The violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was, for me, a moment of truth. Although I voted for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020, the antics of the president since the November election has been gradually eroding my support. On Jan. 6, he crossed a line.
Everyone knew the election of 2020 would be hotly contested. Just to be fair, parenthetically, had Trump won, Biden supporters were likely to have lit up every major American city in riots. So it is not surprising that Trump immediately called foul when he lost — and perhaps with some reason.
But the post-election actions of Trump and his supporters started to trouble me. I am a great believer in following the rules as the surest way to retain trust between electoral contestants. It became hard not to notice that a wave of breaches of our electoral rules was opening up. First, a group of Republican attorney generals from one set of states sued to have the electoral results overturned in another set of states not their own. You can’t file such suits in our legal system, and the courts rightly dismissed them.
This was followed by another stream of suits filled with grave allegations of widespread electoral fraud, but without sufficient evidence to support these charges. Second, even so, Trump went one breach further by trying to enlist state legislators to overturn delegate slates pledged to honor the electoral results in their states. This would have effectively destroyed the Electoral College, which was designed to ensure that presidents would be elected by voters state-by-state — and not by state legislatures.
Finally, Trump’s campaign to twist the ritual of Congress certifying the Dec. 14 Electoral College votes on Jan. 6 into a full-scale challenge of the election itself was a complete travesty of our electoral system. His telling Vice President Mike Pence to block certification of November’s presidential election outcome, when Pence’s role in this exercise is purely ceremonial, was outrageous. Pence’s refusal to do this was nothing short of heroic. For me, Trump by now had broken too many rules.
Then the storm of Jan. 6 broke. At a peaceful gathering near the White House lawn that morning, Trump exhorted his supporters to march on the Capitol two miles away — a march that quickly became violent. Whether this amounted to an incitement to riot or a call for insurrection, as some have contended, it was a grave provocation in today’s charged political climate. In so doing, Trump crossed a line.
In the words of the just resigned Attorney General William Barr, by this exhortation Donald Trump “disgraced the presidency.” In breaking all these electoral rules and then encouraging a public action to try to overturn an election, in pure political terms, Donald Trump was effectively attempting a coup d’état, a grossly illegal act.
In ancient Greece, when a leader disgraced his city, the punishment was exile. Today as an equivalent to such exile, I call on Congress to pass legislation permanently barring Donald Trump from ever again holding elective office. And, if we were a Biblical nation, this ban would extend to the entire Trump family.
The tragic heroes of ancient Greek dramas were doers of heroic deeds whose lives, the audiences were forewarned, would end badly because of a “fatal flaw.” Early on in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump revealed his fatal flaw of pride when he remarked that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody without losing any voters.
In this political wreckage to our republic, steps need to be taken to restore public trust in elections. Partly due to COVID, many states enacted widely divergent electoral procedures that naturally generated a lot of distrust. The country would be well-served by a single set of transparent electoral procedures for all elections at the federal level.
As important, this crisis offers President-elect Joe Biden the opportunity to build this trust further by having his administration govern from the middle based on an ethos of compromise that can start to heal our bipolar divide. If, on the other hand, Biden succumbs to the temptation of a partisan pride over his victory to ram through a progressive agenda, he risks tearing the country further apart.
The true tragedy of Donald Trump is that in promising to make America great again he built a following that desperately wanted to believe the promise of America could be brought back to life from economic stagnation and the corrosion of social values. But Trump’s presidency was hounded by those who opposed him from the start and sought to delegitimize him at every turn.
Despite this, he delivered on many of his promises. But tragically he has squandered what could have been an impressive Trump legacy by his petulance and pride.