The mantra of the moment is that impeachment is not a trial and shouldn’t be governed by the same rules that apply to a court of law. True, but that means it’s really a political event, where the verdict matters less than the message.
What’s coming through the media reporting is “Trump incited a riot.” Well, he did, more or less, but that just means he’s a bad person. It’s not news that Trump is a pretty nasty role model, and I fear the reaction of many people will be that the campaign to impeach him for it is just more of the same.
I would have preferred a different message: America needs to protect its democracy from the refusal of political leaders to accept defeat. Around the world we see many countries where elections settle nothing. Defeated parties routinely claim the election was rigged and only they have the right to hold power. Street violence accompanies voting. Military coups occur regularly to impose temporary stability. The reason we should impeach Trump is to draw a line against this development in the US.
If that’s the message, the key evidence is not a single speech on January 6 or even the rhetoric leading up to it. Rather, it was the drumbeat of assertions that the election was stolen without evidence to back them up. After all, if the election had been stolen and the proof was in front of us, it would have been justified to throw sand in the gears of the system in any way possible up to and including an occupation of the Capitol building. The crime was systematic lying, of a sort that, if not identified and rejected, will lead to a breakdown of democratic power rotation.
Now I can understand why Democrats might be reluctant to make this case, since it implicates not only Trump but much of the Republican leadership as well. That would make it impossible to pick up the votes they need for impeachment, but they are unlikely to get those votes anyway. If the real goal is to do everything possible to reverse the descent of America into a country where any political defeat threatens to be permanent and triggers violent resistance, then that’s what needs to be said.