Unity shouldn’t mean impunity

President Joe Biden is setting the right tone in calling for healing and unity in our nation, a welcome change from the outgoing President. But that doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to Donald Trump’s inciting insurrection or to the crimes of his followers and the toxic role of his Congressional enablers. Neither he nor they should be allowed to get away with how they have trashed our democracy, upended its signature peaceful transition of power, and, in some cases, assaulted and even murdered.

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon on October 8, 1974 to promote the healing of the nation. He claimed nothing would be achieved by bringing further degradation to this man who “already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.” By contrast, Donald Trump has paid a scant price: drop in approval rating, some friends and colleagues scurrying for the door, contempt of every rational human being, but he retains the zealous support of tens of millions of Americans still being conned by this extraordinary snake oil salesman.

If the Senate fails to convict Trump, Congress could still punish his high crimes and misdemeanors by ending his post-Presidential perks. Think cutting his pension, office space, travel expenses and those of his staff and spouse, even limiting his lifetime Secret Service protection along with that of his family. (Much of this automatically goes away if the Senate votes to convict and remove Trump from office.)

The overriding consideration is preventing him from ever again holding federal office. This could be done by a simple majority vote after Senate conviction. It could also be achieved legislatively by following the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, Section 3, which bars any official who has previously sworn to uphold the Constitution from holding office if that person “shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

Some Republicans may deride conviction and other accountability measures as partisan revenge. But this is not about political affiliation; it’s about the integrity of our institutions and the foundational values of our democracy. Consider what Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper #27, “The hope of impunity is a strong incitement to sedition; the dread of punishment, a proportionably strong discouragement to it.” This is all about the long-term prospects of a democracy heretofore admired across the world, a shot across the bow of those who would mount future insurrections to take over the government by violence or inciting others to do so. This, in language far more pedestrian than that of our forefathers, is a no-brainer.

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