Day One Won

So, who won day one? Define winning. That’s the issue now. The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos provides the play-by-play:

A divided Senate voted on Tuesday to proceed with Donald J. Trump’s second impeachment trial, narrowly rejecting constitutional objections after House prosecutors opened their case with a harrowing 13-minute video capturing the deadly Capitol riot he stands accused of inciting.

Though the presentation stunned senators who lived through the rampage into silence, only six Republicans joined Democrats in clearing the way for the case to be heard. The 56-to-44 vote was the second indication in two weeks that Mr. Trump was all but certain to be acquitted.

“The result of this trial is preordained,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said flatly. “President Trump will be acquitted.”

That’s certainly true, and perhaps beside the point:

The nine House Democrats prosecuting the former president aimed their opening arguments squarely at Republicans who had the power to change the outcome. They cited an array of conservative legal scholars to argue that the Senate not only had the right to try a former president for official misconduct, but an obligation. And they offered a raw appeal from the well of the Senate, where a month before lawmakers had taken shelter as the pro-Trump mob closed in.

“Senators, this cannot be our future,” said Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead manager, as he fought back tears. He described being locked inside the House chamber while colleagues called loved ones “to say goodbye” and his own daughter and son-in-law feared for their lives nearby.

“This cannot be the future of America,” he continued. “We cannot have presidents inciting and mobilizing mob violence against our government and our institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people.”

Was he trying to shame them into changing their minds? That was never going happen. That would only make them angry. That would make them defiant. But maybe that was the idea. Raskin might have been conducting a demonstration for the general public. Look at what the people will defend! What kind of people would think this was fine? Or, to be gentle with them, what kind of people would say that yes, this was awful, and maybe Trump did incite this, and it is his fault, but none of that really matters now. Trump’s gone. Chill out.

Let it go? No, Trump is not on trial here. He’s gone. These Republicans are on trial:

This was a prelude to a case that Mr. Raskin and his team will begin prosecuting in full on Wednesday. They seek to prove that Mr. Trump spent his final months in office trying to overthrow the election, using baseless claims of widespread voter fraud to rally supporters in Washington and then encourage them to march to the Capitol to try to confront Congress as it met to formalize President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.

Is this the man you want to defend? He couldn’t even defend himself:

The House managers faced off against a hastily assembled legal team for Mr. Trump that offered an at-times meandering defense, before ultimately arguing that trying the former president would violate the Constitution. It began with a circuitous presentation from Bruce L. Castor Jr., who complimented the compelling case made by the managers and then launched into a speech that appeared to confuse and bore some senators in both parties.

His partner David I. Schoen was sharper, asserting that Democrats were driven by an “insatiable lust” to destroy Mr. Trump. Mr. Schoen warned that they would instead damage the country by setting a new standard to pursue former officials, despite the fact that the House voted with bipartisan support to impeach Mr. Trump before he left office.

This was the good-cop bad-cop routine. Castor blithered on and on about what a wonderful world this is. Schoen screamed at them all. They were cowards and fools. This was never going to work:

The defense’s case drew perplexed reactions from Republicans, evidently including Mr. Trump, who – barred from Twitter and out of sight in Florida – lacks the public megaphone he frequently used to weigh in on his first trial. The performance prompted at least one Republican, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, to side with Democrats on the vote to allow the trial to proceed.

“Anyone who listened to President Trump’s legal team saw they were unfocused, they attempted to avoid the issue and they talked about everything but the issue at hand,” said Mr. Cassidy, who had voted last month in favor of a constitutional objection to the trial and was the only Republican to switch his position on the matter on Tuesday. He quickly drew rebukes from the Louisiana Republican Party.

No one was surprised. Cassidy had turned on Trump. Cassidy was a dead man, but something was up:

Seventeen Republicans would have to abandon Mr. Trump to reach the two-thirds threshold to convict him. In the vote on Tuesday, the six Republicans who said the trial should go forward were Mr. Cassidy, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Still, it was clear the House managers had fulfilled their goal of forcing senators to stare down the reality of what unfolded on Jan. 6 and contemplate Mr. Trump’s role in the rampage. Mr. Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, had senators sitting silently in their chamber, reliving the assault through a slickly produced video – complete with graphic scenes of violence by the rioters, who were using the kinds of expletives seldom heard on the Senate floor.

