When President George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, he told Americans that they’d come under attack because the terrorists “hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government.” Every nation around the world now had to decide, he added: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
On January 6, 2021, another joint session was attacked in that very chamber — this time not by a foreign enemy, but by a mob incited by President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and remain president. While the 1/6 attack thankfully saw only a small fraction of the deaths of 9/11, it was just as much of threat to our republic.
My hope is that the House managers who will be arguing their case against Trump in his Senate impeachment trial this week invoke the same framing and moral clarity as we saw from Bush after 9/11. They should point-blank tell the 50 GOP senators — at least 17 of whom are needed to break party ranks to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection — that they are either with Trump or they are with the United States.
Those words are not hyperbolic. Trump is facing charges that are infinitely more serious than any previous presidential impeachment — including his own last year.
This was neither lying under oath to cover up of an affair (Bill Clinton) nor pressuring a foreign leader to assist a political campaign (Trump). As the House managers sum up in the very first line of their trial brief submitted last Tuesday, “This trial arises from President Donald J. Trump’s incitement of insurrection against the Republic he swore to protect.”
The House managers’ brief documents in detail how Trump engaged in two months of lies about the election results and repeatedly called on his most rabid supporters to join him in Washington, DC, to “Stop the Steal” on January 6 — the day of Congress’ joint session to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory.
At the rally that day — which took place within walking distance of the Capitol — the crowd chanted, “Fight for Trump,” as he served up words that urged action. These included Trump’s declarations like, “We’re stuck with a president who lost the election by a lot and we have to live with that for four more years. We’re just not going to let that happen,” and, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness.”
The context of Trump’s words matter. This speech was not fiery rhetoric delivered on election eve urging people to vote — that would’ve been typical political fare. By the time Trump spoke those words on January 6, no legal option remained for his supporters to stop Biden from becoming president. Trump knew exactly what he was doing. As the House managers wrote, Trump “summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
It thus comes as no surprise that Trump’s own supporters repeatedly stated they attacked the Capitol because in their view, that is what Trump called upon them to do. As the House managers detail in their brief, Trump supporters were captured on video in the Capitol declaring, “(o)ur president wants us here. … We wait and take orders from our president,” while another stated, “(w)e were invited here … by the President of the United States!”
Trump supporters arrested for their role in the insurrection have echoed that sentiment. A video obtained by CNN shows Jacob Chansley, better known as the “QAnon Shaman,” boasting on the afternoon of January 6 — after members of Congress stopped the certification process and fled for their safety — “Donald Trump asked everybody to go home … because we won the f**king day. We f**king won. … Donald Trump is still our president.”
Trump, say the House managers in their brief, “in a grievous betrayal of his Oath of Office,” incited an attack on our Capitol to prevent “Congress’s confirmation of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. as the winner of the presidential election.” Those are the facts.
GOP senators have a simple choice in this impeachment trial: Are they with Trump? Or are they with the United States of America? Just as after 9/11, there are no other options.