Donald Trump’s defenders are shameless. And that makes them dangerous.
It has only been a month since a mob enraged by Trump’s lies about the election being stolen attacked the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from confirming Joe Biden’s victory. The terrorists killed one police officer and injured more than 100, leaving some with head injuries and one with three fingers missing; two have since died by suicide.
The mob wasn’t able to stop the transfer of power and keep Trump in office. And, thank God, they didn't get their hands on members of Congress or on former Vice President Mike Pence, who in their minds betrayed Trump by following the Constitution.
The terrorists had a noose waiting outside. Inside, members of Congress were calling loved ones to say goodbye, fearing that they were about to be killed.
If you have any doubt that’s what would have happened if the mob had broken into the House or Senate chamber before members of Congress were evacuated, watch the opening arguments from Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. Rep. Jamie Raskin, one of the impeachment managers presenting the case against Trump’s incitement of insurrection, showed a video with clips from the attack.
It is hard to watch. But it is necessary.
It is important not to turn away from the violence provoked by Trump’s lies, as his defenders want us to do in the name of false unity.
Trump’s lawyers had no case. Trump spent weeks generating rage and resentment with his lies about the election. He urged people to come to Washington to fight for him. And on Jan. 6, he rehashed his lies about the election and Pence’s ability to overturn it, and then sent his angry supporters to storm the Capitol.
The claim that it would be unconstitutional to hold Trump accountable now that he is out of office was completely demolished by Raskin—and by legal scholars, conservative as well as liberal.
From the very start of the trial, Trump’s desperate defenders in Congress, right-wing media, and the Make America Great Again movement turned to more shameful arguments.
They continued to repeat the lie at the heart of the violence: Black voters and corrupt Democrats stole the election from Trump and his supporters.
They tried to distract from Trump’s weeks of incitement by showing irrelevant and deceptively out-of-context video clips of Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker, and Rep. Maxine Waters.
And maybe most shamefully, they tried to equate the attack on voting and democracy with last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Trump’s attempt to overturn the election was grounded in disrespect for Black voters and contempt for the Constitution. Protests against police killings of Black people were grounded in a demand that the Constitution’s promise of equal protection of the law be respected and made real for everyone—something this country has yet to do. There is no equivalence between the two.
Let’s be clear about what has really been going on. Trump’s defenders wanted to prevent an impeachment trial because they know that the facts do not only convict Trump. The facts convict everyone who joined Trump in spreading lies about the election. The facts convict every one of the gutless, unprincipled politicians—all but six of the 50 Republican senators—who voted not to even hold the trial.
The history of this country is clear. As long as lynchings and other violence meant to keep Black people from building political power went unpunished, the violence continued.
The right-wing resistance to holding Trump accountable signaled that he and other unprincipled politicians who will try to follow his path to power will continue to tell lies, inflame divisions, and provoke more violence. The cowardly Republican officials who fear Trump’s supporters too much to face the truth put all of us—and our democracy—in danger.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.