At one point, the anguished screams of a police officer echoed through the Senate chamber as video showed that he was nearly crushed by the mob at the door. Mr. Raskin pointed out that five people, including an officer, had died.

That was hard to ignore, as was Raskin:

His appeal followed an earlier and denser constitutional and historical argument in which Mr. Raskin warned senators that the president wanted them to create a dangerous “January exception” that would undermine the founders’ system of checks and balances. Drawing from the 1787 Constitutional Convention and political logic familiar to lawmakers, he insisted forgoing a trial would send the message that future presidents are immune from wrongdoing in their final weeks in office.

“Everyone can see immediately why this is so dangerous,” he said. “It is an invitation to the president to take his best shot at anything he may want to do on his way out the door, including using violent means to lock that door, to hang on to the Oval Office at all costs and to block the peaceful transfer of power.”

The words still hung in the Senate chamber as Mr. Raskin hit play on a video montage of the assault, interspersing the president’s own speech with footage of the pro-Trump throng mobbing the Capitol and marauding through its corridors.

Raskin had them coming and going:

There were other, subtler nudges to pull Republicans into the trial. The managers repeatedly referred to conservatives’ favored approaches to analyzing the Constitution, cited legal scholars associated with the conservative Federalist Society and embraced an unlikely ally, Charles J. Cooper, an influential conservative lawyer allied with congressional leaders who made a forceful argument this week in The Wall Street Journal in favor of a trial.

In short, no one agrees with you on this, or on anything. Give it up. Or don’t give it up. Either is fine. The team at Axios sums up the strategy here:

The House managers are playing the outside game; they know it’s a long shot their prosecution will alter the final result, so they’re trying to shift public opinion. Trump’s defense is playing an inside game – they’re doing just enough to sustain the votes needed to acquit the former president.

And they’ll pay for that. Peter Baker explains why:

This was no phone call transcript, no dry words on a page open to interpretation. This was a horde of extremists pushing over barricades and beating police officers. This was a mob smashing windows and pounding on doors. This was a mass of marauders setting up a gallows and shouting, “Take the building!” and “Fight for Trump!”

As the United States Senate opened an unprecedented second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday amid the echoes of history, the House managers prosecuting him played powerful video images of last month’s deadly assault on the Capitol that made abundantly clear how different this proceeding will be from the first.

Where the case against Mr. Trump a year ago turned on what might have seemed like an abstract or narrow argument about his behind-the-scenes interactions with a far-off country, Ukraine, the case this year turns on an eruption of violence that Americans saw on television with their own eyes – and that the senators serving as jurors experienced personally when they fled for their lives.

This second impeachment trial may do what the first could not do:

This sequel trial amounts to a visceral reckoning over Mr. Trump’s very presidency. At issue in the Senate chamber over the coming days will be many of the fundamental aspects that defined Mr. Trump’s four years in power: his relentless assaults on truth, his deliberate efforts to foment divisions in society, his shattering of norms and his undermining of a democratic election.

This is what the Republicans insisted was good for America? They will pay for that:

“I would not have thought it when I was sitting on the Senate floor trying the first impeachment – it turns out that was just the opening act,” said Norman L. Eisen, a lawyer for House Democrats during last year’s trial on Mr. Trump’s pressure on Ukraine for political help. “The second one crystallizes all the anti-democratic elements that characterized Trump’s tenure and his Ukraine high crimes but brings them to an even higher pitch.”

The emotional punch of this case was evident on the Senate floor on Tuesday. Sitting in what amounted to the crime scene, the same chamber they evacuated just a month ago moments before Mr. Trump’s supporters stormed in, some of the senators watched raptly as the scenes of violence played out on the screens before them. Others turned away…

“Make no mistake about it, as you think about that day, things could have been much worse,” said Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, another of the managers. “As one senator said, they could have killed all of us.”

That’s what the mob was screaming. This was hard to defend. The specific defense was lame:

Mr. Trump’s defense team recognized the power of the other side’s presentation, with one of his lawyers, Bruce L. Castor Jr., admitting that the managers had done a good job in offering their case and even acknowledging that voters rejected Mr. Trump. But they complained that the House team was playing to emotions rather than law or reason, trying to rile up senators with inflammatory images and then twisting his words to unfairly blame the violence on Mr. Trump.

