Moving to the Post Trump Era

David Webber, January 30, 2021

For history’s sake, Congress must condemn the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection because not doing so allows the threat of anarchist groups and other terrorist actors to continue as a tumor on the American political system.

Yes, former President Donald Trump deserves to be punished for his inciting the Capitol insurrection and his attempt to overturn the Georgia election, but it is the wounds to democracy that have decreased trust in the American political system both at home and abroad that should be our top concern.

We have plenty of national challenges requiring the full attention of the new Biden Administration and the new Congress. A Senate impeachment trial is a distraction from those issues, but Trump needs to be held responsible. Censuring Trump, and perhaps other members of Congress; investigating the events leading to the Capitol insurrection; and prosecuting all those involved is preferable to pursuing an unlikely Senate impeachment conviction.

The House of Representatives has delivered one article of impeachment against Trump to the Senate for its consideration. A trial is set to begin Feb. 9. It is unlikely that 17 Republican senators will vote to convict Trump, as indicated by the Republican caucus rebuff of Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s criticism of Trump for his encouragement of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

I proposed Jan. 7 on social media and Jan. 9 in the Missourian that rather than pursuing the fruitless path of impeachment that Trump be censured. Senate opposition to convicting Trump appears to be strong, as indicated by the Republican caucus rebuff of McConnell’s criticism of Trump for his encouragement of the insurrection.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, is considering pursuing censure, but it may be too late. It would have been more strategic and more effective if Senate Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, had met with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, when he first criticized Trump for inciting the insurrection to propose censure instead of impeachment.

Why would Republicans now agree to a compromise in favor of censure rather than impeachment when they apparently have the votes to not convict Trump on impeachment? Mutual cooperation is less likely when one party thinks it has a winning hand.

Despite my having hopes and dreams, I am a political realist: If you don’t have the votes, you can’t do it. In this case, 67 votes for Senate conviction is a tall task. A second failed conviction attempt would have two major impacts: First, it might bring out more information about Trump’s efforts to fraudulently overturn the election, and second, it would bottle up Biden’s agenda in Congress.

There are those who irresponsibly argue “the clock ran out; let Trump go.” This sentiment is often cloaked in a grand argument that the Constitution provides only for impeaching current officeholders without a way to punish formal officeholders. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, argued this on the Senate floor and thereby gave Republican senators a way out of following their conscience and holding Trump accountable. As lawyers say, “When the facts are not on your client’s side, argue procedure.”

Republican senators keep open the option of saying, “I wanted to punish Trump, but the Senate didn’t have the power.” Regardless, it is likely that a Trump conviction and prohibition of his running for future office will be decided by the Trump-leaning Supreme Court.

There are those who say, “Censure is lame.” I disagree. A Congressional resolution condemning Trump’s action will stand throughout history. No president has been censured for his action.

Trump must be held accountable. In addition to censure, there are ways, other than tying up the Senate with an impeachment trial, to do that. First, Trump is already a defendant in several civil suits involving sexual harassment that are slowly moving forward. Second, it appears likely that Georgia officials will prosecute him for attempting to overturn the presidential election results. Third, Trump’s taxes and financial records are only beginning to be inspected and are likely to result in several financial, if not legal, difficulties. Fourth, the state of New York reportedly has been waiting for Trump’s term to end before proceeding with legal action stemming from his financial dealings prior to his becoming president. Fifth, corporate sponsors in his various promotions are unlikely to stick with him if he remains a controversial figure.

Public opinion, not surprisingly, is overwhelmingly partisan on impeaching Trump, with 81% of Democrats in favor and 84% of Republicans opposed. Self-identified independents are evenly split, with 44% opposed to impeachment and 41% in support.

Proponents of Trump’s conviction for impeachment are eager to prevent Trump from running for office again. California Republican and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s trip to Florida to confer with Trump only increases those fears, but they should be tempered by Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s vow to stay neutral in 2024 if Trump would seek the nomination.

Strategically, other potential 2024 candidates, such as Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, or former Vice President Mike Pence are hurt if a potential Trump return is kept alive by Republicans.

There are seldom second opportunities in American politics. Life moves on. Trump will move on dealing with his family’s legal and financial difficulties. Restoring civility and moderation to Congress must be a national priority. A second failed impeachment effort will be remembered by much of the American public as Trump not being guilty of his misdeeds. Censure, along with the expected civil and criminal litigation, means Trump’s actions are condemned by Congress.

