What would justice look like in the case of The American People v. Donald Trump, currently being adjudicated in the court of public opinion?
In the wake of last week’s Trump-incited “insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol — “attempted coup” is not an exaggeration — many have called for “accountability” for the “seditionists” and resignations by Trump and his congressional enablers for “fomenting this act of domestic terrorism,” this “attack on the heart of democracy.”
Lovely words, but all words and no action means we’ll see more of this. Much more
Needless to say, the 25th Amendment will not be invoked by Trump’s craven, spineless underlings — aka Mike Pence and whatever’s left of the cabinet. Accountability would require a principled stand on the part of the G.O.P., and very little of that has been evident so far, though there is still time for Republicans to redeem themselves.
Impeachment is a good place to start, but Trump won’t be convicted by the cowards in the still-Republican-controlled Senate. Nonetheless, as many have said, “Doing nothing is not an option.” Even the super-conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page noted, “The best case for impeachment is not to punish Mr. Trump. It is to send a message to future presidents that Congress will protect itself from populists of all ideological stripes willing to stir up a mob.”
As conservative columnist David Brooks put it last Friday on the PBS Newshour, “If interfering with election certification [with] an invading force is not an impeachable offense, I don’t know what is.” Even without a conviction, impeachment would be “a sword over his head which might restrain him in his last days in the White House.”
Brooks, though, suggested an intriguing alternative, which has been making the rounds online:
“The fallback position might be censuring him under Article 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prevents someone taking part in an insurrection against the United States from ever running for federal office. That’s important because it would reduce his role as an intimidator in the Republican Party and reduce the possibility of his running in 2024.”
What would “true justice” look like? Not just “what would make us feel good” justice. Some might wish for a wall (how fitting), a blindfold and a firing squad. But capital punishment is waaaay too good for this traitor. Justice, after all, is not simply about punishment. True justice provides appropriate consequences for the guilty but also reparations for the victims (us), even those who were complicit in enabling Trump to become the monster he is today. That includes all who tried to remain neutral because, as author Ibram X. Kendi so powerfully puts it, “Neutrality colludes with evil.” American passivity helped make Trump possible. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Fortunately, a majority of us woke up just in time.
So what would cause Trump the greatest pain and give the rest of us the greatest boost? Three things:
1) Shut him up.
2) Ignore him.
3) Disqualify him from ever running for federal office again.
Shutting him up has already begun, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, but we can’t shut him up entirely. The right to free speech has to be upheld (minus sedition and fomenting violent overthrow of the legally elected government). Even without Twitter, he’ll still be able to rant and rave on right-wing outlets — mostly to his deluded base, but happily not to those of us living in the real world.
Mainstream media no longer has to cover all of his antics, though, which is where #2 comes into play. The media was complicit in creating the Trump phenomenon. They covered him like crazy because crazy makes irresistible content and crazy made them tons of money.
A voluntary ban on coverage — at least through the 2024 election — would be just punishment not only for Trump, but for the media as well. Trump’s definition of hell is being ignored. But just to be on the safe side, someone needs to keep an eye on his attempts to overthrow the government again.
And that’s where #3 comes into play. If Trump is disqualified from running for federal office, his seditious ravings will be moot.
Each of these consequences provides benefits. Hopefully it would mean breaking the psychosis that grips his supporters and calming the anxiety the rest of us have suffered for years. We will be a mentally healthier country.
Impeachment and conviction would also include disqualification, but if that doesn’t work, here is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment:
No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.
In other words, disqualification. But the Constitution is a vaguely written document. It doesn’t specify the process for disqualifying a president who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the Constitution of the United States. Presumably, Congress would vote to censure, and the case would make its way to the Supreme Court to determine if Trump can be kept off the ballot in 2024.
You would think even Republican invertebrates like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz would recognize that their political ambitions depend on sidelining Trump forever. Plenty of incentive, even for those with no principles.
All of us hunger and thirst for justice. Some of us storm the Capitol to defend their fearless leader’s paranoid delusions. Some of us call for accountability and resignations and look for the most eloquent and vivid way to condemn such iniquity. But we won’t have true justice until we shut Trump up (non-violently, of course), ignore him (yet keep an eye on him), and prevent him from running for public office (ever).
Anything short of that will guarantee more attacks on our democracy.