Opinion | The Shame of Jan. 6 Should Reverberate for Generations

Gail Collins: Well Bret, we’ve just got a little more than a week left of the Trump presidency. Think we’ve got time for one more impeachment?

Bret Stephens: Impeach we must, Gail, and impeach we shall. Our colleague Jamelle Bouie got it exactly right when he wrote that “a physical attack on Congress by violent Trump supporters egged on by the president demands a direct response from Congress itself.” If Congress won’t impeach and remove him from office on those grounds alone, it will undermine its place as a coequal branch of government, while licensing similar attacks by all sorts of people on government institutions in the future.

Gail: You know, there was a time that I thought — hoped, even — that once 2021 came around we’d stop agreeing about things because Donald Trump would be gone and we’d only be talking about Joe Biden.

Yet here we are. Go on.

Bret: That’s the argument I’d make to the Republican so-called institutionalists should it come to a trial in the Senate: Defend your Constitutional prerogatives against a president who demands blind loyalty from toadies like Mike Pence and then repays them with angry contempt.

Gail: Trump’s certainly making Pence look good. For the moment.

Bret: Somewhat in the way that Keith Richards used to make the rest of the Rolling Stones look sober. Not that Keith deserves comparisons to Trump. (Or, come to think of it, Mick to Mike.)

Gail: You’d like to imagine he feels some regret. But since he’s reportedly told people he wanted to call in the national guard to charge against anti-Trump protesters, I guess not.

This is a president who combines terrible behavior in reality with an imaginary world. Now he’s apparently going to the Mexican border for an I-built-the-wall victory tour. Very appropriate, since the entire wall didn’t actually get built.

Bret: He’s gotten away with it so often in the past, Gail, that I almost can’t blame him for trying. Almost.

Gail: I really regret that we’re going to be obsessed with punishing Trump at a time the country should be focused on Biden’s inauguration and his agenda for moving forward. But our current president just won’t let us be.

Bret: And he always saves the worst for last. That’s why I don’t think impeachment and conviction are enough. (Alas, removal from office probably won’t happen since the trial is unlikely to finish by Jan. 20, though Congress can also vote to bar him from ever holding federal office in the future.)

Trump should also be indicted by the Justice Department. Federal law is very specific on questions of insurrection and incitement (18 U.S. Code § 2383 and 18 U.S. Code § 373 for readers who want to look it up). If Trump’s behavior doesn’t meet both definitions, I don’t know what does. And I continue to think he also deserves to be impeached based on his efforts to overturn the results in Georgia.

Gail: I see your point, but as ex-president Trump could also be indicted in New York, where authorities have long been investigating him for possible bank, insurance and tax fraud. For that, we would welcome him back.

Bret: Weaker cases, I think, unless more solid evidence than anything I’ve seen so far comes to light. But at this point I’d be delighted if you proved me wrong.

Gail: New York prosecution has some advantages: no worries about the president prepardoning himself on the way out the door. Don’t know if that’s possible anyway, but it definitely wouldn’t work on nonfederal charges.

Bret: I’d love to hear a constitutional scholar weigh in on this — I’m sure we have a few among our readers — but the idea of a self-pardon strikes me as legally preposterous and a recipe for legal abuse by future presidents with corrupt and authoritarian tendencies. No man can be a judge of his own case, right?

Gail: New York gave the world Trump, and it’d be great if now we could send him up the proverbial river.

Bret: If The Donald spends time in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center because of some sort of financial crime, I won’t shed tears. But I prefer to see him in a tougher prison. If France can prosecute former president Nicolas Sarkozy, and Israel can put former prime minister Ehud Olmert in jail, then there’s no reason we shouldn’t do the same over a much graver set of offenses.

Gail: Sigh. You have a point.

Bret: I hope we never forget Jan. 6, 2021, as one of the darkest days in American history. Even though the loss of life was much less, it was, in a moral sense, worse than Dec. 7, 1941, or Sept. 11, 2001, when we were attacked by foreign enemies. On 1/6, we were attacked by domestic enemies, led by the president of the United States. He violated his oath of office. He slandered his vice president. He directed an attack on the Congress. He incited the sacking of the Capitol. He did nothing helpful while the barbarians were inside the gate, and even blew them a kiss on Twitter. He attempted to stop an election for the purposes of stealing it. He kept faith with the most despicable Americans among us: neo-Nazis, Neo-Confederates, the QAnon conspiracy lunatics and the morons in Viking suits. His followers killed a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick.

Had Trump gotten his way, it would have started a massive counterprotest movement. It could have sparked a civil war. It would have sent democracy into a death spiral, as Mitch McConnell rightly put it, and hastened the end of Constitutional government.

Gail: Interesting how many Republican politicians still haven’t condemned the president’s behavior. It’s time to divide the Trump supporters who are loyal (albeit deeply misguided) Americans from the ones who clearly aren’t interested in anything but their narrow goals of party/movement/personal success.

Bret: I hope many of those supporters are taking a hard look at themselves and at the kind of politics they endorsed these past four years. There were plenty of times I agreed with the administration on policy grounds. But I never lost sight of the fact that Trump was utterly unfit for office and dangerous to the country.

Gail: You were ever vigilant, as I can attest.

Bret: Now there has to be a reckoning. Trump cannot be allowed to “go quietly,” as some of my conservative friends have suggested. (It isn’t in his nature, anyway.) And 1/6 can’t be allowed to go down the collective memory hole under the phony name of “healing.” If Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy want healing, that has to begin by owning up to their complicity in Trump’s efforts to steal an election, subvert the Constitution, sow seditious falsehoods and corrupt the public mind.

Gail: … While they stand on the steps of the Capitol with their heads bowed.

Bret: Right.

In the meantime, Gail, Joe Biden just looks better and better. His Cabinet picks have mostly been solid, particularly Merrick Garland as attorney general. And his tone and bearing have been sober, restrained, moral and presidential. Can Jan. 20 get here any sooner?

Gail: Wish it could. But on the plus side, Trump says he isn’t coming to the inauguration. And if he stays huddled away at a country club somewhere, stripped of his Twitter account and holding delusional conversations with Rudy Giuliani, that may take the steam out of the would-be rebellion.

Bret: I’m going to be drinking some very fancy champagne the moment the clock strikes noon that day.

Gail: Then — State of the Union! Biden agenda! Higher taxes! More government! We can go back to the nice normal disagreements we had before we were driven by the Evil One into a duet of despair.

Bret: Nothing will make us happier, Gail, than arguing about the top marginal rate of income tax or whether to expand Medicaid eligibility. We’ll be like Titanic survivors arguing over who gets first dibs at the breakfast buffet of our rescue ship.

Gail: Before that, one last question: any presidential pardon predictions?

Bret: Rudy Giuliani? Don Jr.? With this president, anything is possible. If Hannibal Lecter donned a MAGA hat, donated his savings to Trump and offered to cook dinner, I’m sure he’d get consideration.

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