Monthly Archives: January 2021
They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.
White evangelicals believe they see truths that you and I cannot. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of evangelicalism. As law enforcement tracks down and identifies the insurrectionist terrorists of January 6, it has become more clear who they are and what they wanted. Amid the QAnon adherents, anti-Semites, neo-Confederates, and revolutionary cosplayers were the evangelical faithful: those who see themselves as the vanguard of God’s end-times army. Their proud participation in the riot represented some of the most extreme political actions that any group of evangelicals has taken in recent history. These evangelical participants in that mob believed they were part of a holy war. Insurgents carried signs that read “Jesus Saves,” “In God We Trust,” “Jesus 2020,” and “Jesus Is My Savior, Trump Is My President.” One man marched through the halls of Congress carrying a Christian flag, another a Bible. They chanted, “The blood of Jesus covering this place.”
These “Christians” apparently believe that they had no choice but to try to overthrow Congress. For months, various evangelicals have claimed in sermons, on social media, and during protests that malicious forces stole the election, conspired to suppress Christian liberties, and aimed to suppress on their freedom to worship and spread the Christian gospel. This message is not something new. It has been a message of the Trump era to the Christian faithful warning them that only Trump could save Christianity. Evangelical leader Franklin Graham threw his support behind Donald Trump throughout his 2016 campaign and continued to do so during Trump’s presidency. Most of the evangelical community followed suit. Now, Graham is still firmly behind Trump, even though the president incited an insurrection and repeated baseless lies that the election was stolen from him. In fact, Graham championed those conspiracy theories, and now, he’s comparing the Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment with the Christian disciple Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for thrity pieces of silver. Like many in the far-right Christian conservative movement, Graham believes that Donald Trump is Christianity’s new savior.
Liberty University’s think tank, the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty, which was launched in 2019 and named after its co-founders: Jerry Falwell Jr., the now disgraced and former Liberty University president and Charlie Kirk, the political activist and founder of Turning Point USA, has gone so far as to try to take Christ out of Christianity because they perceive Him as too weak. The Falkirk website states: “Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough. Although we do, as Jesus taught, turn the other cheek in our personal relationships, we cannot abdicate our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield. There is too much at stake in the clash for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic engagement and initiative is needed on the part of every conservative American.” Falkirk churns out a steady stream of propaganda to convince Christian conservatives they are oppressed victims in society, church, politics, culture, child-rearing, and every other dimension of life. Commentators at the center do not believe “a real Christian can vote Democratic” because of the “blasphemous accouterments” of the party. People who disagree with Falkirk’s politics are treated as part of the shadowy, undefined cabal of “they” and “them” that persecutes and hates conservative Christians. The Falkirk Center doesn’t like it when other groups—racial minorities, for example—describe reality in terms of oppression and power, because this is a central part of Falkirk’s propaganda. They believe that if Christian patriots have power, they must use it to reshape culture and push out the leftists. If Christians have lost power, they must regain it before they are crushed by the elites. On January 6, the day of the storming of the U.S. Capitol and the certification of Joe Biden’s election, Falkirk perfunctorily denounced the violence at the Capitol. But just one day later, the center was still peddling fears of massive voter fraud, saying that the fraud “debate” will be an open question for years to come. The Falkirk team seems utterly oblivious to the fact that it was precisely their brand of rhetoric—besieged, terrified, Christian nationalist, and masculinity-obsessed—that stirred up the anti-democratic rioters of last week.
The “Christian” insurrectionists believed that the final days of history were at hand and that the Capitol was the site of a battle so important and significant it would have the power to usher in a new era of Christian dominance. As one evangelical from Texas told The New York Times, “We are fighting good versus evil, dark versus light.” This belief comes from a movement in Christianity (and a few other religions) called Millennialism. Christianity and Judaism have both produced messianic movements that featured millennialist teachings—a belief that an earthly kingdom of God is at hand. These millennialist movements often led to considerable social unrest. Many if not most millennialist groups claim that the current society and its rulers are corrupt, unjust, or otherwise wrong and will soon be destroyed by a powerful force. The harmful nature of the status quo is considered intractable without the anticipated dramatic change. The French sociologist and Dominican priest Henri Desroche observed that millennialist movements often envisioned three periods in which change might occur. First, the movement’s elected members will be increasingly oppressed, leading to the second period in which the movement resists the oppression. The third period brings about a new utopian age, liberating the members of the movement. The current millennialist movement believes that Donald Trump is their messiah and will deliver them from the oppressive nature of liberals, i.e., the Democratic Party and especially its progressive wing. Trump and his followers love to invoke the word “socialism” as the greatest evil that exists. I have heard many times, “I don’t want to live in a socialist country.”
