Jan 18

Some Thoughts on Impeachment

by John Bouman | 01/18/2021 10:25AM

John Bouman

John Bouman

John Bouman is the retired President of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, and a good friend of the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute.

When confronted with the case for Trump's impeachment based on his incitement of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, few of his defenders mount an actual defense. Here and there you find someone who tries to say that Trump's speech did not amount to incitement. Knowing how lame and unpersuasive that argument is, most of his defenders go to "what about" arguments. They say, "Yeah? Well, what about all the violence around the Black Lives Matter protests last summer?"

The argument, of course, is no more than an attempt to change the subject, since it does not even try to exculpate Trump.

It is not a defense to a crime to say someone else committed a crime, too. That is a political argument, not a defense. "Mom, don't punish me for trampling the flowers. Sure I did it, but Joey did it, too!"

The argument is also largely false. Without evidence, it blames a hazy villain like "antifa" or "the far left" or "George Soros" for organizing the violence that happened during the BLM protests. Note that those hazy villains are White. The argument never seeks to grapple with the racial injustice at the core of the BLM protests. Make no mistake, support for Trump is largely about race, but the argument to excuse him from impeachment interestingly avoids race, because those making the argument know they cannot win on those terms. Even for them there are too many facts involved on that front -- better to message around hazy far left villains.

But more important, in the context of impeachment, is the attempt to obscure the fundamental difference between the BLM protests and the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. Even if you assume that the argument that the BLM violence was planned in advance is true (it's not), the BLM protests were aimed at changing police misconduct and influencing decisions around racially unjust public policies and systems. None of it is alleged to be an attempt to challenge the core institutions of American republican democracy. None of the organizing, even if it included deliberate violence (it didn't), was aimed at those ends.

The insurrection at the Capitol was fostered for months, even years, by President Trump -- he would either win the election or undermine its credibility and stiff-arm our democratic norms to stay in power. The rally was organized explicitly to overturn the election. The movement of the rally down Pennsylvania Ave to storm the Capitol was urged by the President and meant to force - physically - the Vice President and the Congress to overturn the election. These goals go to the core institutions of our form of self-government: respect for the outcome of elections, peaceful transitions of power, not subjecting elected officials to threats and actual violence for performing their constitutional duties. The activity on January 6 (and the months or years laying the groundwork for it) was not a dispute over policies or public programs. It was no less than an attempt to overthrow the workings of our democracy.

The "what about..." argument against impeachment is a political ploy. But it is worse than that. Deliberately trying to equate the insurrection with a dispute over public policy that involves civil disobedience is not only an attempt to excuse it but also a position that can excuse repeated insurrections in the future. An insurrection is not a policy dispute. It is an attack on our democracy. Claiming otherwise compounds the crime. Far from excusing the President, It underscores the appropriateness of impeachment.

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