Poets, politicians and presidents matter

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, January 23, 2021

The inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris struck the right notes of continuity and challenge, of history and hope.

Weeks earlier several people expressed the sentiment “why are we taking this risk? Why not have the Chief Justice go to Wilmington, Delaware, and swear in Biden right there in his own house?” Most Americans who watched the day’s events are probably glad we proceeded with the quadrennial ceremony of presidential transition. It turned out to be a magical event in a locked-down city.

The words spoken throughout the day were sincere and purposeful, the staging was familiar, yet refreshing with several surprises. It was reassuring, coming just two weeks after the Capitol insurrection incited by outgoing President Donald Trump.

In a socially distanced two-days of colorful designer outfits and pageantry, of high-tech visuals and bombastic fireworks, symbolism and formalities, it is old-fashioned oratory and poetry that should frame our collective memories.

Although they may go largely unnoticed, Sen. Amy Kloburch, a Democrat of Minnesota and Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican of Missouri, of course, set the tone right from the start.

By virtue of their Senate positions, they co- chaired the Joint Committee on Inauguration and shared presiding with dignity and appropriate humor. Kloburch proclaimed “This is the day our democracy picks itself up, brushes off the dust, and does what America always does, goes forward as a nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” She asked, “Have we become too jaded, too accustomed to the ritual of the passing of the torch of democracy to truly appreciate what a blessing and a privilege it is to witness this moment?”

Her colleague Sen. Blunt re-enforced the sentiment, saying “It’s a moment of unification. A new administration begins and brings with it a new beginning. And with that our great national debate goes forward, and a determined democracy will continue to be essential in pursuit of a more perfect union and better future for all Americans. What a privilege for me to join you today.”

Biden’s inaugural address was the familiar Joe Biden — a little longer than recent similar speeches, a mix of high thoughts and common language, with a little more emotion than most of his predecessors. He began with “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day,” elaborating a few sentences later: “Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The people, the will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”

Becoming a bit more concrete Biden called for unity, saying “Without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. Unity is the path forward.” He pleaded: “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue. Rural vs. urban, conservative vs. liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”

Biden went on: ”That’s how it has to be. That’s what we do for one another. And if we are this way, our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future, and we can still disagree. My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we’re going to need each other. We need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter.”

Invoking “democracy” and calling for “unity” are lofty and abstract. Sooner or later Americans need to see purposive and competent government. Most citizens can contribute by going beyond our slogans, learning about the complexity of most public problems, and cooperate in improving our communities and nation.

The new president is not the orator of John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, or maybe, even Bill Clinton, but I thought he was genuine throughout, not trying to be tougher than he needed to be, not playing above his level. He was reassuring — that’s probably just what we need right now.

Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old poet, hit it out of the park with the recitation of her “The Hill We Climb.” I propose that school kids across Columbia and America should read and recite the poem as I remember memorizing John F. Kennedy’s address in 1961 in fourth grade. Gorman’s poem is remarkable for its frankness and hope. It is memorable from beginning to end but there are several lines that stick with me:

“Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed.

A Nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

And later:

The hill we climb, if only we dare it:

Because being American is more than a pride we inherit —

It’s the past we step into, and how we repair it.”

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.”

And ends:

“The new dawn blooms as we free it,

For there is always light,

If only we’re brave enough to see it,

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

While I will remember the words spoken on Inauguration Day, the visual symbolism of Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama being together on the dais and again at Arlington National Cemetery was priceless. Sadly, our most recent former president removed himself, probably forever, from that exclusive club.

Biden’s Inauguration Day went well, complete with a brief family stroll on Pennsylvania Avenue, now Black Lives Matter Place, perhaps so well that it is easy to overlook the 25,000 troops understandably isolating the inaugural events from the public.

We can all hope, some will pray, that it is a new day in America but for that to happen we must all be willing to wear a mask, get a shot, listen to one another and decide to cooperate.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu

Republican Former Students will be the check on Hawley’s ambitions

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, January 15, 2021

Republican voters, including my former students, are the check on Josh Hawley.

The week since the Capitol insurrection has been a sad one for many people. Several friends and neighbors confided in me that they are heart-broken, angry, depressed, lethargic and full of disbelief since the events of Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. It reminds me of the public’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks.

