One year ago I argued the US Senate should convict President Donald J. Trump and remove him from office because “the Constitution is more important than abortion.” Trump’s criminality and demagoguery were threats to the American experiment in free government, I argued, and protecting ourselves and our way of life from him was more important than any single policy issue—even the issue of abortion, which has (rightly) loomed so large for conservative Christians. My take was, shall we say, not popular.
But I can think of no better illustration of my argument than the record of Trump’s behavior since the November 2020 election. Trump lost but did not, and still does not, accept his defeat. Instead, he has tried to override the results of a legitimate democratic election by spreading propaganda, falsely claiming without evidence that the election was stolen from him.
His team filed scores of frivolous lawsuits on false pretenses to create the illusion that there are serious questions about the election’s legitimacy. He has lost all but one: a suit about how far elections observers were to ballot counting in Pennsylvania, the outcome of which did not affect a single vote. He fabricated claims of systemic fraud out of thin air, then cited the very prevalence of his claims as evidence that something must be going on. As I suggested on Twitter, he is like a man who claims “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” while personally manufacturing the smoke and selling fire extinguishers. We can safely dismiss such transparently self-serving propaganda.
After his lawsuits failed, Trump personally intervened, calling state officials and pressuring them to decertify their election results, choose a different slate of electors, or simply “find” the right number of votes for him. To be clear, Trump was pressuring public servants to violate their oaths of office, break the law, and abuse the positions of public trust to ensure he stayed in power against the clear result of the actual electoral process. This by itself is so obviously and clearly disloyal to the Constitution as to be an impeachable offense.
Trump put the same pressure on federal officeholders, calling on Vice President Mike Pence not to deliver the electoral college vote to Congress and calling on US representatives and senators to refuse to certify the vote. The vice president does not have the power to do that, and if Pence had tried to follow Trump’s orders, he would be in violation of his oath of office and liable to impeachment himself.
Finally, Trump called on his supporters to rally in the nation’s capital to protest the election. In front of a crowd of thousands, he told them to “walk down to the Capitol” to carry out their protest against the effort to certify the election. The crowd followed the president’s encouragement and walked to the Capitol, then they rioted, broke into the building, forced the suspension of the US Congress and the evacuation of several nearby buildings, disrupting the business of democracy. The scene was a disgrace to the Citadel of Democracy and an embarrassment to the American story—and five people died.
How much clearer can this be? For years, Christian thought leaders have been telling us that Trump is worth the risk; that all that matters are Supreme Court justices. Character doesn’t matter anymore, they now tell us, only policy. Or maybe we should take Trump seriously, not literally. Or Trump is a baby Christian. Trump gets a mulligan. The Democrats are worse, and the media is even worse. Maybe Trump is Cyrus, or even David. What’s the harm in humoring him? I don’t like his tweets, but at least he fights, they say. Or actually Trump is the last best hope for freedom and America because the Mexicans, Muslims, BLM and Antifa rioters, and social justice warriors are coming to take your Bible and your guns.
The only consistent argument is that Trump is good and his critics bad. The lines have been drawn, we are told we must pick sides, and there is no tolerance for friendly fire.
Shame on you. Trump is an anti-democratic nationalist demagogue who endangers the American experiment in free government, an experiment that until recently was still an inspiration to much of the world. Whatever the faults of the other side, Trump is a terrible president leading a dangerous movement and we have an obligation to say so, loudly and often. What’s worse is how predictable this was. This week only dramatized—it did not create—the longstanding danger that Trump and his movement poses, about which scholars like me have been warning for five years.
If your thought leadership involved making excuses for Trump in the face of clear evidence of who and what he is, maybe sit down and take a hot minute to rethink your life and your worldview. Maybe you need to take a break from trying to lead anyone’s thoughts for a while, and try listening instead to those who recognized and warned of his dangers from the start. Because now Trump’s legacy is a permanent stain on the United States, and those who apologized, spun, and made excuses for him are complicit in shaping that legacy. The lines have indeed been drawn, and I welcome you to join me in choosing the side of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the ideals of American democracy.