The Formalities

People often mistake formality and respect for custom as a kind of snooty rudeness. Drop the formalities. Get to the point. But ritual is continuity. Some things need to be formalized, in public. That’s why there are weddings – vows made in public. That’s why those in public office take an oath of office in public, where everyone can see and hear their promise to do the right thing. Formalities’ make things real, or at least unescapable. The message is always the same. This is the real thing. Take this seriously.

And yes, it was time to take the second Trump impeachment seriously. It was time for formality and respect for custom, and a formal procession:

The House on Monday formally delivered an article of impeachment charging former president Donald Trump with inciting the deadly insurrection at the Capitol, as Democrats prepared to use his own words as evidence against him in his Senate trial next month.

With solemn looks on their mask-covered faces, the nine House impeachment managers walked over to the Senate shortly after 7 p.m. Monday to deliver the article against Trump, setting in motion his second Senate impeachment trial.

So, now, this is the real deal. And it was time to get to work:

While no final decisions on trial strategy have been made, House managers are concentrating on building their case around Trump personally – both what he said in the run-up to the Jan. 6 attack and at a rally that day, and how his words were interpreted within the White House and outside of it, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

The impeachment managers and their advisers have been meeting daily, scouring hundreds of hours of evidence – including footage scraped from the conservative social media site Parler and other sites – to build an elaborate timeline that is being constantly updated, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal discussions.

One idea under consideration: to produce a video that highlights how the rioters reacted to Trump’s remarks that day and shows footage of the violent mob inside the building.

They want to make this real and document that reality, but the other side has other ideas:

Allies of Trump are growing bullish that as more time passes since the fatal siege, the momentum in favor of convicting the former president and permanently barring him from public office is fading.

“There are only a handful of Republicans and shrinking who will vote against him,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) who has been advising Trump on the upcoming proceedings.

There was no talk of what had happened, and the new president was busy with other things:

Trump’s coming Senate trial, which is not set to begin in earnest until Feb. 9, has ensured that the remnants of the Trump presidency are hanging over the first days of President Biden’s tenure, complicating his immediate agenda on Capitol Hill such as the confirmation of his Cabinet and passage of a massive coronavirus relief package.

Biden and his aides have assiduously avoided getting involved in the political morass of impeachment surrounding his predecessor.

He has other things to do, so he’ll leave this to others:

Senators will be sworn in as jurors Tuesday, when Trump will receive the official summons. But the official trial proceedings will be delayed until the week of Feb. 8 under a delayed timeline first proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and later approved by Biden.

A handful of Republican senators, including McConnell himself, have made it clear they would consider voting to convict Trump. But it still remains highly unlikely that at least 17 GOP senators would favor doing so.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Monday that Democrats, in pursuing impeachment against Trump, were being “sore winners” and said there were not enough Republicans who would vote to convict him.

“Why are we doing this?” he added.

That’s easy. Because this is what is done. Because this is the real thing. It was time to read the formal changes in a public ritual:

Only three Republicans were on the Senate floor Monday evening when the House managers arrived to deliver the article of impeachment: McConnell, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas.

“President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead impeachment manager, said on the Senate floor, reading the article. “He threatened the integrity of the Democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power and imperiled a coequal branch of government.”

Okay. It’s official. It’s real. One side thinks so:

House Democrats have already pulled together an extensive outline of the case and the constitutional arguments intended to rebut arguments from some Republicans that a former president cannot be constitutionally impeached, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

One item of particular interest to impeachment managers is a 10-minute video released Monday by Just Security, an online forum hosted by the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, which shows how Trump’s words were heard and interpreted by those who ransacked the Capitol, according to the people familiar with the managers’ trial preparations.

The House managers believe visuals are central in prosecuting the case against Trump, because the evidence is in plain sight and will remind senators of what they experienced that day, when the rioters got perilously close to lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence.

This is the real thing:

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) defended the upcoming second impeachment trial of former President Trump on Monday, minutes before the House’s formal transmission of the article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” to the Senate.

During an interview with MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow that will air Monday night, Schumer argued that the Senate needs to “look back” and deal with Trump’s conduct because “you can’t sweep some of these egregious things under the rug, plain and simple,” referring to Trump’s incitement of the violent insurrection at the Capitol that left five dead.

Schumer went on to torch Trump as “the worst president ever” who committed “the most despicable thing any president has ever done.”

“His act on the 6th was the most despicable thing any president has ever done. And he is the worst president ever,” Schumer said. “And you cannot just (say) ‘let’s move on.’”

Schumer is angry here, but he’s not an outlier:

A majority of Americans support the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump and want to see him convicted in the Senate and barred from holding future federal office, according to a new poll released Monday by Monmouth University.

