On Wednesday, during the historic second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the Democratic prosecution making the case for impeachment used video evidence of the January 6 attack to convince the Senate of his guilt.
Trump is facing his second impeachment trial, the first time ever a US President has been impeached twice and the first time one has been impeached while not holding office, for “inciting an insurrection” following the deadly attack on the Washington Capitol building in which seven people died and lawmakers were forced to hide or flee.
The video they played is a shocking reminder of just how dark that day was for American democracy. It makes for pretty difficult viewing and features scenes of gunfire and extreme violence.
The attack is a historic break from tradition of the peaceful transfer of power between government administrations, a key part of the democratic process of which America is the modern founder.
At the time, comparisons to dictatorships in third world countries were made which, while apt, bring a derogatory tone to the debate. This is not a far off “barbaric” place, the kind of imagined other that Trump once referred to as “shit hole countries”. This is America, arguably still the world’s greatest economic, and certainly military, power.
The video above shows the former leader of a country attempting to retain control of power despite free and fair elections over which he cast doubt. These are the actions of a tyrant.
Referring to the signing in of the new administration, Trump said, “You can’t vote on fraud. Fraud breaks up everything. When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules”.
The following scenes, spurred on by Trump’s speech and his tweets, show that the insurrection was directed and deliberate and that only he can be held responsible for the trauma, injury, and lives lost.
If Republican Senators choose not to convict after seeing the video laying out very clearly the facts of the day, it will set a precedent for America that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. It will make the country a more lawless place and continue the division and hate that spurred it on in the first place.
Unfortunately, many believe that the insurrectionists have already gotten away with their crimes, despite ongoing FBI investigations to prosecute those involved. For the far-right, this date is being seen as not only a victory, but an inspiration, and will no doubt become significant in those circles as a symbol of what can be achieved.
Republican’s and the defence team that Trump have employed are framing this debate not as one about insurrection, for which there really is no defence, but more on the angle that the approach is unconstitutional.
There is actually historic precedent for post-office impeachment in the 1876 case of William Belknap. This man was Ulysses S Grant’s Secretary of War who resigned office to escape charges of corruption. Republican Senators back in the day decided that this was a constitutional loop hole and charged him anyway but it’s unclear if the historic case will have any bearing on the present one.
The Republican Party and its supporters are likely to spin the trial as an example of Democrat political correctness and obsession with dealing with issues they see as frivolous and insignificant. Let’s hope they see reason.