Much has been made about the evangelical community’s relationship with Donald Trump. Typically, observers tend to view this alliance as purely transactional, with evangelicals holding their noses and pledging their support to the least Christian of men to get something in return—most notably, a trio of religiously conservative Supreme Court justices. The misguided and short-sighted belief that evangelicals are overlooking the unchristian behavior of Trump is dangerous. I have talked to some of these people, and they honestly believe that Trump is the most Christian president in history, though they can never articulate why they think this other than the misguided belief that he is pro-life. If you think that evangelicals are just overlooking his behavior, they are not. They are blinded to it, and they are so caught up in a religious fervor that they cannot see what is staring them in the face. They have lost their way, and they are not just wandering in the wilderness. They don’t even realize that they are lost or even in the wilderness. The Capitol attack revealed in all its gruesome detail the extent to which Trump channels the apocalyptic fervor that has long animated many white evangelical Christians in this country. They believe the end times are near and their flawed but “King David-like” leader Donald Trump will save them.
From the moment that Christian separatists landed on North America’s shores, they have espoused end-times conspiracies. Their messages have been relatively innocuous most of the time, part of the broader millennialist outlook shared among most major religious traditions. But these conspiracies can have dangerous consequences—and sometimes they lead to violence. Take, for example, the results of Jonestown. On November 18, 1978, 909 individuals died in Jonestown, from apparent cyanide poisoning, in an event termed “revolutionary suicide” by the cult leader Jim Jones. Jones led a left-wing oriented cult, but current evangelical millennialists have taken up the same religious zeal. Throughout American history, every evangelical generation has seen some of its believers driven to extreme conspiracies that blend with other strains of militant political faith. In the Trump era, with the destabilizing impact of a global pandemic and a devastated economy, white evangelical Christianity has become entangled with a broader revolution against the government to keep Donald Trump in office, culminating (so far) in an insurrection in the name of Jesus Christ breaking out in tandem with the Trump voter fraud coup. What might be the most fighting aspect of this is that the violence of January 6 is, in all likelihood, a foretelling of where this group might go once Trump is finally out of office and their desperation reaches a fever pitch.
Evangelical apocalypticism is grounded in a complicated and convoluted reading of the biblical books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation, some of the most violent books in the Bible. Because of a confluence of factors such as the death and destruction caused by the Civil War, massive immigration, growing religious diversity in the United States that threatened Protestant power, and new secularizing forces, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, a small group of evangelical preachers, businessmen, college professors, publishers, and laypeople began reading their Bibles with new eyes. This group became increasingly influential and took hold as a reaction to the Roaring Twenties and later to the spread of communism in the 1950s. Factor in the civil rights movements of minorities and evangelicals are downright apoplectic. Four years ago, this apocalyptic zeal has found a national leader in the most unlikely of men, Donald Trump.
According to evangelicals, the current age will climax with the restoration of Jews to Palestine and the emergence of powerful empires in Rome, Russia, and Asia. Seeking to unite the world’s nations and end chaos and war, a new leader will appear promising peace and security. Unwilling or unable to recognize that he is the prophesied Antichrist, most political and religious leaders worldwide will cede their sovereignty and independence to him through an international agency. Just before the Antichrist is revealed for the threat that he is, all true Christians will vanish from the earth in “the rapture,” joining the resurrected Jesus in heaven. Shortly after that, the imposter will lead the world through seven years of tribulation, at the end of which Jesus and the saints will return to earth and battle the forces of evil at Armageddon (a literal place they believe is in Israel). Christ will defeat the Antichrist and establish a millennial kingdom of peace and prosperity on earth. Such convictions made evangelicals astute students of world events, and it is probably also the reason they are so accepting of Trump’s lies. They are dangerously gullible. They were and are continually lining up global changes with their reading of their apocalyptic prophecy. I remember the syndicated program Jack Van Impe Presentshosted by the late Jack Van Impe and his wife, Rexella. Week after week, Van Impe predicted a date for the end-times becoming more desperate as the day drew near until it eventually passed, after which he chose a new date. His program consisted of a commentary on the news of the week through an interpretation of the Bible. Many evangelicals hung on his and the words of other “prophets.”