The poll found 56 percent of Americans approve of the House of Representatives impeaching Trump for his role in inciting the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, a slight uptick compared with his first impeachment – 53 percent of those surveyed by Monmouth University in January 2020 approved.

That’s because this second one is easy to understand:

A breakdown by party identification shows the poll’s results still fall largely along partisan lines. While 92 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents support the impeachment, only 13 percent of Republicans are in favor – a modest increase from 8 percent the first time Trump was impeached last January, according to the poll.

“There is somewhat more agreement that Trump did something wrong than there was with the first impeachment,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement. “But there are still a good number of Republican stalwarts who continue to stand with the former president regardless.”

There always are:

Results from the poll showed just over half of respondents support of a conviction of Trump in the Senate, with 52 percent in favor. Many Republicans have cried foul over the impeachment proceedings, questioning the validity of putting a former president on trial. However, the Democratic impeachment managers have defended their actions, in part because a conviction could bar Trump from holding federal office in the future. Among those surveyed, 57 percent said they supported the Senate taking that action against Trump.

In short, make him go away. He was lying:

The poll found that 54 percent of those polled were “very confident” that the 2020 election was fair, an increase from 44 percent in mid-November, while a quarter of respondents said they “remain not at all confident” in the results. Although 65 percent said they believed President Joe Biden won the election “fair and square,” 72 percent of Republicans still label Biden’s victory as fraudulent. A third say they will never accept Biden as president.

A third of less than one half of all of us say that they will never accept Biden as president, and there are fewer of them every day. They may not matter much longer. The New York Times has more:

Already, unflattering new details were surfacing about Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to use his power stay in office at any cost. The Justice Department’s inspector general opened an investigation on Monday into whether current or former officials had tried to use their positions inappropriately to help Mr. Trump overturn the election outcome. The inquiry appeared to be a response to a report in The Times on efforts by a senior Justice Department official working with Mr. Trump to push top law enforcement officials to falsely and publicly use fraud investigations to cast doubt on the election outcome.

Donald has been a bad boy, but that can’t be:

With few Republicans ready to defend Mr. Trump’s actions, many have turned to arguing that the process itself is flawed because the Constitution does not explicitly say ex-presidents can be tried. Republicans have invited Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, to expound on the argument at Republicans’ luncheon on Tuesday, and some were bracing for Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, to try to force a vote to toss out the case for that reason during Tuesday’s session. Such a vote would fail, but could provide an early gauge of Republicans’ views on the trial.

“We will listen to it, but I still have concerns about the constitutionality of this, and the precedent it sets in trying to convict a private citizen,” said Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa.

She added: “He exhibited poor leadership. I think we all agree with that. But it was these people that came into the Capitol, they did it knowingly. So they bear the responsibility.”

He didn’t storm the Capitol. He didn’t bust up the place and stop Congress from that day’s work. They did that, not him. He just suggested it, and watched, and did nothing about what they were doing, and tweeted out that he loved them.

That does put Republicans in an uncomfortable spot:

That Republicans were going to such lengths to avoid discussing Mr. Trump’s actions underscored how precarious their political situation was. Few contested that Mr. Trump bears at least some responsibility for the most violent attack on the seat of American government since the War of 1812, and many privately blame him for costing them control of the House, Senate and White House. But he also remains a popular figure among Republican voters, and many lawmakers fear that he could marshal votes to turn them out of office should they cross him.

“I guess it depends on what state you’re in and what phase in your career you are,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters with a chuckle when asked what would happen to Republicans who voted to convict.

But this isn’t funny:

Mr. McConnell, who steered the president to acquittal a year ago, has largely left senators to navigate the proceeding on their own this time. He has made clear through advisers and calls with colleagues that he personally views Mr. Trump’s conduct as impeachable and sees the process as a possible way to purge him from the party and rebuild before the 2022 midterm elections. But he has not committed to voting to convict.

At least a half-dozen or so Republicans appear ready to join him if he does, but dozens of others appear to be unwilling to break from four years of alliance with Mr. Trump.

Max Boot has a few things to say about that:

When the impeachment proceedings begin in the Senate, it will not be just Donald Trump in the dock. The entire Republican Party will be on trial. And there is every reason to believe that the GOP will fail this test – as it failed every other during the past four years.

Trump’s guilt is clear – and getting clearer all the time. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the Trump campaign paid more than $2.7 million to the individuals and firms responsible for organizing the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse where Trump told his supporters to “to fight much harder” against “bad people.” At least five individuals who face federal charges in connection with the Capitol assault have said that they were following orders from the then-president.

The New York Times revealed another part of Trump’s plot against America: The then-president wanted to replace acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen with a lower-ranking official intent on using the Justice Department’s power to force Georgia to overturn its election results. Trump was only dissuaded when all of the department’s senior leaders threatened to resign. This occurred shortly after Trump himself was recorded demanding that the Georgia secretary of state find the votes needed for him to win that state.

Trump’s incitement of a violent insurrection against another branch of government is the worst wrongdoing that any president – who is sworn to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” – can commit. Members of Congress and Trump’s own vice president were lucky to escape injury in the riot that he fomented.

But wait, there’s more:

For one fleeting moment, it appeared that the shock of these events was sufficient to scare at least some Republicans straight. Ten House Republicans voted for impeachment, including a member of the leadership, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who declared, “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was almost equally scathing, saying: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

And yet the momentum to impeach Trump among Republicans is waning as rapidly as the evidence of his guilt is accumulating. “The chances of getting a conviction are virtually nil,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told CNN.

Why? This isn’t over:

To avoid having to defend Trump’s indefensible conduct, many Republicans are taking refuge in the argument that it’s unconstitutional to impeach a president who has already left office. This is simply untrue, as more than 150 legal scholars — including a co-founder of the Federalist Society! — point out. “In 1876,” they note, “Secretary of War William Belknap tried to avoid impeachment and its consequences by resigning minutes before the House voted on his impeachment. The House impeached him anyway, and the Senate concluded that it had the power to try, convict, and disqualify former officers.”

The other popular GOP argument is that impeachment is just too darn divisive. As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Sunday: “We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire.” That message would be more convincing if Rubio could argue “we didn’t start the fire.” But Trump did start the fire – and congressional Republicans provided the kindling by refusing to challenge his election lies. And now they say it’s too divisive to hold a political arsonist to account?

But these people have other things in mind:

The GOP appears more eager for retribution against Republicans who upheld their oaths of office than against a president who violated it. All 10 of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are now facing a backlash at home, with local party organizations scolding them for disloyalty and primary challengers lining up against them. Pro-Trump House members are also demanding Cheney’s ouster as chair of the House Republican conference.

The Arizona Republican Party just censured not only former senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain – who courageously supported Joe Biden – but even Gov. Doug Ducey, who supported Trump. His crime? Refusing to overturn the state’s election results.

Boot sees only one thing now:

Alexander Hamilton wrote: “The hope of impunity, is a strong incitement to sedition: the dread of punishment, a proportionably strong discouragement to it.” Republicans who want to offer Trump immunity are making themselves complicit in future sedition.

Michael Gerson puts that this way:

As we move away from the events of Jan. 6, many elected Republicans seem to be settling on a strategy of collective amnesia. Some propose to forget the unpleasant past in the cause of national “healing.” Others adduce a thin constitutional argument against the impeachment of a former president…

This party-wide retreat from memory and accountability has been symbolized by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s ritual renunciation of his initial moral sanity. When the violence was fresh, he affirmed that President Donald Trump “bears responsibility for [the] attack on Congress by mob rioters.” More recently, under political pressure, McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed: “I don’t believe he provoked it.” In the process, a whole generation of idealistic young people has been given a reliable guide to public character: Don’t be like this man.

But the facts are clear enough:

The president of the United States, with the broad approval of GOP leaders, systematically attempted to invalidate millions of votes from disproportionately minority voters. When that effort failed, Trump invited a mob to Washington, whipped up its resentments, directed it toward Capitol Hill, urged it to intimidate legislators and disrupt a constitutional process, challenged it to “fight,” and then refused to intervene while domestic terrorists hunted for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the hallways of the Capitol.

Would Republican senators still want the country to put these events behind it if twenty Capitol Police officers had been beaten to death rather than one? If Pelosi had actually been zip-tied and held hostage? If Pence had been murdered? At what point would executive incitement of a violent mob to intimidate the legislative branch meet GOP senators’ exacting standards for conviction? For what similar actions by a Democratic president would they allow bygones to be bygones?

And why do they support this sort of thing:

On the pages of newspapers and in dark corners of the Internet, a consensus is taking shape about the historical meaning of the Capitol assault. Violent radicals want to interpret it as the first shots – the Lexington and Concord – of a growing racist revolution, granted the legitimacy of sponsorship by the president of the United States. A Republican senator who votes against conviction of the president would feed this dangerous narrative and empower some of the most vicious and violent people in the United States.

