Our Best Work From a Very Tense Week for America

The aftermath of the Capitol assault, Trump's second impeachment, and Biden's opening policy moves.

After Donald Trump surprised everyone by winning the 2016 election, I joked that “Well, if nothing else, the next four years should provide some interesting civics lessons.”

Folks, I’m sorry. I’m not usually right about such things.  

My joke wasn’t entirely a dig at the new president. But he had never held elected office, and some of his early priorities—a border wall that Mexico would pay for, a Muslim travel ban—seemed destined to invite legal and legislative challenges. And Democrats had not taken the election results well. In fact, on January 20, 2017, the Washington Post ran a story headlined, “The effort to impeach Donald Trump has begun.” Trump’s term began at noon that day; the story has a timestamp of 12:19 p.m. 

We’re quickly approaching our next Inauguration Day, and the civics lessons keep coming. On Tuesday, the House voted to impeach Trump on a single count of incitement to insurrection. Because the impeachment comes so close to the end of his term, and because the Senate won’t be back until Tuesday, there have been questions about convicting a president who is already out of office. Meanwhile, Trump is being investigated by both the Manhattan district attorney and the state of New York over his business practices, and the New York Times reported Friday that Georgia officials are considering investigating Trump over his phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pleaded for Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state and threatened him if he didn’t.

We are learning more about those who participated in the riot at the Capitol. A few, including Jake Angeli (the “QAnon shaman” in facepaint and a Viking helmet) and Texas real estate agent Jenna Ryan (who documented her trip to D.C. on social media and filmed herself entering the Capitol) have asked Trump for pardons. Angeli says the president “invited him” to the Capitol and Ryan said “I listen to my president who told me to go to the Capitol.” Dozens of people have been arrested, including law enforcement officers, teachers, and even a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. At a press conference on Tuesday, federal officials discussed the state of the investigation and said that people will be “shocked” by what we will learn.

We can only hope that the worst is past. But we don’t know. We’ve seen the photos of heavy fencing around the Supreme Court and the Capitol and National Guard troops on patrol.

There will be up to 20,000 such troops on duty in D.C. on Inauguration Day. If that seems like overkill, consider that the Capitol Police have already arrested a man with an unregistered handgun and 500 rounds of ammunition just a few blocks from the building. The FBI has reported that there are protests being planned for all 50 state capitols. Having witnessed what happened on January 6, states are taking precautions such as activating their National Guard troops and closing statehouses to the public. A friend of mine who covers state government posted on social media about the plans for sheltering in place and other measures she and other journalists will take to cover the events of this weekend safely.

These are trying times, and it will be months before we have a true understanding of how everything that has happened since the election has affected our country. We will continue to learn more about the riot at the Capitol. We’ll see how Republicans who supported Donald Trump—either sincerely because they supported his agenda or more reluctantly in hopes of keeping themselves in office—respond to his absence. We’ll find out if Joe Biden is able to implement any of his agenda in a narrowly divided Congress, or whether the final days of the Trump administration overshadow that amid an impeachment trial and inevitable hearings about the assault on the Capitol on January 6.

For now, we just have to wait and see. In the meantime, The Dispatch will continue to bring you the best reporting and commentary we can during this historic time in our country.

GOP Senators Must Take the Hard Path
David goes back in time, almost a year, and asks his readers to imagine if enough GOP senators had joined Mitt Romney in voting to convict Donald Trump upon his first impeachment. Had that happened, it would have been President Mike Pence who dealt with the protests that roiled our nation this summer; it would have been Pence who shaped our pandemic response. David isn’t yearning for what a Pence administration might have been like; instead he’s pointing out the consequences of having Republican leaders who failed to stand up to Trump. “With some notable exceptions, the Republican rule was clear: Checking Trump was someone else’s job. And every single time Republicans refused to check Trump, they kept putting leadership of the Republic into unfit hands. They made a gamble that the costs would not grow too great. They chose poorly.”

Popular Affront
We’ve spent the past four years talking a lot about the tribalization and polarization that have left so many Americans feeling divided. In his Friday G-File, Jonah warns that getting past all that will require “large generational efforts.” But while we’re working on those, he has a few words for the media, left and right. “Mirrors reflect images in reverse after all, and liberal media was as uniformly anti-Trump as conservative media was pro-Trump. Like two mimes pretending to be one person looking at his reflection, they presented parallel universes in real time. The problem is that neither image reflected reality.” 

Biden Proposal Hijacks Recession for Liberal Wishlist
President-elect Joe Biden released a $1.9 trillion spending package to tackle the pandemic and provide still more economic relief to Americans. As Brian Riedl indicates in his analysis of the program, it didn’t take long for Biden to adopt Rahm Emanuel’s mantra to “never let a crisis go to waste.” Riedl points to the provision for a nationwide $15-an-hour minimum wage, including for restaurant servers. He also highlights that for the $1,400 checks most Americans could receive, “there is no policy justification for these payments, given that most Americans receiving them have not lost income during the pandemic (indeed, personal income reached record levels after last year’s checks), and those who have lost their jobs have access to unemployment benefits replenishing 100 percent of their typical lost wages.” 

What Kind of Leaders Do Republicans Want?
Donald Trump’s second impeachment is historic for a number of reasons: No president has been impeached twice, obviously. And never so close to the end of a term. But it was also the most bipartisan, as 10 Republicans voted for impeachment, led by GOP Conference Chair LIz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House. Steve shares some reporting from a Jan. 1 caucus conference call, during which Cheney cautioned her colleagues that it would violate their oath to the Constitution to back the effort to overturn the election. Speaker Kevin McCarthy quickly distanced himself from Cheney and sarcastically mocked a House member who told McCarthy that “we need leadership.” Steve lays out the case that Republicans have a stark choice to face in terms of the leadership they want for their party.

And here’s the best of the rest:

  • Danielle Pletka looks ahead to the Biden administration and its intentions toward Iran. She predicts that Biden will try to return to the JCPOA—the Iran nuclear deal—and explains why he shouldn’t.

  • The Sweep is our campaign newsletter, but we’re lucky that Sarah is also one of our legal experts. She used her space this week to explain some of the constitutional issues around impeachment.

  • The effort led by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to object to the election results was always bound to fail. But it wasn’t the first time that Cruz, at least, resorted to such tactics. Michael Steel looks back at the 2013 government shutdown that happened when Cruz persuaded House Republicans to try to undo Obamacare.

  • Speaking of Cruz and Hawley … Scott Lincicome in Capitolism looks at their embrace of populism and how they “routinely discard basic facts in an apparent effort to convince an angry populist base that their problems (real or imagined) stem not from their own actions or complex cultural and macroeconomic forces but from ‘them’—immigrants, globalists, Big Tech, brunching elites, China, you name it. “

  • Lastly, the pods: The Dispatch Podcast has been killing it lately. On Wednesday, the gang had a spirited conversation about impeachment. And you won’t want to miss Steve and Sarah’s candid conversation with freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, one of 10 Republicans to vote for impeachment. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah ask whether the words of the president or other individuals might rise to the level of incitement. And on The Remnant, Jonah and Yuval Levin tackle the thorny question of “What should we do next?”