Despite the compelling facts and arguments mustered by the House impeachment managers during their presentation to the Senate, it is depressingly clear that Donald Trump almost certainly will escape conviction for encouraging, inciting, allowing and then praising his mob's assault on the U.S. Capitol.
A courageous handful of Republican senators will vote to hold him accountable, but the rest remain deeply fearful of the former president and his most violent followers. The timeline of his conduct on Jan. 6, which proved his perfidy beyond any doubt, surely proved his guilt — as some will no doubt privately confess. What they also learned, however, is just how far Trump will go to punish any politician who places loyalty to the Constitution over fealty to him. He will enforce the Fuhrer principle, and they will bow down.
Over two days of exposition, the House impeachment managers showed how Trump spent months creating an atmosphere of paranoia and violence that led inexorably to the Jan. 6 attack. He has long encouraged physical intimidation of adversaries (always by other people, not him), and his thuggishness intensified during the election year: He acclaimed the Michigan "militia" gang that took over the state capitol, and he applauded the "patriots" who tried to run a Joe Biden campaign bus off a Texas highway. They did nothing wrong, he said.
So, the deadly violence that concluded his presidency should have surprised nobody. In the months and years to come, we will learn much more about the specifics of Trump's involvement with the forces behind the Capitol insurrection, from the "Stop the Steal" movement — invented by his longtime political consigliere Roger Stone — to the paramilitary Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. Those two groups, especially the Proud Boys, are also closely associated with Stone, who insists that all his political activism is "peaceful." We shall see what the Proud Boys say about all that when they're facing serious prison time.
Meanwhile, the Republicans sitting in judgment of Trump have seen just how merciless he can be toward even his most loyal lackeys when his dictatorial ambitions are thwarted. The most compelling proof of guilt put forward by the House managers concerns how Trump acted when the attack was under way. He refused to call off his followers — who believed they were acting on his orders. And he brushed aside the pleas for help from his fellow Republicans, besieged inside the Capitol and in the gravest peril.
When he learned that Mike Pence was in grave danger, Trump showed no trace of concern for his vice president, whose obsequious loyalty had become a national joke. No, Pence had committed the unforgivable offense of honoring his patriotic responsibility over Trump's interests and desires. With due diligence, Pence had established that he could not overturn the election on Jan. 6 by rejecting the electoral ballots sent by the states. It was a decision that almost cost him his life, as the Trump thugs roamed the Capitol hallways screaming, "Hang Mike Pence!"
Rather than determine whether the vice president (and his wife) were safe, Trump only pursued his obsession with stopping the electoral certification. He called Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, and Tuberville cut the call short, explaining to Trump that the mob was approaching and the cops were trying to escort Pence to a safer place. Within minutes of Trump learning that deadly mayhem had broken loose on the Hill, he tweeted out a vicious attack on the vulnerable vice president.
Yet now, knowing what they know about his character and conduct, the majority of "conservative" senators are still serving Trump. A handful of them have even violated their oath of impartiality to meet with his incompetent attorneys and advise them.
This is the craven behavior that allows dictators to triumph. Whatever comes, history will despise the cowards who let Trump escape judgment.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.