David I. Schoen, another of the former president’s lawyers, said the videotape was “designed by experts to chill and horrify you and our fellow Americans” as if an impeachment trial “were some sort of blood sport.”

“It is again for pure, raw, misguided partisanship,” Mr. Schoen added. “They do not need to show you movies to show you that the riot happened here. We will stipulate that it happened and you know all about it.”

It was too late for that:

There was no compelling video in the Ukraine case, just recordings of people testifying to events the viewers could not watch themselves. None of the senators who rendered last year’s verdict felt physically threatened by Mr. Trump’s telephone call with Ukraine’s president seeking help smearing his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“This impeachment is a more of a made-for-television event, which is something the former president surely understands,” said Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer. “Where the previous one involved many narrative strands, a long span of time and very little action, this one offers a compact story with escalating tensions and a violent conclusion.”

It also raises a broader indictment of Mr. Trump, one that may not seem quite so removed to everyday Americans who had little interest in Ukraine or saw Mr. Trump’s interventions there as politics as usual.

Now what? Baker sees this:

The case that will play out over the next week will put the most aberrant elements of Mr. Trump’s presidency on display. For four years, he played to the crowd, stirring anger, whipping up us-against-them conflicts and at times encouraging violence. He peddled dishonest versions of reality to suit his political needs and told supporters not to believe anyone but him. He undercut faith in democratic institutions and pushed boundaries other presidents would not have.

All of which played out in the months that led to the election on Nov. 3 and the Capitol siege on Jan. 6 and will now be scrutinized – how he promoted flagrantly bogus fraud complaints to try to cling to power even after voters rejected him, how he pressured state and local officials to subvert election results in his favor, how he revved up supporters to march on the Capitol by telling them their country was at stake….

That is why Mr. Trump’s defense team played its own videos on Tuesday showing some Democrats calling for his impeachment almost from the minute he took office, arguing that their current drive is just the latest chapter in a campaign of retribution, a point intended to rally Republicans behind him again.

That’s not likely now, and Robin Givhan sees this:

Excerpts from Trump’s speech earlier on that day on the Ellipse, as well as his tweets, served as time stamps and guide posts. The video was not to remind the senators of what happened, because surely the chaotic and terrifying day is embedded in their memory. It was really aimed at the public. It was meant to tug on every heart string, to elicit every fear, to horrify the public.

The video refused to let citizens forget what happened and challenged them to reckon with that day instead of burying it in history, instead of letting it become another grotesquerie that further darkens the American story.

The pictures are a punch in the gut, but the former president’s words before and during the riot gnaw at the intellect. His words bring demented logic to the seemingly illogical actions unfolding in the video. They offer an explanation for the person bashing in the windows at the Capitol with a hunk of wood, for the men clambering over the walls and the rioters marauding through the historical hallways. These actions don’t make sense for most Americans until Trump explains them. He creates the narrative. His words and their actions fit together. Are they cause and effect?

Forget the senators. The public will answer that question. That’s all that matters now:

Trump has lawyers representing him. It might be an exaggeration to say they are defending him, perhaps because he doesn’t believe he requires protection or justification…

These two lawyers, who signed on to the case less than a fortnight ago, seemed to be one with Trump’s most ardent apologists, who argue that his words shouldn’t be taken literally, that his words don’t matter, even though he is a man whose excessive verbiage propelled him to political success. Trump – as candidate and commander in chief – could speak for more than an hour at a time, tirelessly spewing grievance and anger. He had a seemingly bottomless well of vicious, mean and terrorizing words. He tweeted them, he called them into radio shows, he spoke them on video, he vomited them out at rallies. Trump’s words fed a hunger. His fans lovingly called him plain-spoken, even as his legal defenders argue that what he was speaking really had no influence on those who were listening.

The impeachment managers say Trump’s words had the power to nearly destroy our democracy. The former president’s lawyers have declared them hollow and impotent – but duly protected by the First Amendment. An impeachment trial may never satisfactorily solve that quandary.

But this much is true: Among all the words that have been spoken, there’s no evidence thus far that after a mob of Trump’s supporters caused death and mayhem at the Capitol, the former president ever uttered the words, “I’m sorry it happened.”

Trump will never say that. Republicans will insist he should never say that. And the public will walk away. That’s what winning here means. Trump will be acquitted. But the Democrats will have won. They already won.


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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