January 27, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in the Senate is more meaningful than you think

It's forcing the Republicans to declare their true loyalties.

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It’s one thing for normal people to question the patriotism of Republicans going to the wall for Donald Trump. It’s another, however, for a president who beat him by 7 million votes amid a ballot-haul greater than any candidate in our history. Joe Biden speaks softly, but through the biggest bullhorn the world has known. With enough time and repetition, most people most of the time are going to see things his way.

In a presser Tuesday, the president gave an update on the government’s progress in containing the covid pandemic, particularly, his goal of distributing 100 million shots in 100 days. Biden stressed the importance of masks in stopping the virus. In doing so, he singled out a House Republican. “He used a very colorful term to say, ‘Wearing a mask, tell them to kiss my ear, I’m not going to wear a mask.’ Well, guess what? Not very American. The fact is, you want to be patriotic, you’re going to protect people.”

If “owning the libs” remains a goal in itself, the GOP risks getting nothing. How long can it put up with that?

In fact, Chip Roy, of Texas, tweeted “kiss my ass” in early December when, for the first time, Biden proposed a national mask mandate. In response to being singled out, the congressman said Tuesday his choice of words wasn’t very Christian but it was indeed American. That a Republican from Texas—from Texas—is defending his patriotism, instead of his patriotism being taken for granted, is really something to marvel at. Biden is putting him, and people flouting mask requirements, on the other side of safety and commonsense, but also on the other side of loving one’s country. He’s sorting Americans into baskets. One for patriots. And one for “deplorables.”

It’s tempting to say Roy is a phony. However, we’d be missing something important if we left it at that. What if he means it? He says he’s a patriot, as do the 200 other House Republicans who voted against indicting Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection against the United States. Ditto for the 45 Republicans senators who voted Tuesday against moving forward with Trump’s impeachment trial. (They lost.) Let’s assume they mean it when they say they’re fighting for the love of country. The question then becomes: what kind of country do they love? What kind of country do they protect?

Here’s the tip jar!

When framed this way, it’s clear the difference between Biden and Roy isn’t a one of “real” patriotism versus “fake” patriotism but one of competing patriotisms. For Biden, it’s love of the whole nation, the actual America, the one we can see and touch and smell. For Roy? If I were to guess, I’d say, as I have many times before (sorry!), that he’s fighting for an wholly imagined “nation” inside the real nation, a place where “real Americans” believe they are ordained by God to rule the country in His name.

The difference between these patriotisms was hard to see as long as democracy lent itself to these confederate ends. But democracy and its institutions over the last two decades, especially, has gotten in the way. It has given rights, privileges and political power to people the confederates believe are undeserving of them. Democracy, in giving rights, privileges and political power to undeserving people, is taking something away from “real Americans” ordained by God to dominate the rest of the real America. To defend democracy now is to be complicit in one’s own mugging.

The difference between these patriotisms was also hard to see as long as the Democrats trusted the Republicans to act in good faith. Before Trump ascended to power (before the Republicans looked away while a foreign government sabotaged his Democratic rival), the Democrats believed it was important to work with the Republicans in order to serve the whole country, not just its constituent parts. They appear to have learned their lesson from the era of the first Black president. They appear ready to do what they think is right, regardless of what the GOP thinks.

More importantly, I think, they have maneuvered the Republicans into a position in which they are forced to declare their true loyalties—not to the real America for which we should all stand but to a white confederacy dedicated to creating a nation by which the in-group is protected but unbound by law while the out-group is bound but unprotected. The Republicans worked to convict a Democratic president for lying to a grand jury (Bill Clinton), but they are poised to acquit a Republican president for treasonable acts. This is separate and unequal writ large. Yet this might not now be obvious had the Democrats decided to move on “for the benefit of the country.”

Even if acquitted, impeaching Trump is meaningful for another reason. Two hundred and forty-six out of 261 Republicans say, in effect, that treason’s okie-dokie if you’re a Republican. So the Democrats can safely ignore their demands, because there’s nothing but downside to negotiating with terrorists and their confederate enablers. That means the GOP, if “owning the libs” remains a goal in itself, risks getting nothing. They might actually like that. Getting nothing from the Democrats feeds into their larger story of Republican fascists being the real victims, and so on. Will that bring them back to power in time? How long can they put up with getting nothing?

John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

6 Comments

  1. Bennett on July 30, 2021 at 11:29 pm

    It’s worth noting that the Biden presidency is also getting savvier with the mainstream press’ “return-to-bad-faith” form. The distinction Biden drew–and I’m sure his team planned that bit of linguistic jiu-jitsu ahead of time–between “unity” and “bipartisanship” artfully illustrated how one can reach right past both Republican-lite enablers in the press (looking at you, Michael Shear) and Republicans reps to speak directly to voters–including non-Biden independents and Republicans seeking COVID and unemployment relief. As long as the Biden team can keep up this barrage of “re-frames,” it should perform well, whether it’s recasting Republicans as sore losers and weak-kneed whiners (see under Josh Hawley) or Democrats as the true law-and-order party (see under vigorous prosecution of seditionists) and the true tough-on-defense party (see under Biden phone call to Putin [but please, no more forever wars!]).

    The next battle that will need to be fought–and it will be a tough one–is to keep corporate donors at proper arm’s length and delivering real relief and muscle to American workers. Fortunately, the Biden administration appears to be moving in that direction. Firing Robb from the NLRB, signing the executive order to strengthen Buy American provisions (and not buy American paint jobs on Chinese products), and other pro-worker moves could play exceedingly well in redder parts of the midwest and reinforce the midwestern blue wall. No paying lip service to one of the most powerful GOTV constituencies in order to appease Wall Street tycoons, obeisance to whom has come to pay fewer and fewer dividends. I’ll even go out on a limb and suggest that some degree of economic populism is still a baseline requirement and expectation from a Democratic president and that taking economic policy advice from the Larry Summers of this world is just more bad public policy and kowtowing to the financier class.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:29 pm

      I don’t see how ignoring Summers is anything but a good thing. Thanks, Bennett!

  2. Jim Prevatt on July 30, 2021 at 11:29 pm

    What you’re writing here seems true to me because it is in fact true. Thanks John.

  3. Dominic Sarkofsky on July 30, 2021 at 11:29 pm

    This is indeed an interesting post, and I agree that the Patriotism of the American Right-wing is deeply flawed. Although, wouldn’t you consider our own Patriotism to be similar to the Right’s? The Right’s Patriotism, as you yourself elucidated, is based on a dishonest depiction of America as a Christian society based on Conservative philosophy, whereas our Patriotism is based on a more honest understanding of America as a Liberal society centered around ideas of liberty.

    America doesn’t fully fit either of those bills. Enough American politicians are non-Christian (Bernie Sanders is Jewish, Tulsi Gabbard is Hindu, Ilhan Omar is Muslim, etc.) that it is not a wholly Christian society. On the other hand, America has totally betrayed its roots as a Liberal democracy, considering the acts of Trump, Bush, McConnell, et al.

    Therefore, the Right will support any actions taken to actualize their conception of America. We will support any action to further actualize our understanding of America and American society. Neither we not the Right are Patriotic towards what America is, but what it should be (or think it should be, in the Right-wing’s case.) Neither of us love what America is.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:29 pm

      This is a great response, Dominic. I think you’re right. For me, I love what America is, warts and all, but I love what it can be more.

  4. John on July 30, 2021 at 11:29 pm

    Disagree. At first I’d never presume what someone “actually” means. This article is nothing but conjecture on both sides. Waste of a read. But it is America and everyone free to have opinion.. Though that’s challenged these days.

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