A Twenty-First Century Scopes Trial
Donald Trump has always been his own worst enemy. The most damaging wounds to his political career have all proceeded from self-inflicted incidents: firing Jim Comey, releasing the Zelenskyy transcript, and above all, promoting the Big Lie of the election that was supposedly “stolen” from him.
But the own goal of all time was the January 6 insurrection.
Imagine if he had not fomented that violent attempt to overturn the election and murder various federal officials. He would be in an infinitely stronger position right now, to say the least, and perhaps even poised to run again in 2024.
Instead? Not so much.
I realize that others suffered far more from the events of that day, including the people who were murdered, and American democracy itself. And he may yet survive this, politically, and even rise again to menace the republic — indeed, that is one of the very things at stake in this trial. Own goal or no, his chokehold on the Republican Party is currently very much in evidence, given that the Senate is all but sure to acquit him.
But history’s judgment has already begun, and the trial is a watershed in that process, and all the shameless Republican rank-closing in the world will not change that.
That has surprised me. As important as impeachment is on principle, I somehow expected this trial to be more or less a formality. Knowing that the craven Republican caucus will surely block his conviction, the point of the trial seemed to be to draw a line in the sand — to fall back on Gulf war tropes — to say that such behavior cannot be allowed to stand, even if the GOP is perfectly fine with it. I did not expect the trial to be such a powerful indictment defining Trump’s shameful legacy, or to reshape political dialogue in the US going forward, which it is now clear that it is doing.
The Republican position (check your kama sutra) is that Donald Trump gave one little speech at a rally, said nothing untoward, and then a bunch of folks spontaneously got out of hand just by sheer coincidence. If some of them came to that rally already prepared for violence, well, that’s all the more proof that it had nothing to do with what Trump said that day.