[The note immediately below this post, which I published Saturday and characterized as a “Prologue” to this post — in which I elaborated on a tangential observation appearing herein that currently-reported efforts in Congress to impeach President Trump, while warranted, were nonetheless not a wise course — engendered robust contrary reactions from several learned followers of these pages. Their thoughts are worthy of exploration in the future. What appears here is the post scheduled some days ago for release today.]
It cannot be denied that President Donald J. Trump, through not only four years of fascist behavior but in his incendiary remarks last Wednesday morning, incited the ensuing riot and storming of our nation’s Capitol. I have heard a report that the Capitol police officer killed in the attack was assaulted by rioters with a fire extinguisher. A woman rioter, perhaps truly believing that she was on a quest to save America, was shot as Capitol police defended members of Congress huddled in the legislative chamber. It no longer matters whether Mr. Trump is clinically deranged, or evil; he is now beyond all doubt not only a clear but present danger to our Republic.
How we address in the coming weeks, and in the months and years that follow, the anarchy fomented by Donald Trump will determine the future of the country we want for our children and grandchildren. Until this past Wednesday, I had supposed that President-elect Joe Biden would primarily be a transition president; given his age and conciliatory manner, I expected his term to be the chemotherapy necessary to rid our body politic of the Trump cancer, and that it would be his successor who would actually begin to rebuild our strength after the necessary period of convalescence.
Now, we don’t have that luxury of waiting. That said, I would suggest that the events at the Capitol both made clear the stark nature of Mr. Biden’s challenge and present an unexpectedly fertile opportunity. I would submit that upon taking office, he will need to straightforwardly confront the greatest domestic menace to our Republic since Abraham Lincoln, because the emotional currents exploited and exacerbated by Mr. Trump run deep. At the same time, at a point when all but the most despicable segment of Trump supporters may well be feeling a bit chastened, Mr. Biden must leverage their second thoughts and genuine patriotic spirit to coax them back toward moderation.
What should occur even before Inauguration Day probably won’t — President Trump’s immediate removal from office. While reported efforts to undertake Congressional impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump are entirely warranted, I am not a fan; they will seemingly take too long given the time remaining in the Trump term, perhaps cause Republicans to recommit to the President out of tribal loyalty or self-interest just when many are looking to distance themselves from him, and keep the spotlight on Mr. Trump. Instead, Vice President Mike Pence (who when it finally came to unambiguous Constitutional duty rather than political sycophancy, did his duty in the Congressional Electoral College vote count – for which I give him no credit) should, despite his lack of backbone, follow the provisions of the 25th Amendment, obtain the signed declaration of the requisite number of Cabinet officials that Mr. Trump is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and become Acting President until Inauguration Day. Since current reports unsurprisingly indicate that Mr. Pence has no intention of taking this route, perhaps the best we can hope for is de facto protection via informal means; query whether the military might not have already formed a tacit understanding that it will not follow Mr. Trump’s orders without Mr. Pence’s concurrence, and there seems a move among some news and social media outlets to limit Mr. Trump’s ability to broadcast his incendiary and false pronouncements. If such continues to be the case, we may be able to limp to Inauguration Day without further incident, save Mr. Trump’s inevitable continuing promiscuous use of the presidential pardon power.
I do harbor hopes, given the changing sentiments caused by the storming of the Capitol, that the coordination of the respective Biden health, diplomatic and defense teams with their outgoing Trump Administration counterparts will be facilitated to speed the Biden Administration’s COVID response, and to communicate to the global community – allies and adversaries alike — that we are steadying our affairs of state and are not to be discounted during the remainder to the Trump term.
Presidents need to shrewdly play the cards they inherit. If advising Mr. Biden, I would suggest that to be effective, his leadership of our nation will need to effectively and simultaneously strike two complementary but very different tones. The primary theme continues to be that of reconciliation: continuing testaments to America’s strength and the fundamental goodness of its people, with emphasis on a more aggressive and cohesive health and economic response to the Covid crisis, racism, the environment, infrastructure, strengthening of foreign alliances, and plans to provide opportunity to those desperate and depressed parts of the nation (importantly, including those areas whose citizens primarily supported Mr. Trump). In these pursuits, a closely divided Congress controlled by Democrats will arguably enable Mr. Biden to make progress by finding common ground with moderates of both parties, navigating between the obstructionism of Republican radicals and unrealistic expectations of Democratic progressives.
At the same time, Mr. Biden must make clear not only by word but in action that seditious activity will not be tolerated. In his Inaugural Address, he should explicitly state:
- Donald Trump lied to you to keep his own power. There was never any valid dispute regarding the outcome of the election, as declared by election officials of sovereign states of both parties and affirmed by judges of all political philosophies across the country. Both Donald Trump and his enablers in Congress that sought to disenfranchise millions of voters put themselves ahead of our country, and misled those of you who trusted them. (So you thought you’d be President, Schoolboy Josh? Lyin’ Ted?)
- The Biden Administration Justice Department will, directly and through assistance to all other relevant authorities, be investigating the storming of the Capitol and, where the evidence warrants prosecution, will pursue to the full extent of the law all individuals that in any manner participated in or contributed to the events of January 6. (Are you listening, Donald? Rudy? Donny? Rioters, including those responsible for the death of the Capitol Police officer?)
- That he will ask Congress to pass a domestic terrorism law.
- That the Biden Administration will be forming a bipartisan commission to consider circumstances in which social media providers should be held accountable for false content disseminated through their facilities without limiting Americans’ right of free speech. (I haven’t explored the nuances of this, but I have heard knowledgeable experts such as journalist Kara Swisher indicate that it may be possible to reconcile these potentially competing interests. Such legislation will obviously need to be conscientiously considered and crafted; potential Co-Chairs coming to mind would be Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Mitt Romney.)
I concede that I’ve laid out no easy task for our future president: suggesting that he thread the needle between amicable national reconciliation and an appropriately robust defense of the Republic. Although by all accounts, Abraham Lincoln was, like Mr. Biden, a kindly man – we fondly recall Mr. Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address, in which he asked for malice toward none, and charity for all – he also possessed steel resolve; when his benevolent words are recalled, it is rarely noted that before uttering them he first brought about the killing of 300,000 rebels – most of whom believed in their cause as sincerely as the insurgents that invaded the Capitol. Mr. Biden must manifest a similar combination of amity and resolve. The days ahead will be difficult for him. My final piece of advice would be: look to Mr. Lincoln’s example for guidance and sustenance.