Brian Woodham

Last Wednesday, a violent pro-Trump mob added one of the darkest chapters to American history when it engaged in insurrection against the U.S. government by storming the Capitol in the hopes of stopping Congress from performing its constitutional duty of affirming the Electoral College count of the Presidential Election. The insurrection has already left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer. 

It was, hopefully, the final scene out of what many consider the dystopian nightmare of the past four years, when the country was led by reality TV show personality and social media agitator Donald J. Trump. 

The blame for the unprecedented attack at the heart of our democracy falls squarely on the shoulders of Trump, as well as on his sycophants and enablers in Congress and the alt-reality news media. 

To be clear, the Presidential Election wasn't stolen. And most, if not all, of Trump's sycophants knew that despite their bleating over imagined fraud in the election. 

State officials, some Republican, confirmed the count in state after state, and the courts shot down nearly every one of the challenges brought before it. Joe Biden will take over as the next president of the United States on Jan. 20. 

Congress has already voted to impeach Trump a second time on a bipartisan basis, with the article of impeachment stating that he incited violence against the U.S. government and "gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government."

Trump's false claims of election fraud, which began even before the election, and his rhetoric in the months and days leading up to last Wednesday leave little doubt of the truth of the article of impeachment. Republicans in the Senate, which isn't expected to hold a trial for the article of impeachment until after Biden is sworn in, should consider the benefit of convicting Trump and barring him from serving in public office again. Removing any chance that he would hold power again will relegate him to the fringe of the Republican party and diminish the impact of his toxic rhetoric on our politics.

As soon as the blanket protection afforded to Trump by being president has been lifted, law officials should seriously look at charging him with seditious conspiracy, incitement to violence or a similar statute for directing an insurrection at the Capitol. The 14th Amendment could also come into play. Censuring Trump, as the GOP would have Congress do, is a slap on the wrist and would likely only embolden more lawlessness in the future.

Trump's words stoked the actions of a mob, some of whom chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" in the halls of symbolic heart of our democracy. Another insurrectionist carried around zip ties, raising fears that he brought them to bind the hands of representatives while holding them hostage, although the man claims that he just found them on the ground and shouldn't have picked them up, according to an interview in the New Yorker.

And the danger posed by Trump and the GOP's cynical claims of a stolen election is far from over, as the FBI warned in a bulletin on Tuesday that pro-Trump extremists are planning armed protests at all 50 state capitols and the U.S. Capitol leading up to Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. 

Trump and the insurrectionists aren't the only people who should receive the harshest penalties allowed under the law, if appropriate. Those in Congress, like Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, should also face consequences, whether legal or otherwise, for their part in promoting the Big Lie of a stolen election.

What should be the punishment for promoting the Big Lie while riling up those in Trump's fanatical, extremist base? Democrats unveiled a resolution Monday that would censure Brooks, who has said he did nothing wrong and that the measure defames him. But censure doesn't go far enough, considering he peddled the lie of a stolen election. Expulsion from Congress would be a good start. 

Reports are coming out now that investigators are looking into whether some members of Congress gave rioters what one member of Congress called  "reconnaissance tours" the day before the insurrection. That such tours might have happened speaks volumes about the extent that Trump has poisoned our body politic and nearly destroyed the democratic norms that have helped our experiment in governance last so long. 

And to be clear, the majority of Republicans do not fall into the category of the extremists who committed a domestic terrorist attack on our democracy, and many who took part in the rally last Wednesday likely just got swept up in the fervor of the crowd. But that doesn't mean we should slip into the phase of "unity and healing" until we get to the bottom of what happened and appropriate punishments have been meted out.

Trump's months-long assault on our democracy has damaged our standing in the world, probably for many years to come, and given our adversaries cover to excuse their own transgressions.

We can't afford to give Trump a pass, which would amount to tacit approval. And we can't afford to have him holding our politics hostage for the next four years and possibly running for the highest office in the country again. He has proven himself unfit, unworthy and deserving of our everlasting scorn.

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