Most of these evangelical millennialists do not believe that the U.S. is described in the Bible’s end-times history. They hope through their perseverance that the U.S. might be one of the few faithful nations, an end-times stronghold where true Christianity is practiced, the gospel is preached, and the power of the Antichrist is challenged continuously and subverted until Christ returns to save them. While evangelicals hope for this, they fear that, unless they act decisively, the U.S. might relinquish its independence and align with the Antichrist. They have merged Christian universalism with American nationalism, remaking evangelicalism as a Christian nationalist movement through this belief. This apocalyptic thinking has defined the evangelical movement for the last century and a half. It was central to the ministry of almost every prominent American evangelical megachurch pastor, radio preacher, or television pioneer, from Aimee Semple McPherson to Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell. Evangelist Billy Sunday said, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms, and hell and traitors are synonymous.”
Evangelicals’ apocalyptic beliefs foster a sense of urgency and certainty and a vision of the world defined in absolute terms. Many evangelicals believe that they are engaged in the ultimate game of good versus evil. They have no time or regard for incremental change or for reasoning with those who disagree with them. They call for drastic and immediate solutions to the problems they see around them. For evangelicals, apocalypticism fills the in blanks, rationalizes their choices, and connects the dots, culminating in their unceasing devotion to Donald Trump, while making their actions more urgent and compromise unlikely.
Evangelicals have eagerly embraced Trump’s conspiratorial lies. They believe that Barack Obama was born in Africa and is a Muslim. They partner with QAnon activists in accusing Democrats and Hollywood stars of secretly committing atrocious immoral acts that include cannibalism and pedophilia. They argue that George Soros is using his vast wealth to build a one-world government. They see lies as truth and truth as lies. In their world, Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump. A fake election pushing Trump out of the way means Satan can bring his plans for globalization and world domination, through the Antichrist, to fruition.
The apocalypse that evangelicals have been predicting for generations seems for some to have finally begun. A Biden administration, they are confident, is not only illegitimate but will also align with the forces of evil, from the U.N. to a cabal of international Jews, to persecute all true Christians. This white evangelical segment sees itself as a besieged minority, surrounded on all sides by the forces of darkness, sin, and secularism. This makes them just as dangerous as a wild animal that is cornered and scared. They believe that, in the last days, governments will turn against them, and their religious liberty will be suppressed. From COVID-19 shutdowns to alleged election fraud, their reading of current events tells them that the end times have begun. They believe that the Bible demands that they go to war against the Antichrist and all of his minions. Suppose Joe Biden and the other leaders of the U.S. government—now including even staunch Christian conservatives like Mike Pence—represent the forces of the Antichrist. In that case, the faithful have no choice but to organize against them. They need to stop the Antichrist by any means necessary. God demands no less than insurrection.
Evangelicals do not understand that they are following evil and excusing it by claiming to follow God. They misinterpret the false prophets and teachers described in 2 Peter to mean that those opposed to their beliefs are these false prophets. Second Peter 2:1-3 says,
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
They continually pervert the Bible to be interpreted to fit their apocalyptic and fanatical beliefs. They use to oppress others and impose their brand of government that would allow no dissent to their beliefs.
Matthew 4:1 says, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” The devil has tempted evangelicals, but instead of resisting temptation, they have allowed Satan to control them. The Devil thrives on lies, sedition, and hubris. I won’t go so far as to say that Donald Trump is doing the Devil’s bidding, but I will say that Donald Trump is not following the will of God. Evangelicals in America have gotten lost because they chose the temptation of power over the command of brotherhood and faith. Paul’s teaching on the Christian’s relationship to civil government is outlined in Romans 13. Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
At the heart of Christianity is selflessness and love. The heart of American conservatism is personal freedom and individualism at the expense of oppressing those who do not fall under their white evangelical personification. Sadly, far-right Christians such as Liberty University have chosen the latter while calling it the former. Brad Littlejohn, a fellow at the conservative think-tank the Edmund Burke Foundation, championed selfishness and wrote in 2019 that in an unselfish world, “parents couldn’t really give each of their children a Christmas gift—something perfectly chosen for that child’s interests and developmental needs. As soon as they gave the gift, the child would look for another sibling to give it to. Pretty soon, the children would be passing all of their gifts around in a confusion of constant sharing, rather than going off to their rooms to practice for an hour on their new ukulele. By the next day, they would probably have given all their gifts away to the neighbor kids. Indeed, in this world, parents wouldn’t have given their kids gifts in the first place—come Christmas, they would’ve scanned the world for the neediest person they could find and given everything they could to that person instead. Or rather, they would have long since given away all their earthly possessions in a frenzy of selflessness (even as other equally selfless people tried to load them with new possessions).” This statement, though hyperbolic, is a clear rejection of the selfless teachings of Christ and one that attempt to portray selfishness and greed as a Christian virtue.
For years we have seen people try to convince themselves that America is a “Christian” nation. But when their ideals of America collide with their ideals of Christianity, such as selflessness and charity, evangelicals believe that we must remake Christianity into their perverted capitalist, white supremacist beliefs. Sadly, evangelical conservatives in the Republican Party have chosen their brand of American patriotism over Jesus. They have lost their way, and we must pray that they can find truth and repentance before they destroy us all by continuing to back power-hungry, egomaniacal politicians like Donald Trump. Politicians of this ilk will continue to use apocalyptic fear to have influence over and support from delusional evangelicals. Trump may be losing his grip as many turn against him after he incited a terrorist attack against Congress, but another will replace him. Already, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are jockeying for that position. We have to be diligent and stop their brand of apocalyptic extremism.
Neighbors of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are saying that the president’s daughter and her husband instructed their Secret Service detail not to use any of the six bathrooms in their home. Seriously, they have six bathrooms in their home, and they couldn’t set aside just one for the men and women there to protect them. Does this sound familiar to anyone? It reminded me of a particular movie I saw a few years ago: The Help.
In the movie The Help, the character Hilly, an elitist white supremacist woman, tries to get a law passed to forbid white families from letting their domestic servants use the bathroom inside the house. Hilly insists that everyone install separate bathrooms for their “help.” Minny, Hilly’s black maid, is fired for using the guest bathroom and is rendered unemployable due to Hilly’s lies. Minny gets her revenge for the injustice. Minny committed what she calls a “terrible awful.” After her termination, Minny brought Hilly her famous chocolate pie, but after Hilly had finished two slices, Minny revealed that she baked her own shit into the pie. If you haven’t seen the movie, I am sorry that I gave this part away, but I wanted to make a point. Maybe someone will serve the Kushners one of Minny’s famous “chocolate” pies.
The fact that there are people who are as elitist as the Kushners is so infuriating. The Kushners have six bathrooms in their home, yet they wouldn’t allow the men and women who are sworn to give their lives to protect them to use just one of those bathrooms. Furthermore, this elitism came at a cost to the U.S. taxpayers. Since September 2017, the federal government has spent $3,000 a month — more than $100,000 to date — to rent a basement studio, with a bathroom, from a Kushner family neighbor for the Secret Service to use.
I despise elitism. I especially hate academic elitism, something I have been the victim of many times. I don’t care what college or university you graduated from. It is what a person makes of their education that means more. Just because someone went to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Penn doesn’t make them intelligent, especially when you are too stupid to understand that your candidate lost the election. These same idiots continued their false claims when no fraud was found even after every judge and election official in the country declared the election free and fair. You are either stupid or a liar if you can’t see what has been proven over and over again. In recent days, I have heard numerous times that Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are “very smart men” because they went to an Ivy League school. George W. Bush went to an Ivy League school. I never heard even his most ardent supporters, hell I never even heard his family, say that Bush was a “very smart man” because he attended an Ivy League school, let alone any other reason.
I think the whole college admission scandal that Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin got caught up in showed us that just because someone went to an elite school, it does not mean they had the smarts to attend. It just proved that they had the money to get admitted and enough money to make sure they made the right grades. When I graduated high school, I got accepted to every college to which I applied. Some were the most elite colleges of the South, but my family did not have the money to pay for those colleges. I could have applied to other colleges. I have no doubt I would have been admitted to any college I applied to, but I did not have the money for the application fees for many of these colleges, and because of my parents’ very modest middle-class incomes, I did not qualify for assistance. The only scholarship at a major university I received was because a family friend called in a favor, but I did not take that scholarship because the person who was convinced to give me the scholarship could only guarantee it for one year, and he was retiring. There was no guarantee I’d get the scholarship the next year, and there would be no one to turn to for help (back then, this university only gave scholarships through their alumni association, so you were at their mercy). I chose to attend a smaller college that gave full scholarships to all high school valedictorians in Alabama, and I was my small high school’s valedictorian.
I learned a very valuable lesson from attending that small college. After undergrad, I went to a graduate school with one of the top three military history programs in the country. It also had an excellent and well-respected civil rights history program. We had students from some of the most prestigious colleges in the country in our program. What I realized was that I had gotten a far better education at my small state college that always seemed to be fighting for every penny of funding they could than elite schools with multimillion-dollar endowments. I had made the most of the opportunities I had. I took advantage of every opportunity to increase my attractiveness on the job market. Yet, I struggled financially for years, trying to find a decent job. Eventually, I had to move back in with my parents in Alabama and take whatever job I could get. Being a 7th-12th grade social studies and English teacher took up all of my free time, and eventually, the funding for my Ph.D. ran out before I could finish my dissertation.
Through a series of unfortunate events, I found myself jobless after I had basically sacrificed everything for my job as a teacher. I had always dreamed of being a teacher. I loved teaching, but teaching the children of white supremacists at a small private school in Alabama took its toll on me. My health suffered, and I lost my job. The school hired a football coach to replace me and did not renew my contract. They gave me absolutely no notice. They never even hinted that my job was in jeopardy. I found myself jobless and penniless. Thankfully, the people who read this blog helped me out and sustained me until I found my current job thanks to those marketable skills I had worked so hard to add to my resume. Ten years ago, I would have never believed that I would now be a museum curator and a professor at one of America’s oldest colleges.
I know I have gotten off on a tangent and onto my soapbox about my own struggles against elitism, but the point I am trying to make is that I worked my ass off to get where I am. People in the outgoing presidential administration got everything handed to them, and they have given nothing back to society. The Kushners took their entitled and elitist attitudes and refused to allow the people who were there to save their lives the right to use just one of their six bathrooms. Thankfully, not all wealthy people are like this. There are plenty of wealthy people out there who either believe in Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth, or they just believe in helping those in need because it is the human thing to do. For those people, I am grateful. I am thankful that there are good people out there who are not selfish and elitist. I know that I will never be counted as one of the wealthy, but I believe in helping those around me whenever I can and in whatever way I can.
How do you compare a protest over the systemic problem of police brutality that too often leads to death with a terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol? It is purely racist bullshit! If Democrats had stormed the Capitol, Republicans would have called for the death penalty. Yet, Democrats are only calling for the impeachment of the President and bar him from holding office ever again. All those who supported, incited, or stormed the Capitol need to be prosecuted and imprisoned for insurrection and domestic terrorism.
Many of the Republicans opposed to impeachment claimed that there have been no hearings and that this “rush” to impeachment is unprecedented. First, let me address the issue of precedence. When Congress impeached Andrew Johnson, Congress did so before they even drew up the articles of impeachment. Furthermore, why do you need to have hearings when every member of the House witnessed firsthand the events of January 6? The members of Congress were the victims, along with democracy itself, of the terrorist attack. Yet, one Congressman even called for bringing back one of those terrorists to testify to Congress. The Republican Party’s stupidity was on full display before the world yesterday as they gave their weak reasons for defending Donald Trump.
The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Donald J. Trump yesterday in a bipartisan vote. All two-hundred twenty-two House Democrats and ten House Republicans proclaimed that country came before party and that they believe Trump is a danger to the United States, if not the world. One hundred ninety-seven House Republicans opposed impeachment and chose party over country. Listed below are those Republicans who violated their oath of office and cared so little about Americans that they voted against the impeachment of a man who incited a terrorist attack on the country he swore to protect. Four Republicans did not vote, for what reasons, I do not know. Here are the cowards who refused to do what was right for their country.
In my opinion, the most frightening aspect of the Trump presidency is not his corruption or blatant disregard for the Constitution. It is that over 74 million Americans voted to keep him in office. Those who voted for him did not care about his abuses of power, nor did the members of Congress who supported the overturning of the election. Even after the assault on the U.S. Capitol, eight Senate Republicans and 138 Republican House members still voted to overturn a free and fair presidential election. It is just the latest example of a party that is far to the right of most conservative parties in the democratic world.
In the days since the terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, Republicans have shrugged off the idea of removing Trump from office in the final days of his presidency. Few of them are outright defending Trump’s conduct, but many of them have suggested it would only add fuel to the fire and further divide America. The other main argument is that it’s unnecessary — that Trump will have learned his lesson from what happened and quietly go away. Many of the most wishy-washy Republicans are claiming that Trump has learned his lesson, this time. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is what plenty of Republicans who voted against removing Trump said about a year ago, assuring the impeachment process had sufficiently chastened Trump. If they really believe Trump has “learned his lesson” then I have some oceanfront property in Arizona that I’d like to sell them, because their stupidity/gullibility knows no bounds. Trump has never shown any signs of remorse for anything he has done, and he’s not showing remorse now, nor will he.
The ideology of Trumpism is a vicious beast. We now have to come to terms with the reality that this beast will ravage American society long after January 20, 2021. The incoming Biden administration will have to confront millions of enraged Trumpists among the 74 million-plus who voted for Trump. Their dark cloud of conspiracy, their refusal to reason with truth, and their rejection of a legitimately elected President will threaten to suffocate the new administration. We have a long road ahead of us to heal this country. Trump undoubtedly needs to be removed from office as soon as possible. However, the Senate is unlikely to remove Trump through impeachment before his term ends, and Vice President Pence is unlikely to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment if Trump does not commit more outrageous acts. If inciting an insurrectionist terrorist attack was not outrageous enough, would anything ever be too much for Republicans to excuse?
If the House does impeach Trump this week, which could happen today, it will still have almost no effect on how long he remains in office. His term expires seven days from now, and even the most rapid conceivable Senate trial would cover much of that time. But any impeachment debate is still highly consequential. The Senate has the power both to remove Trump from office and to prevent him from holding office in the future. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution says: “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.” Many constitutional scholars believe that the ability to bar him from holding further office will not expire when his term ends. Therefore, a Senate trial could happen after January 20. Then comes the questions of who should preside over the trial. The Constitution states, “When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside,” but Trump would no longer be president, so most scholars believe that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would preside over the trial and not Chief Justice John Roberts.
Whereas the Constitution does not specify whether disqualification requires a two-thirds Senate vote, a conviction in an impeachment trial does. Still, the Constitution does not specify if only a majority vote would be needed to bar someone from holding further office, so we could see this disputed in court. The Senate has previously used a majority vote. To be clear, such a simple majority vote can only take place after the Senate has already voted to convict an impeached official. The Senate has barred three people, all federal judges, from holding future office: West Humphreys (in 1862, for waging war against the U.S.), Robert Archbald (in 1913, for corruption), and Thomas Porteous (in 2010, for bribery and perjury). Two of the three times still had a two-thirds majority vote. Two-thirds of the Senate must first agree to convict a federal official in an impeachment trial before the Senate can disqualify that official — a simple majority cannot, acting on its own, disqualify an official from holding future office. Democrats would still need to convince at least 17 Republicans to convict Trump.
