I hate writing about President Donald Trump. In fact, I actively avoid it, and my blood pressure has benefited greatly over the last five years as a result. But today, two days after the president of the U.S. sicced thousands of armed domestic terrorists on the center of his own government, I’m close enough to hypertension anyway that it no longer matters. This is the most important article I will ever write about him, and, fate willing, it will also be the last.
Not since British troops burned the building during the War of 1812 has the U.S. Capitol sustained such an organized, violent incursion. Trump’s terrorists didn’t just attack a building; they struck at the heart of the U.S. government, at American identity itself. As the one man most responsible for this heinous act, Trump must be suspended from office, impeached, convicted and prevented from ever holding public office again. He is simply too dangerous — and the precedent too important — to warrant anything less.
For months, Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud caused his base to think that the elected officials upholding the real results were subverting democracy. At his Save America March on Jan. 6, he whipped them up into such a frenzy that they acted on their weeks-long plan to storm the Capitol. Taking him at his word that Congress had betrayed them, Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol. Now, the Capitol is strewn with wreckage. American democracy is more in doubt than ever. Dozens are wounded. And five people lie dead.
Trump is both directly and indirectly responsible for the carnage. His exhortations enraged and angered the crowd, so much so that they began to head for the Capitol before he had even finished speaking. He even promised to lead them there, although he instead retreated to the White House, a cowardly act reminiscent of despots like Benito Mussolini. Yet the terrorists’ innermost rage, the smoldering ember that Trump coaxed into an inferno that afternoon, was his doing as well. His base believed his lies all the way up to his call for an attack on the nation itself, and we paid the price.
A day after the attack, administration officials began discussing invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and a majority of Cabinet officials to temporarily remove the president from power when he or she is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of [his or her] office.” Between now and Inauguration Day, Trump could endanger the U.S. and its people in any number of other ways, and his private satisfaction during the Capitol attack suggests backlash hasn’t exactly cowed him. To prevent him from imperiling the public, Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of the Cabinet should use the 25th Amendment to sideline him immediately.
Concurrently, Congress should impeach and convict Trump of abuse of power and treason. Both are impeachable offenses. His abuse of power is self-evident, and since the Constitution defines treason as “adhering to [the U.S.’s] enemies” or “giving them Aid and Comfort,” so is his treason — he certainly adhered to, aided and comforted his followers, who became terrorists and therefore enemies when they invaded the Capitol.
Using both impeachment and the 25th Amendment to remove Trump seems redundant, but the U.S. needs both to heal. Trump’s own appointees and vice president voting to sideline him would emphasize the egregiousness of his actions to the public and help the Republican Party break its fealty to him. It also would give Congress breathing room to impeach and convict him. That process is just as crucial — a bipartisan vote to remove him from office would make disavowing Trump a bipartisan issue. Senators and representatives, all of whom the voting public has directly elected, should be the ones to put the nail in his presidency’s coffin.
But the repudiation of Trump should not stop there. Despite reports that his desire to run for president in 2024 may not be entirely serious, the last four years are a searing indication that even a possible Trump candidacy is too big of a threat. To forestall that possibility, Congress should vote to prevent him from ever holding public office in the U.S. again. Precedent suggests that Congress not only has this power, but also likely only needs a simple majority in each chamber to use it.
Removing Trump is, first and foremost, a question of forestalling material danger to the government and the people. Although Trump did promise a day after the Capitol attack that a “new administration” would take power on Jan. 20, the president is notoriously capricious. Even if he accepts Biden’s victory, he could still harry the transition team’s work or mobilize his supporters to create chaos at Biden’s inauguration.
More importantly, removing Trump now would protect U.S. safety in the long term. A resounding, unified repudiation of his actions from Congress, the Cabinet and his own vice president would show the American people, the world, that he does not define this country. He represents the worst of us, not who we are. Failing to remove him now would signal to future presidents that the American people won’t punish them for causing wanton death and destruction, and that is a precedent no one should enable.
Many experts have worried that even Biden’s notorious knack for bipartisanship and repeated calls for a return to decency will fall flat, given the extent to which Trump has polarized the nation, destroyed democratic institutions and compromised his own party. But if the government can work together on Trump’s removal, a return to hope, if not decency, might just become a possibility.
To be sure, nothing about Jan. 6 or his actions on that day revealed anything new about Trump. He is the same inept, cruel, racist, deeply flawed man who he has always been, and he posed just as existential a threat to the U.S. and its people on the day of his inauguration as he does today. But unlike the other 210 weeks of his presidency, the next two are an exceedingly brief window of time in which acting on that fact could be politically feasible.
The fact that this, the storming of the U.S. Capitol, was the wake-up call so many prominent Republicans needed to even consider removing Trump from office isn’t just tragic — it’s heartbreaking. The hyperbolic talk in some news media circles of the U.S. breaking up or descending into civil war was always overblown, and a bipartisan rebuke of Trump this week in Washington could put that kind of talk to bed for good. But at what cost?
Trump deserves the ultimate blame for the storming of the Capitol, but those who facilitated it are almost as guilty. The terrorists who carried out the attack should be found and tried, and the senators and representatives who fanned the flames of Trump’s misinformation throughout the post-election period are responsible as well. In the interest of effective reconciliation, they should not lose their seats, but voters should nevertheless feel free to punish them at the ballot box in 2022 and beyond.
Some of these officials, former acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos among them, have resigned in protest following the attack on the Capitol. Others, such as outgoing Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), recanted their accusations of voter fraud in the presidential election. They tell the world that they have seen the light and that their conscience precludes them from staying a day longer, but the reality is that nothing has changed for them in the last week except their personal incentives. They lose nothing by disavowing Trump less than two weeks before he leaves office, and they gain everything by casting themselves as too ethical to work for him as soon as it becomes fashionable. Mulvaney, DeVos, Loeffler and their colleagues are likely not acting out of a sudden crisis of conscience. Their opportunism is rank, it is naked and it is deplorable.
Even if you are not a lawmaker in Washington, and even if your name is not Michael Pence, you can still pressure them to do the right thing. Call your representative and tell them how you feel, how existential the debate over Trump’s removal is. Find a protest, or explain the issue to your loved ones. However you can, don’t let this spark go out.
One way or another, Trump will cease to lead this country on or before Jan. 20. No longer will his angry tweets increase the likelihood of nuclear war, and no longer will his hateful words directly translate into hateful policy. Whenever that day arrives, the country and the world should all, at long last, breathe a long-awaited sigh of relief.
But not before. Not a second before.
Ben Thomas (23C) is from Dayton, Ohio.