Trump’s Bid to Remain in Government Housing for Life
In the waning days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln contemplated how he was going to restore the country over a conflict he himself had predicted would create an almost indelible rift. Having himself moved from a position of being uncertain if Black Americans could or even should be integrated into American society to one where he wished to fully recognize Black Americans as citizens of the United States entitled to all the same rights and liberties as anyone else he faced the challenge of how to sell this then radical humanitarian idea, reintegrate the insurgents, and find a way to forgive those who could be forgiven. Lincoln set forth on a path where radical empathy for both insurgents and former slaves would be the law of the land during the period we now know as reconstruction.
And then he was assassinated.
One of Lincoln’s strategic moves which should have provided a reasonable counterpoint to possibly his and certainly his Republican supporters was the choice of Andrew Johnson — a Democrat — as his Vice President. Johnson had himself owned slaves for just short of twenty years and freed them only a year prior to the emancipation throughout Tennessee where they were held. He was chosen to provide balance.
There is a sort of collective misunderstanding that Abraham Lincoln was a great President because he was a wartime President. The idea is that Reconstruction would necessarily go wrong and it was not necessarily Johnson’s handling of it that caused the legacy of Jim Crow and white supremacy so much as the impossibility of the situation itself. The idea is that Lincoln is remembered as being great simply because he died at the height of his triumph thereby leaving the painful and difficult process of reconciliation to his successors. After his navigation of the Cuban missile crisis, John F. Kennedy remarked that it was his moment to “go to the theatre.”
Lincoln spent his entire life and certainly his entire Presidency humbly learning what he did not know. Lincoln read voraciously and listened with humility and respect to people with differing political, religious, or ideological positions. While his visit to the theatre was during a moment of celebration at the ending of the Civil War, Lincoln had put into place plans for the Reconstruction of the United States, and had been working on those plans for the majority of the war.
Lincoln’s plans were contingent on him being alive to implement them.
In 1863 — partly it seems as an effort to end the war — Lincoln proposed pardoning various members of the confederacy. It was not meant to be a blanket pardon and was aimed at providing a route towards de-escalation. It was restrictive in who could be pardoned and for what reason and his point in suggesting this sort of pardon was not to excuse insurrection but undermine and defang it.
When Andrew Johnson took office he almost immediately imposed this same pardon, but with wider inclusions. In Johnson’s case one may argue that some pardons — even blanket pardons — may have been reasonable in order to heal the nation. But Johnson’s pardons included not just lower level members of the confederacy or confederate foot soldiers drafted often at gunpoint, but officers, commanders, confederate politicians, and other insurgents. Robert E. Lee lost some of his land to be made into Arlington National Cemetery, but outside of that he not only experienced no censure for his part in an illegal and unjust war, but statues were erected and schools named in his honour.
In stark contrast, when Hitler committed suicide, the German people and the international community rounded up the last surviving Nazis, put them on trial, and either executed or imprisoned them as the carefully conducted trials indicated. Monuments from WWII exist, but they are for the victims. Germany plays host countless plaques and more formal monuments to memorialize individuals and groups of people murdered by the Nazi regime. But there are no statues to Himmler or Goebbels and no school, library, or laboratory named after Mengele. The bunker in which Hitler died was literally paved over. We remember these names as those of monsters rather than heroes because that is what they were.
And yet in America, the monsters willing to fight for the enslavement of other human beings were and are memorialized and nearly canonized.
Slavery was our original sin. White supremacy, the legacy of slavery is what keeps us from becoming the more perfect nation that our forefathers — many themselves slave owners — envisioned. One can go back through history and find causes for Trump’s ascension and the radicalization of his base. Both Trump and Sanders were unguarded in there derision towards Black and female voters who refused to support them and used the image of the person of colour or woman in power to stoke white supremacist hate for not only Hillary Clinton, but her supporters. Reagan played to the ideas of individualism and self-sufficiency and responsibility while ignoring privilege and government assistance awarded and restricted to his largely white base. Nixon, often openly racist, used his power and influence cynically to consolidate and maintain power with the full knowledge that what he was engaged in was both illegal and corrupt.
As long as the American Constitution has stood, it was a flawed document created by flawed men who — though in this instance likely deserving of some tolerance — were creating something which had never previously existed and which would have to stand the tests of time while they remained both literally and figuratively under fire. It is a moral failing that they did not eliminate slavery at the time, but the Civil War in the United States provided a chance for that incredible error to be corrected. Certainly the 14th Amendment was a step in that direction. But for the most part and in general despite errors and oversights at the outset American democracy has slowly irresistibly crept towards what I hope Madison and Jefferson envisioned even if they couldn’t implement it in their own lives.
But, while Madison and Jefferson were only able to put high minded rhetoric to paper, Johnson’s failure to prosecute members of the confederacy as the traitors they were meant that essentially, the South did win the Civil War. Or the civil war never really ended.
