Let's stop pretending we don't know why most GOP Senators didn't vote to convict Trump

  • GOP senators have a bunch of nonsense reasons for why they didn’t convict Donald Trump of incitement.
  • They are all just an attempt to cover up the real reasons, which are much simpler and more obvious.
  • Many GOP Senators were complicit in Trump’s crime. Plus, they want to use him to keep grifting.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Republican senators have concocted a litany of silly, irrelevant reasons for why they didn’t vote to convict former President Donald Trump of fomenting an insurrection on January 6.

They said his impeachment was not constitutional (an argument even conservative lawyers shredded) or a violation of his First Amendment rights (also, no). They said Trump deserves a “mulligan” (which is just stupid, juvenile, and an affront to the rule of law). And they said convicting him is pointless (which ignores the fact that a conviction could have barred Trump from office).

Ultimately these are just words used to pass screen time on national TV or to fill copy in news articles. That’s because these GOP senators refuse to say why they really did not convict Trump: they were complicit in his crime and they are profiting from it.

If you were waiting for a Watergate moment — a moment like the one where Nixon supporter Sen. Barry Goldwater repudiated the President by bursting into the White House and telling him to resign — you were always going to be disappointed. Goldwater didn’t plan the break in of the Watergate. He was not complicit in Nixon’s criminal cover up. But men like GOP Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz were complicit in Trump’s crime. They’re not the only ones.

When reporters asked Trump if he thought he was fomenting violence or unrest in his speech leading up to the Capitol attack, he said no — that his words were perfectly appropriate. Why should he think otherwise? Aside from the obvious fact that his malignant narcissism would never allow him to see it any other way, there’s the reality that no one in his party had ever previously rebuked him for fomenting violence. 

Any Republican senator who didn’t tell Trump to stop lying about the outcome of the election is complicit in Trump’s behavior.

With his lies about election fraud, Trump was ostensibly committing a crime against American democracy in full view of the entire world. Most of the Republican Party — and pretty much every Republican Senator save Utah’s Mitt Romney and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — at least acted as a lookout for this crime if they weren’t driving the getaway car. In a normal court of law these people would never have been allowed to serve as jurors — you can’t be impartial is you’re a co-conspirator — but this is impeachment.

Also, the grifting.

One cannot underestimate the importance of money in all of this. The Stop the Steal movement that lead to the deadly riot was planned and bolstered by individuals with a long history of right-wing grifts. Trump — now without a doubt America’s most celebrated scammer — is going to raise money off of Big Lie grievance for as long as he can. Sens. Cruz and Hawley fundraised off this stolen election fable, and there is an entire cottage industry of small-time internet conspiracy theory scammers who are still raising money off of the idea that Trump must be avenged.

It is not in the best interest of any of these people that Americans wake up from the fever of Trump’s lies. The last thing they need is for Trump’s followers to have a revelation like Jacob Chansley (aka Q Shaman), who said in a statement last week that he was wrong for participating in the riots.

“I am deeply disappointed in former President Trump,” Chansley’s statement said. “He was not honorable. He let a lot of peaceful people down. I have to leave judging him up to other people.”

If Trump’s supporters suddenly, belatedly realize he is not honorable, than none of his grifter friends are either. And that’s a money problem for all involved.

If their cause is not honorable, it will not have the same allure. Political scientist Hannah Arendt taught us that the origins of totalitarian movements are with “atomized, isolated individuals.” They tend to have a lack of political, social or financial ties to wider society — they are rootless, and they are looking for something to give their lives meaning.

So it is with Trump’s movement. Maybe it surprised you that a bunch of these rioters did not have a record of political activity, that many seemed apathetic about Washington before Trump. Actually, this is their least surprising quality. Individuals living in anomic circumstances are the easiest targets for grifters to pick off. Even one of the individuals who showed up ot the January 6 riot in a private plane was having trouble paying down a $37,000 lien for unpaid federal taxes. According to the Washington Post, she almost lost her home.

Arendt taught us that for individuals like this — who made up masses of people who voted for Trump and his GOP ticket as they had never voted before — need a righteous cause with which to align themselves to make them feel rooted. It gives them the consistency they crave. It allows them to feel like good people, who understand their world, and have power within it.

To rebuke Trump and bar him from future office would be to make these once rootless individuals rootless once again. At worst, they could violently turn against the GOP for betraying them, just like the Capitol rioters seemed angrier at Mike Pence than they were at any Democrat. At best, they will feel disappointed and duped by the politicians they supported. Either way, the GOP wouldn’t have been able to pump them for money anymore with the promise of another Trump run or his active embrace of the party. The grift would’ve been over.

And if there’s anything we know about today’s GOP, it’s that it will do anything to keep a grift going — even if it means selling out the rule of law, the Constitution, and their own personal safety in the process. 

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