Insurrection at the Capitol

I never felt comfortable with Trump. From the moment I saw him on television competing for president, I felt unease. On March 17, 2016, I wrote:

“Trump is borrowing from the violent politics of early twentieth-century Europe. Trump is showing tyrannical tendencies. He urges his followers to be violent towards opponents. He is contemptible of minorities. He also demonizes foreigners for America’s ills like unemployment and poverty. He says he will bring jobs back from China and make America great again, but fails to explain how.”

His boastful speeches peppered with streams of lies convinced me the man was shallow. He certainly did not take democracy seriously. He acted as if he thought the country was his, merely for looting. His election and the anti-democratic and ecocidal policies of his administration confirmed my misgivings. Trump is impunity.

I kept asking why Americans voted for him. Trump made clear he only cared for Trump.

Perhaps pro-Trump Americans did not have any confidence in Hillary Clinton who represented the Democratic alternative to Trump. It’s also possible that Trump’s advertisement of his fake “billionaire” status added to his attraction in the blurred eyes of people dreaming of money and material wealth. These were some of the people who had seen the country’s wealth moving only in the direction of the tiny minority of the superrich, now better known as the billionaire class. They probably had visions of Trump putting a brake to that one-way street, perhaps diverting some of the gravy trains to their direction.

In addition, Trump kept deceiving his followers of “making America great again,” building a wall around the country, especially a wall to stop the influx of Mexicans and other illegal migrants. He lied repeatedly that Mexico would be forced to pay for building his wall.

Trump’s monster lie, and the most dangerous and consequential at that, was his denial of climate change, the singular event of our epoch, which scientists call Anthropocene. This is the age of human domination of the planet to the point of near holocaust for animals and plants.

So Trump’s refusal to face the truth of climate change, that human industry and fossil fuels in particular, are making the planet eventually unlivable, was a very convenient lie downgrading America and the world.

His four years as president of the United States were calamitous: unregulated Trump America pumped deadly and immense  amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributed to the ceaseless rise of global temperature.

The insurrection and attack on the Capitol

I was not surprised that Trump inspired and incited the invasion and temporary but violent occupation of the Capitol. This was an insurrection in the very day – January 6, 2021 – a divided Congress and Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, had started confirming the election of the new president, Joe Biden.

Trump was so indecent and contemptible of this country’s democratic institutions that he urged his followers to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell,” punish Congress for daring to approve Biden’s electoral victory, which he said was fraudulent.

The violence of the insurrectionists in wrecking things in the beautiful Capitol building and offices of Congressmen and Senators: smashing furniture, stealing computers, breaking glass windows, terrorized Members of Congress, including the vice president, and engaging in “other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.”

The attacking mob included Americans with grievances expressed in a religious fervor, particularly the passion of white Evangelical Christians. This prepared the supporters of Trump to think of themselves fighting a holy war.

The insurrectionists caused a few deaths and shocked the country and the world. However, several Republican Senators and more than 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives refused to honor the election of Joe Biden, continuing to promote the canard of Trump that the Democrats stole the election.

Removing a president 

All these realities are disturbing enough. I don’t think Democratic members of Congress have enough time to impeach and convict Trump or kick out of Congress Republican conspirators. Joe Biden becomes president on January 20th.

However, I am appalled the American Constitution and government seem to be without means of immediately removing a president from office who incited an insurrection, a prologue to a coup d’ etat.

Jennifer Senior, Opinion Columnist for the New York Times, described Trump after the insurrection in this manner:

“The president’s flight into the ozone of crazy was as inevitable as the country’s descent into anarchy… Trump… impeccably meets the criteria of a malignant narcissist… emblematic of psychopaths…. Trump remains a domestic security risk, and he’s made us a target for our enemies. They know that a fragile, unbalanced man is at the helm, his nerves as combustible as dry leaves. He’s desperate, and he’s angry, and he’s baitable. It makes us unsafe. We need to get him out.”

True, Trump should have been removed the very day of the insurrection, January 6.

Five days later, January 11, 2021, the Democratic leadership of the US House of Representatives started impeachment against Trump. The impeachment resolution says Donald Trump is being impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” like “incitement of insurrection.”

The Congressional Resolution cites section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution that prohibits federal employment or benefits to any person that fought against the United States in an insurrection or rebellion.

The Resolution for impeaching Trump says that “Trump will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution.”

If we are lucky and Joe Biden takes office without confronting a real coup, he must add to his agenda a legislative priority of diminishing the powers of the president. This ought to include a provision of immediate removal of a president responsible for inciting an insurrection or a coup.

The removal of the president should be done by a special committee of citizens selected by lot to protect the Constitution.

The Greeks offer clues. According to Aristotle, the Athenians in the sixth century BCE had given the responsibility of Eisaggelia (impeaching government officials accused of crimes against the state: treason or rebellion) to Areopagos (the Hill of Ares). This was a council of former archons (powerful citizens) for guarding the Constitution.

In the fifth century BCE, punishing high crimes and misdemeanors moved from Areopagos to a more democratic institution known as Prytany. This was a fifty-member executive committee of the Council of Five-Hundred, which served the Ecclesia, the democratic Assembly of Athens.

The jury courts could also intervene to punishing traitors (The Constitution of Athens 25.1-3).

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.