A lawyer friend tells me there’s a strong prima facie case against President Donald Trump, which means enough corroborating evidence exists to support charges that he, at the very least, violated federal laws against insurrection and rebellion.
US code reads: “Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both, and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
Democrats in the US House of Representatives plan to introduce articles of impeachment on Monday with similar language on the incitement of insurrection.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi would prefer that the threat of impeachment, which would make Trump the only president to have been impeached twice, prompts the president to resign before his term ends on Jan. 20. She is also exploring a second option: that Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet—or the vice president and a non-partisan group established by Congress—remove Trump through the 25th Amendment.
Some Republicans, who hope to regain influence over the party after the Trump presidency, argue the best course would be to shun the president, deprive him of the attention that is his oxygen, ensure guardrails prevent him from dangerous acts in the coming days, and simply run out the clock. Even some Democrats prefer this approach, hoping to avoid energizing Trump and his millions of supporters with further grievances.
So, which of these options would provide the United States the best chance to heal quickly at home so it can act more effectively abroad?
As unlikely as it seems that Trump would step down, his resignation in the next week would serve him and the country best. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board, that bastion of American conservatism, argues that resignation would be the best-case outcome.
Trump’s resignation would provide President-elect Joe Biden his best “shot” (with a nod to Hamilton) at being the healing and unifying leader he aspires to be, allowing the country to avoid another polarizing impeachment brawl. It also would be the one that best leverages for positive gain the horrifying events of last week that were so closely followed by the edifying congressional certification of November’s elections.
In those few hours, a worried nation and world witnessed both the vulnerability and resilience of what former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski this week at the Atlantic Council called the “world’s guarantor of democracy. The country where institutions work and there is rule of law.”
For that guarantor to fail “at the direction of the American president is something unacceptable,” Kwasniewski argued. The impact would be disastrous not just for American prestige but for its impact on other world democracies. If it can happen in Washington, goes his logic, it can happen anywhere.
Coming back to the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial, it called this week’s attack on the Capitol “an assault on the constitutional process of transferring power after an election… This goes beyond merely refusing to concede defeat. In our view, it crosses a constitutional line that Mr. Trump hasn’t previously crossed. It is impeachable.”
After consideration of the pros and cons of impeachment, however, the Journal said Trump’s resignation would be the “cleanest solution.” It would turn presidential duties over to Pence, spare Americans another polarizing impeachment fight, and give Trump “agency, à la Richard Nixon, over his own fate.”
“It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly,” concluded the Journal. It might have added, “and steps away from public life, as did Nixon.”
Resignation would also quickly allow Biden to focus on the myriad challenges facing him: the ongoing pandemic, its accompanying economic threats, and ongoing challenges from Russia and China. This week’s further Chinese crackdown on what’s left of democracy proponents in Hong Kong, following the recent Russian cyberattack on US institutions, both underscored the rising cost of US distraction.
To that purpose, Biden hopes to convene a summit of democracies during his first year in office to “get the band back together,” in the words of one of his top advisors. Some argue this week’s events should prompt a chastened United States to retreat from that sort of global ambition. Instead, the lesson must be that strength among democracies comes in numbers, partnerships, and alliances. They are needed now more than ever in recent memory.
I argued in a commentary earlier this week, under the headline “Learning from the abyss on Capitol Hill”, that “it’s not enough to simply condemn Wednesday’s dangerous, destructive, and illegal violence and the irresponsibility that triggered it. The trauma should prompt us to redouble our efforts within the United States and among allies and partners to simultaneously strengthen our principles and our bonds.”
It was telling that Biden this week didn’t publicly embrace impeachment, invoking the 25th Amendment or Trump’s resignation. “I’m focused on my job,” was Biden’s refreshing reply, with COVID-19 atop his to-do list.
Biden understands that his success rests on marginalizing Trump and the forces he unleashed this week—and which remain a present threat—rather than magnifying them further. He must find Republicans with whom he can work by building rather than burning bridges.
He understands that he and congressional Democrats must even try to work with legislators—139 House members and 8 senators—who opposed the certification of his electoral victory. The burden should be on those lawmakers to demonstrate they are willing to participate constructively in US democracy, working with the new administration, showing up at the inauguration, and accepting the Biden-Harris leadership legitimacy.
Biden knows it has been reconciliation, and not retribution, that has strengthened democracies historically. His challenge will be how best to expand the reasonable center on which all durable democracies depend, while law enforcement and judicial organs punish those who committed crimes this week or incited them.
As Biden said in his victory speech in November, “We lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” Biden’s historic challenge will be showing the world that this week’s brush with disaster isn’t an example of weakness but can be a catalyst for US democratic renewal. And renewal at home is the best course to increase America’s effectiveness abroad.
Read the original text at Atlantic Council.