With a week left in his term, President Trump still has the time, inclination, and ability to cause unimaginable harm to the country. The power to prevent Trump from inciting further violence from the Oval Office or from abusing his authority further now rests with one man: Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who should agree to a speedy trial to remove Trump from the presidency and bar him from holding office in the future.
The House of Representatives did its part on Wednesday afternoon when it voted to impeach Trump on a single charge of inciting an insurrection after last week’s outrageous mob attack on the US Capitol. In a scene few Americans ever expected to see, armed extremists whipped up by the president that morning stormed the seat of Congress, hoping to disrupt the certification of the election that Trump lost in order to keep him in power.
It was an attack not just on Congress — five people, including a police officer, died — but also on the rule of law and sanctity of democratic elections. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States to his office and his oath to the Constitution,” said Liz Cheney, a Republican congresswoman from Wyoming and member of the party’s leadership in the House, channeling the outrage felt across the aisle and across the country.
When a president calls for violence against fellow political leaders and revolt against the government and nation he is supposed to defend as commander in chief, Congress has little choice but to protect democracy through the constitutional measure of impeachment. And since Trump didn’t simply resign, getting him out swiftly is a matter of national security.
As the article of impeachment says, Trump’s incitement of violence was the culmination of months of illegal attempts to overturn the results of the November election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden. Not only did Trump make false claims about the election itself — claiming baselessly that he’d been the victim of massive vote fraud — but he also pressured a local official to falsify election results, asking Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes for him to win the state.
The charge was far more serious than previous presidential impeachments, including Trump’s first impeachment, and the vote was more bipartisan than any other. Ten Republicans joined Democrats to impeach.
Few of Trump’s remaining supporters in Congress have tried to defend his conduct. Rather, they said that with so little time left in his term, impeaching him would be unwise and unnecessary. “What is the point?” asked Republican congresswoman Debbie Lesko. But that’s a weak and dangerous deflection. The country is under serious threat of further violence, and as long as Trump is president he retains the power to prevent an effective federal response, as he reportedly did during last week’s attempted insurrection. Members of Congress know — because they were there, hiding in the nooks and crannies of the Capitol, counting the minutes until the National Guard arrived — that merely by refusing to do his job, Trump can do great damage.
Those are not hypothetical worries. The FBI has warned that mobs are targeting every state house in the country and planning further unrest at the Capitol. The social media company Twitter says it has seen indications that extremists are planning armed protests across the country this Sunday. Protecting the country against the possibility the president will not defend the institutions of government is precisely why impeachment exists.
Failing to impeach Trump, remove him from the presidency, and bar him from holding office in the future, would also endanger the future of our democracy. A government must show it is willing to defend itself. Letting a president incite an insurrection, and then doing nothing, would be a permission slip for a future leader to violently seize power. “Turning a blind eye to this brutal assault on our republic is not an option,” said Dan Newhouse, another GOP congressman who voted to impeach.
McConnell has sent strong signals that he supports impeachment. But he also doesn’t want to reconvene the Senate and start the trial until Jan. 19 at the earliest. Delay means that a final verdict would probably not come until Trump has left office, and could interfere with President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet appointments and agenda of addressing the pandemic and economic crisis as he begins his presidency. If the trial must wait, the Senate should at least find a way to walk and chew gum at the same time, by proceeding with the trial while also considering Biden’s nominees. But the better option would be for McConnell to put country ahead of calendar. There are plenty of flights to Washington. Every US senator needs to get on one — now.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.