The scene at Capitol Hill on Wednesday was surreal. A violent mob, egged on by President Donald Trump, attacked a building that stands as an enduring symbol of America’s constitutional republic. But it was more than that: The mob also attacked two fundamental foundations of that republic: the election of a new president and the peaceful transfer of power.
America has not seen such a hostile takeover since the War of 1812. And what happened wasn’t just foreseeable; it was foreseen. The president and many of his supporters have spent the two months since the election claiming it was stolen, relying on outrageous — and widely debunked — conspiracy theories to bolster their case. They’ve done this while speaking in apocalyptic terms about our nation’s future.
Responsible Republican officials, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, have doggedly rebutted these conspiracy theories and fraud claims. In return, they’ve been intimidated and rewarded with death threats. The president’s legal challenges failed across the board, even when made before judges appointed by Trump himself.
A toxic stew of presidential lies, tirades by right-wing pundits, and congressional capitulation boiled over Wednesday. Yet even then the president still stoked rage and division. He complained that Vice President Mike Pence failed to do his bidding and hand him the election. He could not call for calm and ask his supporters to disperse without repeating false claims about the election being stolen. In one of the lowest moments the day, he told the rioters who stormed the Capitol, “We love you.”
The terrible events of Wednesday made crystal clear something that should have been plainly understood long before now: Trump is dangerous to our peace and security. The founders of this nation had precisely this kind of man in mind when they gave Congress the power to impeach and remove the nation’s chief executive.
The value of impeachment comes not merely in its punishment for past offenses, however much Trump deserves such punishment. It is also a protective measure against further danger. If he wanted, he could still attempt to direct the American military or law enforcement to keep him in power. And he could run again, which threatens to drag this country through yet another violent and divisive drama.
It’s true that less than two weeks remain in his term. But America’s enemies seek to weaken us and could well look to take advantage of the chaos. The president, addled and unhinged, is in no position to deal with such crises. How would he handle provocation from Russia, Iran, or North Korea? Would he listen to advisers? Would military leaders listen to him? We can’t risk finding out.
The president, through a spokesman, has committed to an orderly transfer of power. But impeachment would send an important message to future would-be Trumps as well as to the rest of the world. Republicans, especially, have an obligation to break with this man and this behavior for the good of the country, their historic reputations, and for the viability of a party that has shed any claim to grandness.
The House should impeach President Trump. The Senate should convict him and disqualify him from holding “any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.”
If those closest to the president in good faith find that he cannot discharge his duties, as all outward indications would suggest, then they have an obligation to act, and they can do so through processes outlined by the 25th Amendment, which permits the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to remove the president if they deem him “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
These measures require political courage, and courage is in short supply. But how much violence and chaos must our nation endure before we understand that cowardice has a cost? Trump has abused his office. He has violated the public trust. And now he has incited a violent attack on the Capitol and Congress. He must be removed.
David French is senior editor at TheDispatch.com, a center-right subscription-based and advertisement-free online magazine. He wrote this originally for InsideSources.com.