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11 June 2022

A Treasonous President and a Nation in Peril

By: Alon Ben-Meir
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I am at a loss for words to express my horror as I watched the first segment of the public hearing of the Congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. As long as the Republican Party denies what happened that infamous day and Trump remains free, this country faces unprecedented peril.

Righting the Wrong
The Congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection began the first of its public hearings yesterday. Each of these is of the highest importance to the country, even if many Americans are unlikely to be swayed by them. Last Thursday’s hearing revealed never-before-seen footage of the violence that erupted in the nation’s capital, and testimony from officials and advisors close to Trump (including Attorney General Barr and Ivanka Trump) made it clear that they did not believe Trump’s fabrication of a stolen election and told him so.

These hearings are crucial to our Republic, to maintaining the integrity of our democratic norms and institutions, and to preventing not simply another violent mob outbreak, but another attack on our democracy orchestrated, as this was, by the highest office in the land. Indeed, what happened on January 6, 2021, was unprecedented in our history. It was the culmination of a concerted months-long effort by the President of the United States to halt the transfer of power and stage a coup that would have meant the end of this country as we know it, had he been successful.

The rule of law hung in the balance that day. Trump knowingly lied and continues to lie about the results of the 2020 election, and he summoned a mob to the capital promising that January 6 would be “Wild” – a last ditch effort to prevent the certification of Biden’s election victory. Every president in our nation’s history has honored the constitutional duty to relinquish power and allow the peaceful transfer of executive authority – every president that is, until Donald Trump.

This is what many Americans still fail to grasp or acknowledge: Trump struck at the very heart of our democracy, he broke a solemn oath and in doing so he has made it easier for this to happen again. If presidents are unwilling to honor the results of free and fair elections, then the future of this Republic in the gravest of danger. As it is, Trump has forever stained the office of the president: in breaking his oath to the constitution he has irrevocably broken the sacred trust between the American people and their chief executive.

Nothing will ever change the fact that a sitting president attempted an illegal, unconstitutional, and profoundly immoral coup to remain in power; that is a cause not only for the gravest concern but for the deepest sadness. These hearings then are among the most important ever conducted in the 246 years since this nation was born, for they bear on nothing less than the very survival of this country as a constitutional democracy.

The existential danger that burst into deadly mob violence on January 6 has not been laid to rest, it is ongoing. It is still poisoning our country and casting a shadow over the next presidential election. Trump continues to lie to the public; Republican lawmakers continue to parrot those lies and downplay what happened on January 6 or excuse and even justify it as “legitimate political discourse.” If a mob attack on the Capitol is “legitimate political discourse” then our fate is already sealed – it is, then only a matter of time until the next violent insurrection; and the next one may well make January 6 look like a mere rehearsal.

If Trump had his way, then Vice-President Pence would have also broken his oath to the constitution and derailed the certification of electoral votes. Our continued existence as a Republic might very well have hung on Pence’s actions that day. The mob’s response was to call for Pence to be hanged, and a noose and scaffold was erected apparently for that very purpose. What was Trump’s reaction when he was told that the mob was calling for Pence’s summary execution? His words were: “Maybe our supporters have the right idea.” Mike Pence “deserves” it.

Trump did not want the attack to stop, responded angrily to advisors that begged him to call off the mob, and supported their aim to see Mike Pence, one of his most loyal followers, hanged. The country as a whole must reckon with and acknowledge what a sitting president perpetrated and the existential harm he brought on this country with his reckless, abhorrent, and illegal actions. To be sure, Trump was personally and directly responsible for the worst attack on the Capitol since 1814, and as long as he is at the helm of the Republican Party, he remains a very serious threat to the United States.

The Republican Party has been irredeemably hijacked by Trump’s autocratic ambitions. In following him they are bringing this country ever closer to another existential precipice. Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming – effectively excommunicated from the Republican Party simply for performing her sworn duty as a member of Congress – said what every Republican lawmaker “defending the indefensible” must hear and take to heart: “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

Indeed, if these hearings assure us of anything it is that history will not be able to forget or deny the peril in which the nation was placed by a violent mob deployed by the President of the United States to overturn the result of a legitimate elections.

It is now clear, even before we hear more testimony, that Trump and his co-conspirators engineered a coup to prevent the peaceful transfer of power even though he handedly lost the election. Trump knowingly violated the constitution that he swore to uphold and protect. Thus, there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that he has committed treason against the United States, for which he must be charged and face his day in court.

* Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. - alon@alonben-meir.com

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