Here in Missouri, Sen. Josh Hawley has received a great deal of attention, condemnation and calls for his resignation in editorials and letters to the editors. If Hawley’s attempt to not certify electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania was intended to garner national attention to increase his name recognition, it was a gigantic success  — but not in the way he would want. A national Ipsos poll found 68% of people disapproved of Hawley’s “recent behavior” compared to 24% approving. The Ipsos poll found that Republicans are about evenly split on Hawley’s recent behavior, with 49% disapproving and 46% approving.

Many social media users first impression of Hawley is the photo of his raised fist and stern face against the backdrop of the east side of the U.S. Capitol. That photo is now being used in a negative ad by the Lincoln Project and is already being shown on the Columbia airwaves.

The conservative Washington Post columnist George Will is unlikely to forget Hawley either, writing the “Trump-Hawley-Cruz insurrection against constitutional government will be an indelible stain on the nation.” Will argues that everything Sens. Hawley and Cruz “say or do or advocate should be disregarded as patent attempts to distract attention from the lurid fact of what they have become. Each will wear a scarlet “S” as a seditionist.” Those are strong words. Combined with early campaign contributors like David Humphrey and Hallmark Corporation announcing their disapproval, Hawley has an uphill climb to gain re-election in 2024, but he does have time.

Hawley’s personal political ambition seems to repeatedly drown his good judgment. In his recent Senate stunt to not certify several state electoral votes, Hawley not only ignored the wisdom and wishes of his majority leader and other senior colleagues but also of senators of his own party in states whose votes he was attempting to not accept. Like Trump, Hawley ignored state officials, such as the Georgia Secretary of State, a fellow republican, and more than 60 courts which did not find fraud.

When a book publisher withdrew plans to publish Hawley’s book because of the public reaction to Jan. 6’s events, Hawley’s first response was to play the victim and say that his First Amendment rights were being violated. Hawley, who taught constitutional law, knows that the First Amendment applies to government not to private corporations.

Politicians, not just Trump and Hawley, are quite skilled at spinning distortions and lies for their immediate benefit. This is a national epidemic such that I wonder if teachers and professors are not partly responsible for politicians’ penchant for incomplete analysis, rhetorical distortions and misuse of history.

In that light, I’ve been curious to learn the reactions of my former students to recent events. It would be comforting to magically observe my former students who lean Republican and will play a role in determining Sen. Hawley’s future and that of the Republican party.

Between 1986-2013 I taught more than 3,000 MU undergraduates in classes of under 75 students. I also directed student internships and taught several senior Political Science capstone classes, so I got to know students rather well. In the classes, or groups, where I became aware of students’ party identification, my impression is that MU undergraduates lean slightly, maybe 55%, Republican.

Looking back today, I can see three different types of Republican students: apolitical, party activists, party zealots. About half of my Republican students are probably “apolitical”— they vote Republican, are moderate and mostly focused on their occupations (lawyers, teachers, business) and families and could easily vote independently. About 40% are “party activists” who work in government or politics who are Republicans but have other values which they promote and struggle to balance with the party line. About 10% of students who I sense are Republicans are “party zealots” — true believers not much concerned with opposing facts.

Higher education doesn’t do much to motivate party zealots to consider other points of view. I tried to emphasize that ideology and political rhetoric are not analysis, but I was no match for their commitment, verbal ability and aggressive personality. I bet Hawley’s professors feel the same way.

It is the 40% of my former students who are “party activists” that I am most concerned and curious about. Many of them are in sticky political environments on Capitol Hill, lobbying firms, the state legislature and government offices where they are challenged by the expectation that they walk the party line. It is these Republicans who will determine Hawley’s future.

If I had a 75-minute seminar with them, I hope I would hear that they are carrying out their positions in a public interest way not just as a cog in a campaign machine. I have several questions I would ask them in the name of the American people.

  1. Why so much political polarization? What can you do to reduce it?
  2. Since Jan. 6, we need both accountability and healing but healing often sounds like “moving on without addressing the problem.” On a 10-point scale with 1 being “accountability” and 10 being “healing” where should we be?
  3. What do you tell your kids about American politics? About President Trump? About the events of Jan. 6?
  4. How can the U.S. adopt political reforms to increase citizen influence and election civility and integrity?
  5. Are you satisfied with your career choice? Would you get involved in politics again?

I would end the imaginary class with Thomas Paine’s “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

Trump should be censured; Hawley must be reassessed

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, January 9, 2021

Jan. 6 will be a day that lives in infamy in American political history. Like Dec. 7 and Sept. 11, Jan. 6 has shaken our fundamental beliefs about ourselves to our core.

Never did we expect our fellow citizens to invade and ransack our nation’s Capitol.

Never did we expect to see, or so we thought, an American president incite a mob to attack the Capitol — a hallowed symbol of democracy around the world. Presidential sedition?

Trump’s inciting his followers to march on the Capitol is an abuse of his office and a breach of his public trust that cannot be condoned or allowed to pass unpunished.

It is unlikely that Vice President Mike Pence will lead the Cabinet to activate the 25th Amendment. It is unlikely the Senate will conduct another Trump impeachment effort initiated by the House in the next 10 days. Either route requires two-thirds agreement of the Senate. Good luck with that.

Instead, I propose that Congress censure Trump, a mild rebuke that requires only a majority of both chambers. Censure, which some may see as a slap on the wrist, is better than outrage today and no action before Jan. 20.

Regardless of Trump’s tweet that he will not attend the inauguration, a sentiment he can change if he wishes, Congress should also formally disinvite him to the inauguration. Congress is in charge, not Trump.

The Jan. 6 insurrection was a dark, despicable, troubling event that reveals several truths most of us don’t want to admit.

Yes, this is part of who we are. We have had clues about a small underground network of hate groups that do not respect the rule of law, feel aggrieved and are easily encouraged by hateful falsehoods.

Yes, there are elected officials who so easily put personal ambition above the public interest that they take advantage of revolutionaries.

Yes, white privilege doesn’t only mean better housing and higher graduation rates. It means white protestors are not held to the same scrutiny by security forces as are Black Lives Matter activists.

The Senate and House procedure interrupted by the mob was the congressional receipt of Electoral College votes cast Dec. 14 in the 50 state capitols that confirmed Joe Biden’s victory.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley contributed to the mob’s sense of entitlement with his efforts to challenge the election results from six states that would have denied the election to Biden.

Hawley‘s legislative idea was for Congress to adopt a new role requiring it to investigate the election process and results rather than accept votes as legitimate after they had been reported by states.

Many senators believe this would be a shift of constitutional power from the states to Congress.

The rally on the National Mall leading to the invasion of the Capitol, which suspiciously met little resistance from the U.S. Capitol Police, was the culmination of a two-month campaign of lies by Trump to undermine the credibility of the 2020 presidential election.

Breaking windows and doors and scaling exterior walls, the mob overwhelmed security, entered the House and Senate chambers and ransacked offices as legislative members hid in fear inside offices and caucus rooms.

After seven hours in forced recess, the Capitol was declared safe, and the House and Senate resolutely reconvened to continue counting electoral votes alphabetically by state.

Eventually, Hawley’s motion to reject Arizona’s electoral votes failed 93-6 and to reject Pennsylvania’s failed 92-7. In the House, similar votes failed with almost 60% of Republicans supporting rejection.

At 3:41 a.m. Thursday, Pence declared Joe Biden the next president and Kamala Harris the next vice president.

Now, we must see Hawley in a new light. To the dismay of his senior colleagues, he attempted to use congressional procedure for purely personal political gain.

Hawley offered to sponsor the motions to reject the electoral votes from Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, thereby overriding voter will and attempting to deny Biden the presidency.

He tried to explain that he wasn’t trying to reject the Electoral College results but merely “to make a protest.” The only defense of his actions was “that it had been done before.”

Hawley is a young man in a big hurry, who appears to be building a record of losing original supporters in a very short time. Former Sen. John Danforth last week described the Electoral College challenge as “highly destructive” and after the riots said that supporting Hawley was “the biggest mistake of my career.”

Similarly, Springfield businessman David Humphrey, whose family funded half of Hawley’s 2018 campaign, denounced him as a “political opportunist” who used “irresponsible, inflammatory, and dangerous tactics” to incite the rioting that took over the U.S. Capitol Building.