That senator might die. That senator might want to argue that Trump is gone and impeachment is pointless, so forget it all, but Gerson thinks not:

The main reason we cannot throw this event down a memory hole is that the social threats that produced it are ongoing. If the Capitol attack is not fully and completely repudiated, then “January 6!” will be strengthened as a radical rallying cry. And an un-convicted Trump would do his best to ensure it. I suspect he is privately proud of the Bastille-storming performed in his honor.

That’s why a ritual of formal charges was necessary. This is real. And that’s the problem.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to The Formalities

  1. Rick says:

    First, a little Q&A:

    Q:

    Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Monday that Democrats, in pursuing impeachment against Trump, were being “sore winners” and said there were not enough Republicans who would vote to convict him.

    “Why are we doing this?” he added.

    A: For the same reason we customarily arrest lawbreakers in this country, then try and also punish them for breaking the laws that they broke.

    Because we’re a nation of laws. Because we believe in obeying the laws we spend so much time and effort to pass. Because if we don’t, then our laws mean nothing, and nobody has to obey any laws, rendering laws quaint and optional, or at least optional for corrupt people who are powerful enough to get away with disregarding them.

    Okay, you ask, but is “impeaching” a president really the same as punishing someone for “lawbreaking”?

    You’re right, it’s not exactly the same, but we do impeach for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors”, so let’s just say, as the old saying goes, it’s “close enough for government work.”

    And if going big and launching an attack on your own country is not big enough to remove you from office, we probably need to devise some other way of dissuading presidents from doing that sort of thing.

    And the good news is, we already have!

    Since he’ll already be out of town when the Senate convicts him, we can just vote to prohibit his holding any federal position in the future, which is the part that really matters anyway. If we can’t even achieve that, then what’s the point in calling ourselves “self-governing”?

    In short, if presidents can just break the law, knowing that if they fail, they can always just argue that we should let bygones be bygones, future presidents will be incentivized to do the same, without consequences.

    And THAT’S why we’re doing this — and thanks for asking, Ron!

    One could also ask of those who will vote against conviction, “Why are we NOT doing this?”

    And the answer, for them, could easily be, “Because we, as Republicans, can get away with NOT doing this?”

    Because, let’s face it, whether an illegal act is impeachable or not is a matter of opinion. Yes, it’s pretty indisputable that Trump did do what he is accused of doing, but whether there’s anything wrong with a president doing that is a matter of personal opinion, and if I decide there’s nothing wrong with doing it, nobody can deny me my opinion.

    And just as I might decide to see nothing impeachable about a president extorting an international ally to do him political favors, even putting that country at risk of being overrun by a mutual enemy, nobody can tell me that I need to believe that that same chief executive sending a lynch mob — made up of personal followers of his — to intimidate the legislative branch into illegally counting votes to keep him in office, then who’s to tell me I can’t?

    After all, voting my opinion about somebody’s unlawful behavior doesn’t break any law in itself! In fact, the last I checked, jury nullification is legal in this country!

    Or to look at the big picture, which is more important to preserve here, the continued existence of the Constitution and the country it defines, or the continued existence of the Republican party? Those senators who choose to acquit the president in this case will be choosing the latter. After all, why even have a democracy if it continually allows the wrong people to get into power?

    Did Biden and the Democrats win by use of fraudulent voting practices?

    But in fact, that misses the point. Whether they did or they didn’t, we can’t continue to allow our country to be handed over to the socialists and antifa and police-defunders and black-lives-matter crowd! Which is another way of asking, What’s the point of having a democracy if the opposition party sometimes gets its way?

    After all, as I’ve heard it said somewhere by people who sound like they know what they’re talking about, the United States of America was not created by the founders to be a democracy; we were supposed to be a Republic!

    (Whatever the hell that means.)

    But the point here is, my country, imperfect as it is, is expendable, while my party is not.

    To put that another way, we can always scrap the country and start a new one, but this time, we can make sure it’s founded on the right principles, which…

    ** ensure it be a Christian nation (or maybe it needs to be a “Judaic” Christian one, since otherwise that “Second Coming of Christ” thing won’t work?),

    ** managed by the people of the same race of the original founders,

    ** with certain select citizens imbued with the God-given right to bear whatever arms they themselves feel comfortable with,

    ** (but with nobody keeping an actual list of who bears what arms),

    ** and with other obviously inalienable basic principles to be named at a later date as we become aware of them,

    ** and all elections that come out the wrong way to be immediately overruled as fraudulent, with no fuss or bother,

    ** and all winners of rigged elections to be replaced by those of the people’s real choice.

    Although I suppose there’s a chance Trump’s Republican defenders in the Senate — who also defend the January 6th Thugs, it might be presumed — haven’t carried their reasoning out that far.

    In fact, I’d be curious to hear what the current state of their thinking is, if any.

    Rick

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