Editorial: What’s Different about Trump’s Second Impeachment?

Did we ever think we’d hear the words, “Second impeachment of the president of the United States”? 

One impeachment should be more than enough for any president. If Donald Trump had been re-elected, it’s almost certain he’d be facing a third impeachment at some point. Perhaps a fourth impeachment; after all, he achieved two in just one term. If the Senate had kept its Republican majority, and judging from how his first impeachment went, Donald Trump most likely would remain in office following any subsequent impeachments. But Trump wasn’t re-elected, and circumstances are different. 

It seems that when he incited a violent and deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, Donald Trump may finally have gone too far, even for some of his staunch supporters.

Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has signaled that he thinks Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses, and that he may (or may not) vote to convict Trump when the Senate conducts its proceedings. This is the opposite of the way he kept Senate Republicans in lockstep behind Trump during Trump’s first impeachment. 

During the House impeachment proceedings, a record 10 Republican lawmakers voted to impeach. This is in contrast to the zero Republicans who voted “yes” during Trump’s last impeachment trial. 

Major Republican donors have reportedly told Mitch McConnell that they believe Trump had crossed a line when he incited the violent and deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building last week, for which he was impeached. According to a GOP strategist, McConnell has told the donors that he is “finished with Trump.”

McConnell has indicated that he sees this impeachment as an opportunity for the Republican party to distance itself from divisive, chaotic Donald Trump. Might as well…He’s on his way out the door, anyway, and he’s clearly not a good look for the GOP if they want donations.

With McConnell signaling “permission,” several Republican senators, including Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), have indicated that they might vote to convict. In today’s Republican Congress, where lawmakers have absurdly excused Trump for the most corrupt, dangerous deeds, this is extraordinary.

As major party donors have suspended giving, and as some GOP senators are finding their courage to take the non-sycophantic route and vote their conscience against Trump, corporate America is distancing itself from Donald Trump, as well as from his Republican allies. Companies such as Goldman-Sachs, Comcast, Ford, Coca Cola, and Hallmark have suspended political contributions, following last week’s rioting at the Capitol.  

“The U.S. business community has interests fully in alignment with the American public and not with Trump’s autocratic bigoted wing of the GOP,” says Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, of Yale University’s management school. 

“…It also signals that companies are growing skittish about lawmakers who backed Trump’s false claims of election fraud, possibly depriving Republicans of public backing from business groups who until recently were the heart of the GOP’s political brand,” write Josh Boak, Brian Slodysko, and Tom Krisher of the Associated Press.

One might wonder what took them so long.

In his last days in office, Donald Trump appears to be the Incredible Shrinking President, with dwindling clout, plummeting public esteem, and, reportedly, failing finances. It even appears that his days outside a prison cell may be numbered. 

Nevertheless, we should not assume for a moment that Trump’s influence will just fade away. 

Trump’s ardent followers—including those who showed up to desecrate the U.S. Capitol building and “stop the government”— are not going anywhere (except, perhaps, prison for awhile). No one has convinced them that Donald Trump will not remain president, or that the conspiracy theories about the election and the “deep state” are false. No one whom they trust is willing to insist on the truth. 

The 139 Republican Representatives and eight senators who voted to overturn the election results in favor of Donald Trump did so after the Trump-incited mob attack on the Capitol and on Congress. Many of them still refuse to say out loud that the election was not stolen.

The QAnon conspiracy theory has now slithered into a couple of seats in Congress. Two known QAnon believers, Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, were elected to the House of Representatives this year. Among other things, QAnon supporters believe that Donald Trump has come to vanquish the Democrats and the Hollywood elite, and abolish their satanic ring of pedophiles. 

Though not all Trump supporters buy into the fallacies of Q, or would stage an insurrection, they have shown their cult-like adherence to Trumpism, and their allegiance to Trump as their savior. Cult behavior doesn’t just disappear. 

Nevertheless, in five days, Donald Trump, the instigator-in-chief and the spreader of dangerous lies and conspiracy theories… Donald Trump, for whom Republican lawmakers became cowardly clowns… Donald Trump, impeachment record holder and widely considered the worst president the United States has ever had, will no longer hold the most powerful position in the free world.

