Everyone seems to understand that the current state of political rancor is intolerable, but no one seems able to do anything about it.
President-elect Joe Biden says all the right things about being a president for all Americans, not just those who supported him. The theme of his inauguration next week is America United.
That lofty goal becomes harder to achieve with a second impeachment of President Trump. At an emotional level, impeachment further inflames passions and turns Trump into more of a MAGA martyr. On a practical level, even if impeachment sails through the House, a Senate trial could not begin until after Biden gets sworn into office. That means senators engage in lengthy debate on the status of the past president rather than confirming the appointees that Biden needs to run the government.
The first impeachment was a complex affair regarding an issue that didn’t directly touch average Americans. Not so with the events of Jan. 6. Everyone saw the siege of the Capitol, and Trump’s words and actions put all but his most die-hard defenders in a tight spot. Consider this exchange with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican who didn’t vote to challenge the election results last week, on “Face the Nation:”
Interviewer: “You don’t believe he committed an impeachable offense?”
Blunt: “That’s not really the question.”
Interviewer: “Well, it’s my question.”
Blunt: “Well, I’m giving you my answer. Is there any likelihood that he could possibly be removed between now and January 20th?”
It’s important, in debating this issue, not to sugarcoat what happened on Jan. 6. Some of these extremists were armed and carried zip ties, a chilling reminder of what could have happened if they got their hands on an elected official.
But it’s also important to acknowledge that, even if you believe Trump is deranged and must be removed from office, that doesn’t happen with impeachment, especially this late in the game. The president can run the clock out in some sort of social media timeout.
So what, then, is the goal of impeachment?
To protect Americans from a president who is deemed unstable? Trump will be in office until noon next Wednesday.
To tarnish Trump’s legacy? He did a good job of that already.
To put Republicans on the spot? Josh Hawley did that last week.
The big question coming out of last week’s tragedy is whether the country moves forward with “malice toward none, with charity for all.” Maybe the shock of last week’s mob assault on the U.S. Capitol serves as an inflection point, a final chance to bridge the divide before the damage to democracy is beyond repair.
Impeachment doesn’t do that. It is an inauspicious start to America United.