February 9, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
This is what the Senate Republicans’ impeachment lies reveal about them
Lies are the beginning, the end, and the point.
This afternoon will see the first leg of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the United States Senate. The whole journey will last about a week or so. (Roll Call has an excellent item explaining the ins and outs of the proceedings.) The House Democrats will try to prove the former president’s guilt in leading an attempt to overthrow the republic. The Senate Republicans will pretend they can’t sit in judgment, because sitting in judgement of a former president, they have said, is unconstitutional.
Let me put this as plainly as I can. The very fact that Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is happening at all, and that it will be happening over the next seven to 10 days, means it’s constitutional. Full stop. The United States Congress is the first branch of the United States government. (Its constitution, after all, is Article I of the United States Constitution.) There is no higher authority. No, the United States Supreme Court is not a higher authority, not when it comes to impeachments and trials.
The very fact that Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate is happening, and that it will be happening over the next seven to 10 days, means it’s constitutional. Full stop.
Quite literally, the Senate Republicans are saying it’s unconstitutional to prosecute a former (Republican) president, because they want it to be unconstitutional to prosecute a former (Republican) president. But the fact that a former (Republican) president is being prosecuted—starting today—invalidates the premise of their constitutional argument. Indeed, it wasn’t an argument. The truth is in plain sight. When it came to a Democratic president who lied to a grand jury, the authority of the Congress would not be denied! When it comes to a (former) Republican president involved in the attempted murder of his enemies, that authority is a bit much, don’t you think?
Gerald Ford, when he was the House minority leader during the Watergate era, famously said “high crimes and misdemeanors” are “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers them to be at a moment in history.” Same thing for the question of whether it’s constitutional to prosecute a former president. If a majority of the United States Senate (or a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate in the case of conviction) says it’s constitutional, it’s constitutional ipso facto. So, again, with feeling: Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the United States Senate begins today. That it’s happening at all, and that it could lead to conviction, means it’s constitutional.
With there being zero chance of the United States Supreme Court getting involved in a dispute between the branches of the United States Congress, the question is settled. It’s over. Indeed, there never was a question. (The truth has been in plain sight.) Because there never was a question, we should ask ourselves: why are the Republicans pretending there’s a question when there’s no question? Once you start asking yourself that question, the trial’s outcome, which is not in doubt, starts to be less important than the reason the Senate Republicans are asking the question in the first place.1
The reason the Senate Republicans are questioning a certainty (i.e., Jesus God, yes, it’s constitutional to prosecute a former president, will you please knock it off already?) is the same reason all Republicans are so often certain about things that might actually be in question. The truth is always a threat. Deference to truth is always tyranny. What’s important is authority. Their authority. Their authority over you and everyone you love. And once you start seeing the deep authoritarianism of most of the Republicans in the Congress, once you start seeing the deep authoritarianism of millions of your fellow Americans,2 you also start seeing lying isn’t something they do merely to get what they want. Lying is something they do, because lying is the point.
Remember that Rand Paul and other Senate Republicans have something you don’t. They have a global right-wing media apparatus to not only amplify their lies, but bend perception away from political reality and toward a favorable fictional one. To lie at this grand a scale is to create a world in which morality is perverted, politics is barbarous, and whole populations can be pushed around and told what to believe, and not only that: they want to believe, because the lies have become so totalizing that everything being upside down, backwards and prolapsed seems normal, rational and worthy of being defended in the name of muh freedom. When everyone says the sky is green when the truth is in plain sight, everyone is not merely trying to deceive you. Everyone is maintaining a perversion in which speaking truthfully could inspire your murder.
The House Democratic impeachment managers are going to push through the Republicans’ lies in order to reveal the whole truth to the American people about their former president, which is this: Donald Trump committed a heinous presidential crime worthy, at the very least3, of being disqualified for life from holding public office. This is as it should be, but let’s not forget what the lies themselves reveal.
The trial’s outcome is, of course, important. But I’m trying to make a point about the Republican Party generally, which is the reason the trial’s outcome is not in doubt.
As Lindsey Beyerstein said yesterday in her terrific piece about the origins of QAnon, it doesn’t have to be a Russian influence operation. There’s “a huge market in the United States for conspiracy theories that promise the violent overthrow of democracy.”
Conviction for incitement of insurrection is a baseline punishment. Donald Trump’s other crimes while president will be, or should be, settled in criminal courts or civil courts.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.