The MU Student Bar Association called on Hawley to resign. MU Law School Dean Lyrissa Lidsky wrote, “as a First Amendment lawyer, I view these events as a failure of reasoned public discourse as an antidote to political violence. As a lawyer, I view them as a threat to the rule of law. As an educator, I view them as a failure of civic education. As a patriot, I pray for our country.”

Well said, Dean Lidsky. I could not say it any better.

David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.

A set of New Year resolutions for ourselves and the nation

David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, January 1, 2021

Everyone is excited to see 2020 fade away and expects 2021 to be better . That won’t happen unless we all chip in and contribute to make it a safer, more understanding and hopeful year. The past year has been too politically overheated, full of uncertainty and chaos, and too isolating for most people.

Of course, COVID-19 is the major culprit, but the underlying conditions of middle-class economic stagnation, racial disparities and political polarization have been with us for decades.

Addressing the current political and public health pandemics requires a major recommitment of citizen efforts. Here are eight New Year resolutions that we can adopt individually and nationally.

1. Stay well.

Of course, wear a face mask when you leave home, social distance and wash your hands, but also be sure to get adequate sleep, stretch and move more than last year, and eat thoughtfully. Even simple things such as drinking adequate amounts of water and exercising are more challenging because public water fountains are wrapped up and access to the mall and the ARC is more limited. We all should give our immune systems more attention so that we can fight off viruses, should we confront any.

2. Educate yourself about race issues and inequalities.

This would be a good year to read race-related books, such as Monique W Morris’s “Pushout: The criminalization of Black girls in schools” or John Meacham’s more inspirational, “His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope” or one of about a dozen books on white privilege that became best sellers in 2020.

Robin Diangelo’s “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” makes many insightful points, but the “clinical tone” took me a while to warm up to.

3. Embrace truth seeking and honesty when discussing politics and public policies.

Don’t repeat things you suspect are not true. This is hard to do because we can’t question everything, and things can be so darn complicated. Sometimes when I encounter people with well-defined, on-the-fringe, points of view, I find that I sometimes go on the offense and get in a few jabs as a preventive strategy. I should stop doing that.

4. Become better informed about public events and policy issues.

Avoid online junk and read longer analyses. Due to the internet, we have access to more information, more perspectives than ever before, but studies have shown, we also skim more and hit-and-click more than when we have a real paper or book. In September, I resubscribed to a home-delivered national newspaper that, pre-COVID-19, I read for free several days a week at the public library before they discontinued public access to periodicals. I have more paper to recycle, but I am better informed because I read articles that I would have swiped over online.

5. Keep a journal, or at least a file of comments and observations about yourself and life.

With letter writing now an art of the past, and with texting replacing phone calls, we have fewer opportunities to express complete thoughts. Personal understanding and quality public discussions are richer when each of us recalls our earlier beliefs and sentiments.

6.  Increase our understanding of people who are politically and ideologically different different from us.

This is hard to do while we are isolating and social distancing. Practice by watching programs on MSNBC and Fox News. First, watch for five minutes, then increase it to six, then seven. By the end of the year, aim to watch a full 30 minutes without becoming enraged. It is like learning to jog a mile — a little at a time.

7. Contact public officials and the media regularly.

Public officials often have way too much or way too little public feedback. We can help them, and further our issues, if more of us developed the habit of expressing both positive and negative thoughts to public officials. This is especially important for dealing with officials you usually agree with but may differ with on a particular issue.

8. Participate in a community organization or effort.

Ever since Robert Putnam wrote “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” in 2000, political scientists and the general public have been aware that there is less genuine involvement in all kinds of community organizations than in earlier generations. There are more organizations than before, but fewer active members.

We often financially support organizations and causes, but we avoid active participation. We may, for example, contribute to a political party or candidate, but we don’t get engaged in political campaigns. Similarly, even before COVID-19, people were often too busy with two jobs, kids, parents, going back to school, or whatever to get involved, yet we all reserve the right to complain and criticize. When you do get involved, make a difference, don’t just join to be a number.

May you have a balanced year, a balance between work and life, between adventure and caution and between engagement and solitude.

Growing up, my family’s favorite prayer, and that of Alcoholics Anonymous I later learned, was the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Best wishes to all.

David Webber David Webber joined the MU Political Science Department in 1986 and wrote his first column for the Missourian in 1994. He can be reached at Webberd@missouri.edu.