There’s nothing like a new Democratic administration and a second Trump impeachment trial to clarify where Republicans truly stand on the values and policies they profess to believe. The impeachment verdict, with 86% of GOP senators voting “not guilty,” is the ultimate confirmation of the party’s galactic hypocrisy and the damage it has done.
Democrats have been hoping for years that, as former President Barack Obama put it during the 2012 campaign, “the fever may break.” Instead, the temperature rose higher and higher as Republicans nominated and elected Donald Trump, indulged his corruption, and acquitted him twice.
It’s an understatement to say Republicans have no credibility to lecture Democrats or anyone else. Don’t be fooled in the future when they try to claim superiority on these issues:
►Constitutional originalism. The second impeachment trial crushed that claim like a trash compactor. The House managers used historic precedent, the Framers’ words and the Constitution itself to prove it is constitutional to try an impeached ex-president. That was also the consensus of constitutional lawyers from right to left and, last week, the consensus of a Senate majority. The GOP 86% stuck with their own newfangled, Trump-friendly view of the Constitution as an excuse to vote not guilty. So no more lectures, please, on what the Founders “truly” intended on guns, religion, D.C. statehood or anything else.
Captive to a former leader
►Rule of law. No words are strong enough to express what the Republican Party has allowed Trump to get away with. Inciting a deadly riot at the seat of his own government may be the latest instance, but it was preceded by an astonishing four-year stretch of corruption and potential criminality. When Trump said in January 2016 that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” it was a joke. And yet, here we are: His base loves him more than ever, and captive Republicans — who have racked up their own astonishing four-year stretch of failing to hold Trump accountable — are continuing in that vein even though he’s gone.
►Abuse of power. There can be no worse abuse of power than inciting an insurrection against the government you lead. It makes all Trump’s other abuses seem forgettable, even though each one was outrageous, from turning the White House into a convention prop and backdrop to grabbing money Congress appropriated for military construction projects and using it for his border wall. Remember that conservatives attacked Barack Obama’s supposedly “imperial presidency” for years. Remember all of this as Republicans complain (already) about President Joe Biden’s executive orders as overreach.
►Blue Lives Matter. You don’t often see someone using an American flag to attack a police officer, but a Trump supporter did that on Jan. 6, 2021. And video of that day, shown at the impeachment trial, may have set a record for F-words on daytime TV as Trump supporters repeatedly shouted it at police trying to protect the building. Republican “caring” about cops apparently doesn’t extend to making Trump say he’s sorry for inciting the Capitol attack and failing to stop it, or making him pay in some way for the deaths and despair it caused.
Constitutional certainty:Forget C-SPAN, let’s hold a séance. As an originalist, let me give you 3/5 of my mind.
►True patriotism. The insurrection and Trump’s acquittal destroyed the mythology of conservative patriotism. Real patriotism means loving what makes America special: its diversity, its opportunity, its role in the world, and a history of peaceful transfers of power that lasted from the founding until Jan. 6, 2021. It means flag waving, not U.S. flags as weapons. It means never, ever countenancing racism or Confederate flags or violence or death threats masquerading as a new American Revolution. It means punishing a president who does countenance all that, and who told the lies to start it — not letting him off on a technicality because you fear a primary challenge.
Nothing left to pontificate about
►Value of human life. Republicans are pro-life when it comes to the unborn, because they cannot speak for themselves. But the dead of the Capitol attack can’t speak for themselves (nor can those who died in the tragically mismanaged coronavirus pandemic or because Trump and Republicans cut people off Medicaid or failed to expand it, but I digress). Where was the determination to insist on accountability for the inciter in chief, whose words and actions led to the violence? And what was “pro-life” about Republicans refusing to wear masks as they hid from the Trump supporters storming the Capitol? At least three Democrats who sheltered with them contracted COVID.
Lasting impact:Far-right extremists went mainstream under Trump. The Capitol attack cements his legacy.
►The party of Everyman. “We are a working class party now,” Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted on Election Night last year. But when Biden won, the “populist” Ivy League senator quickly turned to purveying the “populist” Ivy League president’s “stolen election” lie, which involved trying to rob millions of working-class voters of their legally cast votes and culminated in the Capitol siege. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan used to say. And look at who cleaned up during the Trump administration, starting with that well known working-class couple, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
It might have been easier to list what Republicans are still qualified to pontificate on. Why the federal deficit is a huge, huge problem? Hmmm. Never mind.
With this impeachment travesty, are they finally at rock bottom? Probably not. Trump has left plenty of acolytes to carry on the competition for new lows.
Jill Lawrence is the commentary editor of USA TODAY and author of “The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock.” Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence