The Impeachment of Donald Trump Is Necessary, But Insufficient

Justice will require an unapologetic rendering of the truth.

On Monday, House Democrats introduced an article of impeachment against Donald Trump for incitement of insurrection. According to a report at Politico, there are already 218 cosponsors, which means that when it is brought up for a vote on Wednesday, it will pass. Trump will go down in history as the first president to be impeached twice.

What happens next is still to be determined. Mitch McConnell will be the Senate Majority Leader until the two new Democratic senators from Georgia are sworn in later this month. As required, he has agreed to hold a Senate trial, but insists on waiting until after Biden’s inauguration to do so. Arguments are being made for various ways to handle this unprecedented situation. 

All of this comes as the country tries to reckon with the best way to hold Trump and his enablers accountable. Congressional Republicans who helped incite the insurrection are being shunned by businesses and many of their constituents, while those who can be easily identified from videos of the violence are being arrested. But major questions remain about who was involved in coordinating the attempted coup – and those questions must be answered.

Among Republicans who acknowledge the gravity of the situation, one of the most common responses is “whataboutism,” which the dictionary defines as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counteraccusation or raising a different issue.” 

Claiming that both sides do it, the insurrection is being compared to the protests against police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Of course, the stated goal of those protests was to end the killing of innocent black people, while the stated goal of the insurrection was to overturn an election—a direct attack on democracy. 

But that version of whataboutism also fails to recognize that even the president’s acting Secretary Homeland Security acknowledged that white supremacist groups were responsible for much of the violence that occurred last summer. We know, for instance, that “umbrella man,” who was the first to destroy property in Minneapolis, was a member of a white supremacist group. 

Some of the same groups that participated in the insurrection at the Capital on Wednesday were inciting violence in our cities during the 2020 protests against police brutality. That is because, as history professor Shannon Smith pointed out, “Today, white supremacists hope the political chaos they contribute to will lead to race war and the creation of their own white nation.” The lies behind whataboutism keep those who believe them from dealing with that reality.

Kimberly Strassel, one of Trump’s chief enablers and a columnist at the Wall Street Journal, is among those who think Democrats should “stand down” on impeachment as a way to promote unity. When pressed by those who insist on accountability, she responded with another form of whataboutism that has gained traction on the right.

Strassel ignores that Robert Mueller documented collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 election. The special counsel clearly stated that he wasn’t able to prove criminal conspiracy, however, due at least in part to the president’s obstruction of justice. 

What we see in both of these examples of whataboutism are Republicans using the lies told by Trump and right-wing media to downplay the insurrection and claim that both sides do it. As with the president’s disinformation about a rigged election, they are attempting to put lies on the same footing with the truth in order to rob the latter of its power

That is why the impeachment of Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection is necessary, but insufficient. I am reminded of the fact that South Africa (and many other countries) implemented Truth and Reconciliation Commissions following the ouster of an authoritarian government. Those who did so recognized that justice requires an unapologetic rendering of the truth. 

I don’t hold out much hope that the United States will implement a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But as long as the lies hold sway over almost half of the population, our democracy will continue to be threatened. That is because, as Voltaire said so presciently, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” 

In the run-up to the insurrection, Quinnipiac found that 77 percent of Republicans believed there was widespread fraud in the presidential election. They bought into the absurdities spread by Trump and his enablers in right-wing media. That is what fueled the atrocity of an insurrection. And still…the lies continue.

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