Trump defence attorney at the second impeachment trial
Q: Did Trump ‘incite’ the mob that trashed the Capitol on 6 January?
A: No or yes, depending on what you read into that word.
Turning to my computer thesaurus, ‘incite’ can mean, amongst other things, ‘stir up’ and ‘rouse’, or ‘bring about’ and ‘cause’. The first two of these distance Trump’s words that day from the specific outcome of the rally, viz the sacking of the Capitol; therefore, ‘no’. The second two forge a direct, causal connection between the words and that specific outcome; therefore, ‘yes’.
To forge that connection, however, the accuser has to prove that this specific outcome was a direct result of those words, used with the intent to bring about that outcome. A chain of causality has to be established. This would be a very hard up-hill slog indeed, all the more so because the intent on the part of at least some of the protesters was demonstrably present before the words were uttered; they arrived at the scene with a plan they had already devised.
So now the case for ‘yes’ has to include words used before those plans were hatched. The accusers tried that gambit by harking back to fighting talk on Trump’s part on earlier occasions. But they shot themselves in the foot: the defence played back numerous instances of Democrat politicians using the word ‘fight’ in their own, often very inflammatory, utterances.
Oh, but there weren’t any violent outcomes of any of those words when used by Democrats, I hear someone say.
Like hell there weren’t. If it’s ‘incitement’ in the sense of ‘bring about’/’cause’ you want, look no further than the third-world-insurrection images of American cities that bore the brunt of the BLM riots. This is truly an instance of the pot calling the kettle black.
Oh, but those riots, um, I mean ‘peaceful protests’, were in a good cause, so that makes them OK; whereas the sacking of the Capitol was not in a good cause, which makes it not OK, whimpers the lefty apologeticist.
Setting political and ideological biases aside, if it’s wrong to ‘incite’ in the direct, causal sense, then there are quite a few high-profile Democrats who should be in the dock alongside Trump. If they are off the hook for the BLM mayhem, then Trump is off the hook for the storming of the Capitol. Sauce for the goose.
Is this what American democracy has come to? Is this what Western democracy is coming to?
As I have argued in my previous article ‘The demise of the middle path in Western democracies’ (Breaking Views 7 February), extremism engenders opposing extremism. Abandoning the ‘middle path’ and the spirit of Voltaire leads to a situation where the political stage is taken over by actors who are at one another’s throats while also regarding the moderates as complicit in the agenda of their antagonists. For decades, the Western far left has been successfully pursuing its sociopolitical goals, usually through ostensibly centre-left parties and coalitions. The [re-]emergence of the far right as a reaction to this should surprise nobody.
Democrats had better hope that Trump is not convicted in Georgia – in theory, he could face prison time. That would be an enormous boost for the far right – martyrs are grist to the mill for a cause. We could be seeing a great deal more of the Proud Boys, semi-automatics at the ready, on our screens in the near future.
Assuming that he won’t be barred, will Trump run again in 2024? He’ll be 78 when he enters the Whitehouse for the second time – the same age as Biden now. Should Biden vacate the presidential seat before 2024 due to ill health or death, that would certainly make voters in general think twice about voting for yet another guy in his late 70s. There is also a distinct possibility that the mood-swing against Trump within Republican ranks will intensify. They’ll still want a firebrand – especially if Harpie Harris is the alternative, which seems worrisomely likely – but he’ll need to be younger and less of an embarrassment than Trump turned out to be. I’ll be keeping an eye on Rubio.
In the meantime, let’s all keep a very wary look-out for repetitions of ‘incitement’ by Democrats on the emboldened left flank of the party.
Barend Vlaardingerbroek BA, BSc, BEdSt, PGDipLaws, MAppSc, PhD is an associate professor of education at the American University of Beirut and is a regular commentator on social and political issues.