January 6, 2021 the US Senate and House of Representatives convened for a joint session of Congress. Their duty was to tally the Electoral College votes which are meant to reflect the democratic will of the American people and are determined on the basis of our general elections by state. Most were there in good faith. Most of them expected that on that day they would be upholding democracy. A few were intent on drawing out the hearings by raising specious objections on the basis of false conspiracy theories, but even such Congresspeople and Senators did so with the idea that their objections were merely a political gesture and would not stand. (Given the fragile nature of democracy that is a foolish and corrupt position for which I hope those lawmakers receive censure, but I do not believe their actual intent was to overthrow democracy.)
And then anti-American white supremacist terrorists broke through police lines or in some cases were admitted by police. Lawmakers were evacuated and the terrorists broke into offices, looted, committed acts of violence, and lowered the American flag to raise a flag for the Donald Trump campaign. A gallows was erected within sight of Congress and at least one of the terrorists was pictured carrying a handgun and zip ties. It is reasonable to assume that beyond occupying the Capitol of the United States of America these terrorists intended to kidnap and murder lawmakers, members of the media, or any members of the public they could.
Since 2016 white supremacist terrorists who support Trump and a number of other Republicans have been threatening armed insurrection. In some cases a single shooter has carried out shootings against people of colour, LGBTQs, or Jews. As is typical for such criminals, women are primary targets for not only vitriol and hate speech but also violence not infrequently escalating to murder. Additionally, while the rhetoric of QANON has always been fascist, the individuals being radicalized were of poor mental, emotional, and physical health. It was not fully appreciated that such pathetic people would go so far as trying their hand at a violent insurrection.
But here we are.
Fortunately, as enraging as this traitorous attack on American democracy was it achieved less than nothing. Once the terrorists were cleared from the capitol, lawmakers returned and confirmed the Electoral College tallies in support of Biden and Harris’ election to the Executive Branch. Prior to the attack on our country Rafael Warnock won his election and will soon become Georgia’s first Black Senator and during the attack, Ossoff’s win was confirmed as well. This means that Mitch McConnell, whose obstinance allowed for the bending and breaking of numerous democratic norms, will shortly cease to be Senate majority leader.
On January 20th we will have shaken off the last vestiges of the anti-American fascism that Trumpism and many Republicans came to represent.
And this is our opportunity to undo Johnson’s fatal mistake of pardoning traitors. Even if it can be argued that Johnson was trying to use the pardon to heal wounds — and given the lack of reparations to anyone but former slave owners, it’s a specious argument — doing so emboldened racists and allowed them to justify their privilege and violent attitudes.
Even if we excoriate Johnson for his lack of compassion and short-sightedness we cannot fail to recognize that Donald Trump behaved infinitely worse. Trump’s behaviour throughout and before his Presidency has been variously criminal. He was impeached (and may be again) for using his office to try to intimidate a foreign leader in order to influence a US election in his favour, he’s committed tax fraud, he is a known serial rapist and likely paedophile, he may have ordered hits on foreign officials, he tried to engage in election fraud, and it is highly likely that he has been committing violations of campaign finance law. And there’s plenty more. This was just a short list off the top of my head. But Trump told his supporters to make this attack on our nation. And during the attack on the capitol he not only did not call for the National Guard (Pence did) but when cajoled by actual American leaders to call off the attack and send his traitors home he instead released a video nominally telling them to go home but mostly concerned with his hurt ego and encouraging them to continue. The tweet, because of course it was a tweet, has been deleted because it violated Twitter rules.
The United States — as far as I can tell — no longer hangs traitors or those found guilty of sedition. These crimes still do carry relatively significant sentences. Sedition alone is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. While the terrorists who attacked America yesterday did not accomplish any of what they intended to do they have the distinction of being the only group able to attack the capitol as they did since the British in the War of 1812. The difference being Madison didn’t invite the British soldiers. Trump did.
What I am saying here is that we need to prosecute Trump. Unlike Hitler he is unlikely to take a cyanide pill so we have this opportunity to subject him — a very soon to be former President — to the full extent of the American justice system. We have a chance to show future generations and the world that American law does not make exceptions. The President was never meant to be a monarch and whilst Muller and others have argued that a sitting President may not be charged we do have a remedy for criminality in the Presidency. Presidential powers have ballooned out of control. Donald Trump will go down as the worst President in history, but we — living in this era with him — need to show that his behaviour will never be tolerated. He and all his supporters and enablers or anyone who broke the law in his name must be prosecuted.
We did not forgive the Nazis. We gave them a chance to defend themselves in a court of law. We gave them counsel, we provided them with far better prison conditions than they would even countenance for their victims, we tried them by a jury of their peers. But ultimately we convicted the majority of them and they paid for their crimes sometimes with a prison sentence but in many cases by being hung. I personally don’t believe in the death penalty. But I do believe in justice. Johnson did not prosecute insurgents in his own time and their evil carried on into our own era. We have a chance now to break the wheel.
And soon, with a Democratic Executive and Legislative Branch we have the opportunity to implement laws protecting human rights, the right to vote, and the environment. We can finally pass law providing reparations for not only Black Americans but Native and Asian Americans where applicable. We can reform the police and judicial system so that justice is actually blind. We can reinforce and expand the Affordable Care Act such that it covers all Americans and allows for the address of the racialization of medicine. We have two years in which we can implement lasting positive change and elevate our nation and the people in it.
But first we need to take out the trash.