Editorial: For the nation's future, remove Trump now

Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, South Florida Sun Sentinel

The question of the moment is greater than even the immediate fate of President Donald J. Trump. If what he has done to the nation doesn’t merit impeachment and removal from office, what would?

He is proof that no magic force protects the nation from the election of a demagogic president with the soul of a tyrant and an incandescent contempt for the Constitution.

Someday, there may be another.

In that event, what restraint will history provide? What example will this Congress set to the Congress of that day?

Will it teach that anything goes, provided this demagogue has enough congressional collaborators to excuse it?

The Senate set that example when it acquitted Trump last year.

Or will the lesson be that no one, least of all a president, can foment rebellion against our flag, our Constitution and our country without being called to account and to justice?

The House of Representatives answered those questions Wednesday in the only proper way with its vote to impeach Trump for the second time, 232-197. This time, Democrats were joined by 10 Republicans, the most representatives to ever cross party lines and vote to impeach a president of their own party. Now, the Senate has the opportunity — and the duty — to remove him from office, as some senators perhaps regret not doing a year ago.

He should be convicted of inciting this insurrection, even after leaving office next week, not only for the sake of the historical example but so that the Senate can permanently disqualify him from attempting to return.

That would be a noble service to the Republican Party as well as to the nation. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, seems at last to understand that.

It is better, however, to do it now, even with less than a week remaining in Trump’s tragic presidency. That would prevent any more rash acts before noon on Jan. 20 and put the nuclear codes in Vice President Mike Pence’s trustworthy hands.

McConnell should change his mind and agree to Minority Leader Charles Schumer’s suggestion to end the Senate recess early and try Trump now.

There is no reasonable doubt of his responsibility for the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, the worst insurrection since the Civil War. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the House and the nation Wednesday, it was “a war on democracy.”

Donald Trump inflamed the mob he had called to Washington with a promise that “it will be wild.” He dispatched his mob to the seat of government to terrorize the Congress — or so he intended — into overturning the election of his successor, Joe Biden. It was an armed assault on a co-equal branch of the United States government. It was terrorism and insurrection, by any definition.

He even targeted his own vice president for the mob’s rage because Pence had refused, rightly, to discard Biden’s electoral votes.

The violence and destruction that ensued are Trump’s legacy. Others share blame, notably Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and other members of Congress who had thrown in with Trump’s attempted coup. Thirteen members of Congress from Florida endorsed it with their votes.

Others who are culpable include Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the top two Republicans in the House of Representatives. They tried to prevent Trump’s impeachment Wednesday, pleading for it to be dropped rather than taken to the Senate for his removal.

Stripped to its essence, their argument — like that of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal — is that it would be “throwing fuel on the fire,” as Scalise put it. It would stand for revenge instead of unity.

But that’s like saying one should let the fire burn rather than try to put it out. It calls to mind the parable of the youth on trial for murdering his parents who pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan. Moreover, Trump shows zero interest in unity. His enablers are conspicuously late to that cause.

Notably, they didn’t try in debate to claim that what Trump did wasn’t deadly serious. They argued instead to let it go.

No. The people of the United States need their Congress to speak for them. No president who does what he did should be allowed to remain in office, no matter how briefly. No one who did what he did should be allowed to seek the presidency again.

The moral high ground in the Republican Party belongs to those 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, among them Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third highest GOP leader in the House and the daughter of another vice president. This is what she said:

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the president. The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

There must never be another. The Senate’s duty is unavoidable.