It’s kind of hard to know what to say about the events in DC on 6 January. But it hardly seems that someone who keeps a blog that’s partly about democracy in America (and elsewhere) should say nothing. So here’s an attempt.
First of all, the actions of the mob and the encouragement by the president are simply reprehensible, as was the president’s statement on social media some time later, in which he again made the claim that the election was stolen from him. (It should not need to be said, but that allegation is 100% false.)
It was a very bad day for American democracy (if we can even call it that anymore), that’s for sure. In fact, while the president said today that he would commit to a transition, even that statement again reiterated his non-concession of the election results. It is not as if he should be trusted just because he said some of the right words. I’d say we are still in a constitutional emergency as of today. I do not say that lightly, but I believe the label is apt.
Therefore, my view is that there needs to be some response. What should that response be? Is an impeachment and removal worth pursuing at this point? Maybe, although one could have a debate over whether the House majority should go ahead with it absent a pre-commitment (even if private) this time of sufficient Republican Senators on board. I’d question the value of a second impeachment if it also ended in a second non-removal. Just today I learned that it is understood to take only a majority of the Senate to impose disqualification from future office (but probably this is conditional on conviction–see comment thread below). That does not directly deal with the emergency–he stays in power for almost two more weeks, possibly even more enraged and dangerous. But to the extent that his non-concession is tied to keeping the base riled up for a future run for presidency, closing that path might be worthwhile.
Then there is the 25th Amendment. I’ve been skeptical all along of those who have been calling for that. It is designed to make it nearly impossible to remove a president who contests the Vice President’s and cabinet majority’s declaration. In other words, it is meant to preserve the fixed term in almost any situation short of physical incapacity. But here, the short time period works in favor–the declaration is effective immediately, and the House and Senate could just run out the clock on the mandated vote to reject the (temporarily ousted) president’s contest. Obviously, the big problem is a cabinet, by definition, consisting of the president’s own appointees. Nonetheless, the US newspapers are full of calls, even from some Republicans (some named, most not) for this path to be taken or considered. That itself is fairly remarkable. Even the National Association of Manufacturers said as much. I’d still regard it as unlikely. But it isn’t out of the question.
Basically, I just have the strong feeling that something official needs to be done. This was a series of events that I’d been fearing would happen in some form for as long as this administration has been in office, although I was still shocked as the day actually unfolded. It may even have been a (half-assed and yet still serious) coup attempt, although I am less interested in debating whether that term applies or not than I am in an official rebuke to the president for encouraging it in public, and perhaps in other ways as yet unknown in private.
I have not even mentioned yet the willingness of elected legislators to take a pro-forma process of accepting electoral-vote certificates and turning it into a spectacle for claiming the right to overturn citizens’ votes in certain states. Even after the insurrection (which I think is the correct word for the events) had taken place, we still saw three fifths of the Republican House members go on record in favor of rejecting the voter’s choice. That there is public willingness for such actions among Republican voters (as these members clearly believe there is, evidently confirmed by a YouGov poll today) is an ongoing emergency for democracy, regardless of any response to this week’s events.