From a historical perspective, last week's events rank up there with the 9/11 attacks and the 1814 burning of the Capitol by British troops for the sense of existential crisis and tumult they wrought on the American psyche. What the nation witnessed live on television Wednesday was an American president rallying his followers outside the White House to march on Capitol Hill while his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, urged them to convene a "trial by combat." President Donald Trump's storm troopers dutifully complied.
Inside the Capitol, Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas led a Republican attempt to block certification of a legitimate presidential election so Trump could remain in power despite having lost the Nov. 3 election. The two senators, again on national television, joined forces with the president to promote a list of lies and deliberate distortions. They helped whip up the hysteria among Trump's supporters by lending credence to his assertions that the election was stolen. Thus motivated by Hawley and Cruz, and commanded by Trump and Giuliani, hundreds scaled the walls of the Capitol, bashed in windows, forced open doors, and began their rampage while Vice President Mike Pence and Senate and House members ran for cover. Five people died, including a Capitol police officer.
What America witnessed was the attempted destruction of democracy, with Missouri's junior senator helping lead the way — at the very moment he was issuing an appeal for campaign donations. His earliest sponsor and mentor, former Sen. Jack Danforth of Missouri, now says he regrets ever having backed Hawley. One of the senator's biggest donors, businessman David Humphreys, says Hawley should face Senate censure. A Republican colleague, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, questioned the "perverse incentives" driving Hawley and told National Public Radio that soliciting donations during a Senate session was "disgusting." Publisher Simon & Schuster canceled a book deal with Hawley, citing "his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom."
The damage Hawley inflicted on American democracy won't be easily repaired. Missourians can no longer afford to keep in power a senator who demonstrates not the faintest understanding of what democracy actually means. For him, it is merely a tool for him to collect donations and climb the political ladder, perhaps to be installed in the same Oval Office where his mentor in megalomania now sits. Just as Trump must be held accountable by Congress for his actions, so must Hawley and Cruz.
But Hawley is already fighting back as if he's the one who was wronged. He called Simon & Schuster's action "Orwellian" because he was "representing my constituents" by leading the Senate debate on "voter integrity, which they (his constitents?) have now decided to redefine as sedition." He called the publisher's action a "direct assault on the First Amendment," which is as patently absurd as his claims to be representing his constituents and fighting for voter integrity. Simon & Schuster runs a business. It canceled a business deal. Hawley, who claims to be a constitutional scholar, knows fully well that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the First Amendment. His incompetence is now on full display. Do his constituents now have to worry that he is becoming unhinged under pressure, exactly as Trump has?
Trump's removal from the presidency before Inauguration Day is not just a matter of principle but of national security. That he is a menace to American democratic governance is no longer in question. He employed the full powers of his office to direct a deadly assault on Congress. The evidence in this case is irrefutable, and Republican moderates in Congress should have no problem joining their Democratic colleagues in swiftly approving articles of impeachment — making him the only president in history to be impeached twice.
Two of his most loyal Cabinet members, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, resigned over Trump's incitement of violence. "There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me," DeVos said in her resignation letter. Chao's withdrawal is doubly significant because she's the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose life was endangered during the assault.
That Trump is of dubious mental stability also is no longer debatable. Senior aides say he is obsessed with the Nov. 3 election. The attack prompted Twitter and Facebook to block Trump's accounts. Shortly after Trump's Twitter account was reinstated, he launched into yet another tirade about how the "75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me ... will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!" Trump has expressed not one whit of remorse for the damage he inflicted.
His incitement of a deadly insurrection was criminal and must be prosecuted. Even Sen. Cruz referred in a tweet to the Capitol Hill attackers as "despicable terrorists." Those words have serious legal implications. Under anti-terrorism statutes, the United States in 2011 launched a precision airstrike with a Hellfire missile to kill U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in southeast Yemen. No evidence surfaced publicly that Awlaki was ever directly involved in a terrorist attack. His alleged crime was using words to incite others to commit acts of terrorism.
Words matter. And it was Trump's words that inspired what Cruz describes as an attack by "despicable terrorists" on the Capitol. Trump waited more than three hours after the attack to urge the terrorists to withdraw. By then, their deadly damage was done. Trump also delayed and ignored urgent pleas from members of Congress to deploy the National Guard — all because he clearly agreed with what the insurrectionists were doing.
This is the behavior of a madman. Most troubling is the fact that this madman retains full control of the nation's nuclear arsenal. He must be removed from office before his worst impulses take over and he unleashes armageddon in the name of being "disrespected or treated unfairly in any way."
If Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet won't take action under the 25th Amendment, Congress must initiate impeachment proceedings. The exercise might not succeed, but at least it would tie his hands for the remaining 10 days in the hope that Pence and Trump's advisers can keep his fingers as far away as possible from the nuclear launch codes.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH