Impeachment at this point is the perfect end to the story of Trump, as told by the media who cannot stop breathlessly covering him (he is good for ratings after all)
The Washington Post had a headline that read, eerily like a Buzzfeed listicle, “24 warning signs of an insurrection that should have been obvious”. These were mostly quotes from over the past four years, from Trump and what the American news media deem his republican and/or conservative enablers. One of the quotes was straight from Trump’s inaugural address: “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.”
Since this is a man who appears quite taken with speaking at length and rather extemporaneously, anyone familiar with Donald Trump would know that this isn’t his usual parlance. Compare it to the words he said to the mob that attacked Capitol Hill: “If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” This part of the inaugural speech was most likely written by some middle-of-the-road Republican staffer at the White House, trying to make him sound less like Candidate Trump and more like President Trump. Prominent Republicans made the rounds of the cable news shows to proclaim that they thought he sounded very presidential – a rebranding effort that the party flirted with and then abandoned when they discovered that their electoral fortunes, at least for the short-term future were fatally tied to Trumpism.
Donald Trump lost the election, he could not find it within himself to admit defeat, he challenged the result; all his court cases were either lost or dismissed. And a media that he had had a mutually hostile relationship with rejoiced in this tragic downfall. He told his supporters outside of Capitol Hill that VP Mike Pence had the ability to change the election results after the electors had convened (he does not, under the US Constitution), while Congress was in session to certify Joe Biden as the incoming president. Then there was a riot that resulted in a deadly attack on Congress and a Twitter ban and the ‘de-platforming’, as it is called in digital media spaces, of Parler, a site that was poised to become the conservative version of Twitter. And then there was another impeachment.
The articles of impeachment cite incitement of insurrection, a crime under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was originally meant to prevent ex-confederates from returning to the House and Senate. They also cite Trump’s repeated false claims that he won the election and that he “urged the Secretary of State of Georgia to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn the Georgia presidential election results and threatened him if he failed to do so.” Another argument for impeachment – which has been made by progressives in Congress and, rather surprisingly, by Liz Cheney – is incitement of violence against Congress. Drawing some ire from her own party, she argued that since the legislative branch has been attacked by a co-equal branch of government, it has no choice but to retaliate.
Impeachment at this point is the perfect end to the story of Trump, as told by the media who cannot stop breathlessly covering him (he is good for ratings after all) and as militarised by the Democrats against the Republicans. It is nothing more than political theatre. And now that the Democrats control both legislative branches, they certainly have the votes (this time) not only to impeach Trump (again) but also to remove him from office. This time, while impeachment is completely justifiable and likely achievable, it’s ultimately practically useless. After January 20, he will no longer be president anyway, and perhaps raising the temperature of an already fraught, frustrated and divided populace is not the best strategy for a party that won its mandate through a platform of unity. Or at least that’s what the messaging was at the time.
America is currently divided by a political tribalism that has only been exacerbated by social media echo chambers. The Democratic Party’s base is looking for justice to be served to a president who they see as having irreparably damaged their republic and that many of them consider to have been illegitimate. The extreme right believes that the incoming administration is illegitimate. The mainstream right feels silenced, shunned and bereft of any real political power for the next four years, especially now that the Democrats have swung the Georgia run-offs and gained control of the Senate.
The shutting down of Parler by Amazon Web Services will only make conservatives feel further disenfranchised and raise partisan tensions further. Trump behaved like a sore loser and some of his supporters committed an act of sedition on his behalf. Politically, this would have been a gain for his detractors, had the de-platforming of the far-right’s last resort for a voice in the public discourse not genuinely drawn attention to free speech rights and the more toxic elements of cancel culture.
Conservative radio host and founder of the right-wing digital news platform, Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro made no attempt to justify the events at the Capitol. Shapiro, a man who has now declared himself and his platform one of the last safe havens for conservative voices, referred to the rioters as “fringe whackos’’, exemplifying how the most prominent voices on the right will have to spend a lot of their time in the near future disengaging from the president most of them supported, as well as from his most ardent followers.
In their knee-jerk rhetorical style of whataboutisms and straw-man arguments, many in the conservative media ecosystem are comparing the mainstream media’s coverage of these riots to their coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, some of which devolved into criminal activity. There was, of course, a need then to understand the anger and pain that was behind such an organic mass movement. But there is also a need to understand the people that Donald Trump identified as forgotten. 75 million people voted for Donald Trump in 2020. The Democrats won over the legislature by winning over white suburban voters, while Trump not only held together his coalition of white working-class voters, he made headway with some working class communities of colour too. If the American media thinks it can just sweep these people under the rug and relegate this dark chapter to the annals of history along with Trump himself then perhaps victory has been declared too soon.
The writer is a The News on Sunday assistant editor