There is precedent for a trial to be held after someone has left office. The Senate tried a former War Department secretary — William Belknap, in 1876 — after he resigned, which is not the same as leaving office at the end of his term. The majority of the House and Senate decided that Belknap could be tried after he had left office. Starting on April 5, 1876, Belknap was tried by the Senate. For several weeks Senators argued over whether the Senate had jurisdiction to put Belknap on trial since he had already resigned office in March. Belknap’s defense managers argued that the Senate had no jurisdiction; the Senate ruled by a vote of 37–29 that it did. Belknap was charged with five articles of impeachment, and the Senate listened to over forty witnesses. With forty votes needed for conviction, the Senate voted 35 to 25 to convict Belknap, with one Senator not voting, thus acquitting Belknap of all charges by failing to reach the required two-thirds majority. All Senators agreed that Belknap took the money, kickbacks, from Caleb P. Marsh, who was central to the trader post-scandal (Marsh had the written receipts for the payments), but the twenty-three Senators who voted for acquittal believed that the Senate did not have jurisdiction to try Belknap after he had resigned. *
I think it is doubtful that Trump will be convicted in the Senate, though news broke yesterday afternoon that Mitch McConnell favors impeachment as a way to kick Trump out of the Republican Party. If McConnell publicly backs impeachment, then other Senate Republicans could follow suit. If Trump does something even more heinous in the next week or after he leaves office, then it may also make it easier to secure an impeachment conviction. I suspect, no matter what happens, there will be long court battles over the results. Disqualifying a president from future office would probably come before the Supreme Court because of the stakes and lack of precedent. History suggests that the court would be more likely to uphold a bipartisan congressional vote than a largely partisan one. If an impeachment begins while Trump is still in office, the process should be able to continue after they have left office, but I have no doubt this will be a nasty, drawn-out fight. The other question is when the Senate would allow for the trial of Trump. If a trial is held as soon as Schumer assumes the position of Majority Leader, which will be no earlier than January 20 after Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President and likely to be after January 22, when Georgia officials are required to certify their Senate runoff elections.
If the trial is held in the Senate at the earlier possible moment, then it could draw attention away from Biden’s first hundred days in office. Biden said Monday his “hope and expectation” is that the Senate would split days between the trial and other business. In addition to passing another stimulus bill, Biden will have a full slate of Cabinet nominees that will need Senate confirmation hearings, which could be difficult to hold when all senators are required to attend an impeachment trial. If the House chooses to wait to send the Articles of Impeachment, then the momentum may be lost. House Majority Whip James Clyburn said figuring out the best way to balance impeachment with the beginning of Biden’s term will ultimately fall to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but said he would suggest, “Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running, and maybe we will send the articles sometime after that.”
Even if the Senate does not convict Donald Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” there is another avenue to bar Trump from holding office again. Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment states:
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellionagainst the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Anyone complicit in inciting the riot bent on stopping the electoral vote counting process, including the members of Congress who encouraged it with their lies and dangerous rhetoric, could reasonably be considered to have violated the above section of the Fourteenth Amendment. The provisions of the amendment could also be applied against Trump, should he seek office in the future, to exclude him from the ballot. If a state decided Trump had violated the Fourteenth Amendment, he might have to sue to get on the ballot. Trump could also be barred from seeking office again by a simple majority vote of both houses, in contrast to the requirement in impeachment proceedings that the Senate vote to convict by a two-thirds majority. Congress would simply need to declare that Trump engaged in an act of “insurrection or rebellion” by encouraging the attack on the Capitol. Furthermore, when the amendment was first passed, Congress passed a law, which is still on the books, to give the Department of Justice power to remove ineligible people from office. If it is declared that Trump violated the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, he would be barred from holding office again without “a vote of two-thirds of each House, [to] remove such disability.” There are numerous avenues for using Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to bar Trump and his supporters in Congress from holding office in the future. Using the Fourteenth Amendment is needed to demonstrating to all Americans that their representatives in Washington take the Constitution seriously.
Time will tell what will happen next, but one thing is for sure, Trump, his congressional supporters, the members of his administration, and the terrorists who attacked the Capitol must pay for what they have done. If that occurs using the Fourteenth Amendment, then I’m okay with those complacent in inciting the insurrection being barred from future office. All of those who tried to circumvent the Constitution and invalidate a free and fair election must not be allowed to get away with it. All those who stormed the Capitol, must be tried, convicted, and imprisoned for their crimes. Even if the Twenty-fifth Amendment is invoked, an impeachment trial is held after Trump leaves office, or the Fourteenth Amendment is used to bar Trump from further office, the United States government must make it clear that incitement of an insurrection by federal elected officials is a line that must never be crossed again.
* This is a short summary of Belknap’s impeachment because the corruption and the subsequent impeachment and trial are complicated. I have a feeling, though, that we may all know the story when Trump’s impeachment reaches the Senate, as pundits will likely go into great detail about the events surrounding the only impeachment trial to take place after the person left office.