Prediction #1: The seventeen Republicans — seven in the Senate and ten in the House — who voted to hold Trump responsible for inciting the Capitol takeover will live in peace with their consciences, even as they remain at odds with their political party.
Prediction #2: Facing a challenge he will share with many of his Republican colleagues, Sen. Mitch McConnell will struggle to renegotiate his relationship with his conscience and with his political party.
Here are the words Sen. McConnell spoke soon after he refused to convict Trump on the incitement of insurrection:
“There is no question, none, that Trump is practically and morally responsible,” McConnell declared, “for provoking the events” of Jan. 6. The assault on the Capitol arose from an “intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on his way out.”
How was it the same person could cast a vote that would absolve Trump, and then provide such a forthright statement of Trump’s guilt?
Was Sen.McConnell splitting the difference, or trying to have it both ways, or assuming that a devil’s bargain was his only choice? Was he convinced — to the core of his soul — that his highest service to his nation required him to find, in the Constitution, a prohibition on holding a president accountable after he had left office? Or was he simply seizing on a last-ditch compromise to keep his Republican party unified?
Given how many of us move through life leaving a trail of contradictions in our wake, we are hard put to claim the high ground of consistency that would permit us to reach a stern judgment of McConnell’s zigzagging course of action and expression.
But we do know this: Future presidents who behave reprehensibly in their last days in office will have reason to believe that the end of their term will also set them free of consequence and accountability in the eyes of the Senate.
If I could choose one quotation for the members of Congress to read to themselves and to quote to each other, this would be my choice: “Safeguards are often irksome but sometimes convenient, and if one needs them at all, one is apt to need them badly.”
Henry Adams, who wrote this sentence a century ago, knew something about the American presidency: He was the great-grandson of one president and the grandson of another president. Over the last four years, McConnell must surely have considered the recognition that Adams phrased so memorably: When we need safeguards, we are “apt to need them badly.”
And yet safeguards did not carry McConnell’s vote.
Members of Congress, when you are given the choice to serve your nation on the Safeguard Maintenance Team or the Safeguard Removal Team, please choose maintenance.
McConnell, should you reach a point where you feel ready to share your honest and searching reflections on the decisions you made in February of 2021, you have a standing invitation to deliver that speech at the University of Colorado.
Patty Limerick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can find her blog, “Not My First Rodeo, at the Center of the American West website.
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