The president, rioters and those who engage in political violence need to be held accountable
There is an aspect of governing that is rarely acknowledged but that is always lurking in the background. It is always easier to cast stones and even incite violence than it is to forge consensus behind layered solutions to complex problems. Our founders understood this reality and responded to it by creating a system of checks and balances with competing centers of political power.
But no system is perfect, and one flaw in our system is that someone in high office might try to leverage the power of violence in the streets to derive political power rather than to steer society in a dispassionate, constitutional way. A leader entrusted with power might use that power against the very foundations of our democratic republic. That is what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday, and it can’t stand without consequence.
It’s been more than 240 years since this country declared independence and more than 230 years since the Constitution was ratified. And for the first time in all of that history, this week we had a president of the United States use his power to rally others and then incite them against the legislative branch of our government at a moment when that branch was fulfilling a crucial constitutional duty. That branch was counting Electoral College votes duly certified by a second layer of our governing system, the 50 states.
This isn’t about any policy Donald Trump has supported during his term in office. The issue now on the table is how our governing system ensures that it can long endure against such attacks and dissuade others from using such tactics in the future.
It should be made clear that the president committed three broad offenses against the Constitution: He incited his supporters and precipitated a riot against a coequal branch of government; he interfered with the constitutional duties of that coequal branch by interrupting the counting of Electoral College votes; and, finally, he failed to fulfill his own constitutional duties to defend Congress against assault. These offenses are why leaders in Congress are now calling for the 25th Amendment to be invoked, which would entail his own Cabinet removing the president, or for an impeachment inquiry to be opened.
With less than two weeks left in office for Trump and Cabinet officials resigning or already out of government, it is unlikely either avenue will be pursued to its conclusion. But the president shouldn’t emerge from this without consequence and without official acknowledgement of the crimes committed and the dangerous leadership provided by the commander in chief.
Congress should start with getting all the relevant facts of what happened onto the official record so that no reasonable person can later come to doubt what occurred and why. Congress should follow up with a censure of the president, a curtailment of privileges usually extended to former presidents such as national security briefings, and a criminal investigation into his involvement in the riot as well as all of his private commercial dealings while he was president.
Law enforcement action also needs to extend through every aspect of the riot. Every person involved in smashing into the Capitol building and invading the halls of democracy should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It’s a travesty of justice that only a fraction of the would-be insurrectionists were arrested on the day of the riot. Law enforcement officials need to review every minute of video surveillance of the buildings and identify each person involved. And before memories fade, grand juries need to be impaneled and depositions under oath conducted. Investigators also need to delve deeply into social media and otherwise determine who planned and carried out each aspect of this assault on our Capitol. Criminal charges then need to be filed and pursued.
Finally, there is a role for every public official and the public at large to play. Each person who cares about the future of this republic needs to practice a form of public leadership that leaves no room or tolerance for violence as a form of politics. That means not indulging in fictions about voter fraud, or offering cover for those who do. It also means a public rejection at the ballot box of those who engage in sinister politics.
We’re at an important inflection moment in our politics. It’s up to all of us whether we seize it and leave the politics of division behind even as we build for the future. We need to recognize that instigators will always be ready to concoct some string of falsehoods in order to incite others to play to emotions that run through the electorate. That’s a dangerous form of politics, and one that George Washington himself recognized as a significant danger to this country. That’s why he personally led troops to quell what has come to be called the Whiskey Rebellion in the early days of the republic.
Ronald Reagan is often quoted for having said that we are always just one generation away from losing our liberties. What this week needs to remind us is the need to remain vigilant against those who would descend our politics into violence. If there is one thing we should stand united against in this country, it is political violence.
— DALLAS MORNING NEWS