Trump’s Defense: Dereliction of Duty

Watching the latter portion of the House Impeachment Manager’s Wednesday case against former President Trump, I was struck less by the argument Trump’s lawyers — and Congressional Republicans — wanted to make — that the President is not guilty as charged of incitement of insurrection because a portion of his supporters (and those of the GOP) were dead set on insurrection prior to January 6, and perhaps even prior to the election. In this narrative Trump might have inadvertently fired up the mob, but it had already planned to assault the capitol, so he merely lit tinder ready to explode like any Republican politician might do given the mood of its radical faction. Ted Cruz was most explicit, saying that in a criminal case (this wasn’t one) the burden of proof for incitement had been met.

But to hold on to this defense — “I just lit the match inadvertently” — Trump must indict himself (or his lawyers must) for another if different impeachable offense: dereliction of duty. Let us imagine (I can’t) that Trump had nothing to do with the decision by the mob to assault the Capitol to prevent the certification of the electoral college results. He was as surprised as anyone when the demonstrators overturned the police lines and began shouting “Hang Pence.” He was expecting a peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden.

What did the President of the United States do when, on his own television, he saw “American carnage” break loose as the closing act of his own Administration.

Nothing. Well, he did send a few tweets, but they oozed sympathy and admiration for the insurrectionists, and certainly lacked even a whiff of a law and order President cracking down on an assault on the temple of our democracy.

He can’t fall back on the Sorceror’s Apprentice defense — “I started but do not know how to stop it” — because an entire array of his friends and allies told him precisely what to do, and that he, and only he could stop the violence — everyone from House Minority Leader McCarthy to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. He can’t please that he didn’t know enough of what was happening — we know how, when, and by whom he was given the grisly details. Not did he lack the tools needed — his Vice-President proved quite capable of calling in the National Guard.

Where was the tough guy when the nation really needed him? Completely helpless and childish. The Impeachment Managers chose to use Trump’s utter lack of action to quell the violence to drive home his complicity. But even if Republican Senators reject that premise, they then have no alternative except one amply calling for conviction on a lesser, but still high crime — total inaction in the face of national crisis.

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, former executive director & chairman Sierra Club and Senior Climate Advisor to Michael Bloomberg

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store