McConnell Joins GOP Representatives in Agreeing With Impeachment |
Bloomberg Quicktake: Now [2021-01-13]

Trump becomes 1st president impeached twice, Senate trial up next | ABC News WNT [2021-01-13]

Editorial: The First Amendment Doesn’t Include Freedom of Insurrection

Americans are quick to cite their First Amendment right to “freedom of speech” when they are condemned for what they have said, no matter how inflammatory or dangerous. In a nation where we have taken for granted our freedoms to disagree, criticize, and oppose, we have come to believe that our freedom to do so always supersedes the safety and protection of the targets of our expression. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a wide variety of speech, but it also has endured numerous attempts at stretching and distortion, not the least of which has occurred over the past few months.

Donald Trump’s compaign of falsehoods about the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election set off an entire movement of Trump zealots who, believing Trump’s insistent and repeated lies, refuse to accept Joe Biden as president-elect. Donald Trump’s speech, though false, might be protected by the First Amendment— unless Trump lied about the election in court, and one could prove that he knew better. Nevertheless, it has incited violent protest activities that are not protected.

It’s not news that Donald Trump is a habitual liar. Nor are we new to the way Trump regularly mocks and abuses the U.S. Constitution and American law. What we must never accept, however, is the way Trump and his loyalists have attempted to use “freedom of speech” as a cover and protection for their increasingly dangerous “self-expression.” Though the First Amendment protects hostile speech, criticism of government, and good old fashioned discourse, it does not protect speech that incites imminent insurrection and/or violence. 

The Founding Fathers clearly gave future generations far too much credit for having the good sense to elect leaders who also had good sense, as well as integrity, honesty, and a sense of duty to country over personal enrichment. They also had too much faith in future generations when they assumed that, should we ever find ourselves with a leader who proved harmful to the republic, we’d ensure that he was kept in check, or even ejected. The drafters of the Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment, extended that assumption of common sense, apparently assuming future generations would use good judgment, not only in whom they selected to govern them, but also in the words they used. 

Unfortunately, we are currently in a situation where our president has neither common sense nor integrity. Those who have given him their unwavering allegiance have demonstrated that they are similar to Trump in that way. Yet, since we have for so long insisted on our right to say anything at all, no matter how foolish, dangerous, or destructive, in the name of freedom of speech, it is difficult sometimes, to distinguish the speech that is truly protected, from the speech that is not.

“Speech provoking actions that would harm others—true incitement and/or threats—is (also) not protected,” write the editors of History.com, “but again determining what words have qualified as true incitement has been decided on a case-by-case basis.” 

Even before Donald Trump began continually (and falsely) proclaiming that he had won the election, there were his false claims surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. As Trump’s supporters found themselves in “Facebook jail” or “Twitter jail” (account suspension, or tagging of their posts as false information) for posting conspiracy theories, fake claims, and false “evidence” about the election or about the coronavirus pandemic, they left mainstream social media outlets in favor of Parler and other far-right platforms. 

These far-right platforms have been touted by the MAGAs and others as “free speech” platforms. And by “free speech,” they meant “freedom to spew as many false conspiracy theories and other unfounded garbage as possible.” They also meant “freedom to organize and support the mobbing, lynching, rioting, killing, and overthrow of any institution or individual perceived as ‘anti-Trump.’” 

We saw the culmination of their “freedom of speech” last Wednesday, as an organized mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Building with the goal of stopping Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Weeks before, on platforms such as Parler, where QAnon and other conspiracy theories thrive, members had been communicating to organize this violent insurrection, which resulted in five deaths. 

On January 6, shortly after the rioting, user “ColonelTPerez (Ret)” wrote a post on Parler that included this text: 

“Today Eric Trump said that he would physically fight with the Patriots to save Our country. Today Representative Mo Brooks, asked the Patriots to pledge our live (sic) and wealth the fight for our country. And today President Trump told us to ‘fight like hell.’ He said that Our cause was a matter of national security, and that these people behind the massive fraud must be arrested and brought to justice. And that task, falls on the shoulders of We The People… The American Patriots.

