America benefits from a two-party system’s checks and balances. And while 57 senators, including seven Republicans, recently voted to impeach former President Trump, 67 votes were required to convict him. And so, he was acquitted. Sadly, the Senate seems irreparably divided, but the system worked. Or did it?
On Jan. 6, people were killed in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. A vengeful mob assaulted police officers, threatened to execute elected officials, destroyed property, shocked our country and disrupted the peaceful and lawful transfer of presidential power. Law enforcement officials assure us that “those responsible” will be prosecuted under the full force of the law. We all profess to agree.
The audio-visuals were chilling, as a pillaging mob parroted Trump word for word: “Stop the Steal! Stop the Steal!” So why were so many afraid to hold Trump accountable for inciting this riot? With his summoned and frenzied rabble before him, as he egged them on, he of course should have known what was likely to follow. And when he, as did all America, saw the violence unfolding, why didn’t he stop it?
As my 10-year-old neighbor asked, “He got all those people fired up, and they killed police. Why can the president do that? Is it some technicality?” From the mouths of babes. And what prevents a self-serving action late in a vindictive future demagogue’s term?
Yale professor Timothy Snyder’s book, “On Tyranny,” reminds us: “The European history of the 20th century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”
Democracy and jurisprudence stand on the simple and logical principle that we are accountable for our actions. If not, our children will increasingly ask us why not? And eventually, they will stop listening. When thugs are invited and emboldened to do one’s bidding, a leader is responsible.