In the end Donald Trump didn’t have to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. He went one better. He just proved that he can shoot democracy in the face and get away with it. Or as the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank put it, in reference to the 43 Republicans who thwarted Trump’s impeachment, “He left them to die. They still licked his boots.”
The acquittal was stomach turning, coming in the wake of overwhelming evidence proving presidential incitement. What makes the acquittal particularly repulsive was the standing ovation for Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, a Black military veteran who placed his life on the line to protect democracy and protect the lives of many of the same senators who then proceeded to acquit the inciter-in-chief: the very man who put Goodman’s own life in peril.
Clarity, clarity, clarity: The 43 votes for Trump were effectively votes for the insurrectionists and for the cause of insurrection, McConnell’s putrid speech notwithstanding. In our view most of these senators are now traitors thrice over: once by buying into Trump’s Big Lie, a second time by refusing to certify the Electoral College vote, and a third time in voting to acquit.
And lest we forget: the entire basis of the Stop the Steal project was a determination to block and/or invalidate the votes of Black and brown people, coupled with a willingness to utilize violence to secure white power and white rule. While many commentators have taken note of the Confederate flags and the nooses and the disgusting racist language used by the mob, too few have given sufficient attention to exactly whose votes Trump and his confederates didn’t want cast and didn’t want counted.
Apologists for these 43 senators say it’s “just politics” and express relief that the Senate can now move on to do its proper business.
But what is the business of the Senate if not to protect democracy and to say resoundingly that white supremacy and the use of violence to further the cause of fascism can never be tolerated? The apparent answer from the apologists is that the Senate’s business is to enable senators to keep their seats by any means necessary. They appear to support the view that the Senate’s main business is to make calculated decisions based on votes and money, even when such decisions further cement an unholy marriage with white nationalists and even when the calculation means taking direction from powerful reactionary forces that want to keep the flames of hate burning for the sake of preserving white power.
All of the media chatter about the Jan. 6 riot being unprecedented overlooks how the U.S. Capitol has never been free of white power efforts to stifle democracy by suppressing Black participation and denying Black humanity. Think of the notorious gag rules, enforced by Southern legislators, that prevented any consideration of anti-slavery petitions in the 1830s and 1840s. Or think of arch-racist Preston Brooks, who in 1856 went unpunished after strolling over from the House chamber to beat Sen. Charles Sumner senseless on account of the Massachusetts senator’s fearless condemnation of the “peculiar institution.”
And how can the current buzz decrying the impeachment managers’ decision to not call witnesses be anything less than a hollow performance of righteous indignation? For real, people: What additional witnesses would be needed to affirm the presence of continued supremacist violence intended to quell democratic inclusion?
For contemporary Black people, the cynical exoneration of a murderous racist—Donald John Trump—as well as the exoneration of all who aided and abetted him—echoes the all-too-familiar experience of having to watch abusive white cops and other white terrorists walk free despite compelling evidence of wrongdoing. As in the case of the Senate’s vote on Saturday, white killers get to walk even when there is superabundant visual proof—in the form of videos and photographs—of murderous atrocities committed.
Only an investment of religious proportions in the project of maintaining racist power at all costs can account for the adamant refusal of prosecutors, judges, and jurors to believe what is right before their eyes.
So what do we have here? Rather than the moral arc of justice we have an historic and generational arc of injustice and moral injury heaped upon moral injury. We have the real killers—the architects and instigators of a plot against the United States—released from accountability and empowered to perpetuate further criminal harm against us all—and against Black people in particular.
These days there are plenty of concerned observers worrying about damage done to this country’s international reputation. We understand and share that concern. But what about the damage that’s been done to its internal reputation; what about what this never-ending—and now Congressionally affirmed—nightmare looks like to the country’s own people? That’s where to look for the worst damage.
Like Covid, the virus of anti-democratic anti-Blackness isn’t going away. The difference is that we now have a plan to contain Covid-19. We will rebuild our public health capacity. But we have no plan, and no public health resource, for containing a rapidly replicating contagion—the contagion of white supremacy.
Isn’t it time we had one?
After all, this too is a matter of life and death.