Dear grandkids and great grandkids, too,
Last week, as we endured the 49th week of a pandemic, our nation watched the Senate acquit the former president of siccing a mob on the Capitol to prevent Congress from exercising its constitutional duty.
It was a strange, gut-wrenching spectacle filled with graphic video images of rioters smashing the hallowed halls of our democracy, overwhelming police, and sending our elected officials fleeing for their lives. We saw it on television. We saw the former president call the mob to Washington, D.C. He and his loyal henchmen claimed he won the 2020 election. He said the governors of all 50 states certified fraudulent election results.
Why were they fraudulent? Were the Republican and Democrat governors on the take? Why did the president claim foul? What is the evidence? Didn't his own Justice Department and 60 judges reject his claims of fraud?
No, he said, they were fraudulent just because he said so. He won because he said so.
On Jan. 6, as Congress gathered to finalize the vote, he told the mob to march to the Capitol and stop the count. And, they did, chanting his name, vowing to hang his own vice president. It looked like a scene from a banana republic as the old guard used force to stay in power.
What did the veep do to incur the ire of his boss? He explained the Constitution did not allow him to do what the boss wanted: Stop Congress from counting the votes.
Had not the brave police resisted until the veep and Congress escaped, there could have been a real bloodbath. There might have been dozens of fatalities on top of the six who lost their lives. Our nation's top officials, escorted by armed agents, were hustled to safety as the mob, bent on mayhem, was just yards away.
The Democrats in the House, aided by a handful of Republicans, blamed the president for the riot and impeached him. After a week-long trial, he was found not guilty. Seven Republicans, including Maine's Susan Collins, joined 48 Democrats and two independents to vote guilty. Maine's independent senator, Angus King, voted to convict. The final tally was 57 to 43 to convict, but he got off, for the rules say you need a two-thirds vote to convict.
When it was over, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP senate leader, chastised the former president for inciting the insurrection, saying he was practically and morally responsible for it. But he and the other 42 other Republicans voted against conviction on a technicality. Then, strangely, McConnell noted the former president is still in hot water. "President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office as an ordinary citizen," McConnell said. "He didn't get away with anything. Yet." Then he paused and added another "Yet."
What can we learn from the events of the last few months? For the answer, I asked an expert, Professor Andrew Rudelevige, the chair of the government and legal studies department at Bowdoin.
He said there is partisan tribalism to our current Republican and Democrat politics, sort of like how Red Sox fans hate the Yankees. And there is another battle over the legacy of the former president. The Republicans are split, too. Traditional Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce, business Republicans who write the big checks seem at odds with the rabid Trump followers.
Will the split give us a third political party? Doubtful, Rudelevige said. That is difficult to do under our current rules, which, he added, were written by the other two parties.
History says it is not the first time our nation has been divided. What about the future? Where do we go from here? What about the younger generation?
They give Professor Rudelevige hope. Students are more accepting of factors like race, gender and sexuality, that limited political participation in earlier eras. They want to work for the common good, like helping out in food banks, but he is not sure they rely on politics.
"I tell them they have to do more than vote. The vote is just part of the process. For example, if they want to change the behavior of the local police, they have to change the town council," he said.
What should we take away from the spectacle of the insurrection and the impeachment trial?
"I fear we are entering a long period of crazy politics. I hope we revert and enter a period where we come together, " the professor said.
One thing, dear grandkids, we learned from the impeachment battle is that our national leaders are old. Many, like your grandfather, are near, at, or past 80.
Soon it will be your turn to lead.