“…So over the next 24 hours, I would say, lets get our personal affairs in order. Prepare Our weapons, and then go get’ed. Let’s hunt these cowards down like the traitors that each of them are. This includes RINOs, Dems, and Tech Execs. We now have the green light. [All] who resist us, are enemies of Our Constitution, and must be treated as such.”

Parler and other far-right social media outlets are rife with posts like this, threatening violence and destruction to “traitors” who don’t honor Trump’s lies about the election, and who refuse to take part in efforts to overturn the vote (or overthrow the government). Hate groups including the Proud Boys, whom the FBI has classified as an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism;” as well as believers in conspiracy theories such as QAnon, whom the FBI has labeled as a domestic terrorist threat; have found a home on these platforms, where they feel free to spread dangerous falsehoods and incite violence. 

Following the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it didn’t take long for Twitter to ban Donald Trump for life from using the platform, citing “risk of further incitement of violence.” Other politicians, such as Ted Cruz, were suspended for their tweets encouraging Trump supporters to riot. Apple announced it would no longer support or offer the Parler app, and Amazon, the platform where Parler was hosted, announced it would no longer host it, citing its “violent content.” The PGA canceled its 2022 golf championship at Trump Golf Course, as well as placing a lifetime ban on all Trump golf courses. Senator Ted Cruz’ former 2016 campaign chair denounced Cruz for objecting to the Electoral College results, continuing to support Donald Trump’s false stance, even after the Capitol riots.

It also wasn’t long before Donald Trump, far-left politicians and pundits, and users of Parler, responded, claiming that their freedom of speech was being denied; that these companies were trying to silence them. Private companies, however, do have the right to decide who gets to use their platform, and who is too offensive or threatening to continue using it. Private companies also have the right to ban people who abuse their policies— which can include rules like, “no violent hate speech.”

Posts such as that of the above Parler user “ColonelTPerez (Ret)”, along with those of Donald Trump and others, have been interpreted without question as words of incitement. From the time he told his supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” against a “stolen” election, to his message telling the rioters “we love you,” and “you’re very special,” and beyond, Donald Trump has used words of incitement. 

Trump may deny that his words were meant to incite insurrection, and even if he does, it’s clear that his supporters interpreted them as incitement. 

According to the Freedom Forum Institute, “Although different scholars view unprotected speech in different ways, there are basically nine categories: 

  • Obscenity
  • Fighting words
  • Defamation (including libel and slander)
  • Child pornography
  • Perjury
  • Blackmail
  • Incitement to imminent lawless action
  • True threats
  • Solicitations to commit crimes

“Some experts also would add treason, if committed verbally, to that list.”

What Trump and his devotees have been saying on social media platforms meets at least three of the requirements in the list above. The fact that their words and conversations resulted in a violent coup attempt at the nation’s capitol should be all anyone needs in order to see clearly that their speech is not in the protected category. 

Threatening to “hunt down cowards” is most likely not protected speech. Organizing with the intent to violently shut down the government is not protected speech. And once you get there, defecating on the floors of the Capitol building is not protected— speech or otherwise. 

Those who call themselves “patriots,” in their attempts to overturn a fair and lawful election, defile the halls of Congress, and call for harm to anyone who isn’t loyal to Donald Trump, have abdicated their right to be called “patriots.” Their “freedom of speech” stops where everyone else’s does: when it threatens harm to others, or to American institutions. 

We can surely expect more falsehood, violence, and insurrection from these groups, in the name of free speech. Though we should take them seriously, their “free speech” activities don’t warrant respect or validation. When their “protests” become violent, they are not protesters, and they are not simply exercising their First Amendment “rights.” They are terrorists. 

How Trump’s Capitol Speech Incited an Insurrection | VICE News


Freedom of Speech: Crash Course Government and Politics #25 |
CrashCourse [2015-07-31]