By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

McConnell’s hypocrisy shows why Democrats made the right call on witnesses

Mitch McConnell. Photo (cc) 2014 by Gage Skidmore.

And so it’s over. In the aftermath of Impeachment II, the main controversy is about whether the Democrats did the right thing in reversing themselves over calling witnesses. I think they made a wise judgment. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy shows why.

In a blistering speech, McConnell endorsed the entire factual basis of the Democrats’ case against Trump. “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” McConnell said. “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.” And there was this:

Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger, even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters, the president sent a further tweet attacking his vice president. Predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as further inspiration to lawlessness and violence.

Yet McConnell still voted against conviction, relying on the bogus argument that a vote to convict was unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office.

At the end of all this, no reasonable person doubts that Trump incited the mob — not just on Jan. 6, but over the course of many months. No reasonable person doubts that he was reveling in the destruction, or that Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler was telling the truth about a toxic exchange between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Trump. Seven Republicans voted to convict Trump, making this the most bipartisan impeachment in history.

Given all that, it’s time for the Democrats to move on and let the center of gravity finally shift from Donald Trump to President Joe Biden.

Not everyone agrees, of course. The normally pragmatic Josh Marshall was apoplectic Saturday, writing in Talking Points Memo that the decision not to call witnesses was “inexplicable and maddening, to many or most Democrats outside the chamber because Democrats appeared to hold all the cards and all the votes and yet capitulated entirely.”

But I thought Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson made a better argument:

While it’s reasonable to imagine that witnesses would illustrate Trump’s depravity, it seems entirely likely that, as Trump’s lawyers continued simply to lie and their lies got spread through right-wing media as truth, Americans would have learned the opposite of what they should have.

Instead, the issue of Trump’s guilt on January 6 will play out in a courtroom, where there are actual rules about telling the truth.

We have lived through a terrible time, and it’s not over yet. The future direction of the Republican Party is far from certain, and it’s easy to imagine a thoroughly Trumpified party recapturing the House in 2022 as a result of gerrymandering and low voter turnout.

What we all need to concentrate on for the next two years is good governance — pushing for policies and programs that help people and, as best we can, putting the Trump era behind us. Biden is off to a good start, but a continuing obsession with Trump will hold him back. And that will hurt everyone.

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  1. pauljbass

    Great cogent piece. Last paragraph brought it home

  2. nahantjim

    The events of the last week have been described as “cathartic.” I did not find them so. They were a partial dressing on a still open wound. Perhaps with even the finest dressing the wound to our political life inflicted by the Trump presidency will take a long time to heal. Regardless, we have to move on.

    Yet, as we do, we have to understand this. The threat posed by Trump is that he denies that he can lose. He denies the foundation of our political system; citizens elect their leaders through a fair and equitable voting system. That is what happened in November. But, as is the case with leaders in places like Uganda and Belarus, Trump asserts that he is not subject to a vote unless he wins. As November approached, threatened with a loss, he hoped that the support of corrupt politicians, the military, the Proud Boys, the police and (almost laughingly) the Bikers for Trump, would offset the will of the electorate, even at the very last minute, January 6th. That didn’t happen.

    He lost but he will not disappear.

    There are big issues that we have to resolve in our country. Beating the pandemic, making sure the economy does not tank, mounting a response to the ever more obvious effects of climate change and other environmental dangers, ensuring that our justice and voting systems produce honest and equitable results. These are the problems that reasonable citizens have to work on, understanding that there are different points of view that have to be resolved and that the resolution must be sought through persuasion.

    I hope we can do this. History tells us that it is not assured. We have to work on it.

  3. Americans have watched for the past 50 years, first with outrage and more recently with resignation, as Republican criminal after Republican criminal has not only gotten off the hook but also led to more and worse Republican criminals. Our democracy cannot — and, if it continues — will not survive this trend. Not to say we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but while getting Democratic policy enacted is urgent, accountability and justice are even more important in the long run.

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