. Justice also demands reforming police. Today’s demonstrators were treated with kid gloves compared to the militarized response to Black Lives Matter protesters last summer. Police reform, traditionally under control of local and state jurisdictions, must be led and enforced at the federal level.
And our political leaders who so often publicly declare their love for our system—to the point of fetishization of its most antidemocratic elements—must realize that the moment has come to abandon a sclerotic status quo in favor of real and prompt reform. The time to act is now. Our democratic republic demands it, because every day we wait is a day we lose another piece of it.
Chris Winters is a senior editor at YES!, where he specializes in covering democracy and the economy. Chris has been a journalist for more than 20 years, writing for newspapers and magazines in the Seattle area. He’s covered everything from city council meetings to natural disasters, local to national news, and won numerous awards for his work. He is based in Seattle, and speaks English and Hungarian.