Opinion: Do Senate Republicans understand patriotism?

President Trump speaks at a lectern.
President Trump speaks at a rally outside the White House on Jan. 6, where he exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The nation just spent three sobering days watching Democratic members of the House lay out a deeply compelling case that the president of the United States urged his supporters to come to Washington, fired them up at a “Save America” rally outside the White House in which he lied, yet again, about a stolen election, and then sent them off down the National Mall to do something about it.

“Patriots,” President Trump called them.

Maybe he misspoke. Maybe he meant to say “rioters” but jumbled the pronunciation.

Or maybe he has no clue what patriotism really is. To most people, patriotism doesn’t involve violently attacking police, invading the U.S. Capitol on search of elected officials as a makeshift gallows sits outside, and trying to stop the peaceful transfer of political power.

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On Friday, lawyers for the former president are trying to defend his atrocious behavior, in which they are attacking Democrats for using the word “fight” in their own speeches, and votes in previous electoral certifications challenging the results — basic whataboutism.


Never mind that they are not comparable examples. Politicians — left and right — urging supporters to fight for a cause is not the same as Trump exhorting political violence among his supporters, promising to pay the legal bills if they get arrested, and on Jan. 6 telling the rally, “you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

The Senate will face its moment of truth probably over the weekend when it votes on whether Trump should be convicted (even though he has left the office), and then whether he should be barred from ever holding office again.

The nation already knows that most of the Republican senators will fail this test of courage, many citing squirrelly reasons. It’s too divisive, some say. The House Democrats did not prove that Trump had violated criminal laws about inciting a riot, according to others. The best yet — convicting Trump and barring him from running again would be too divisive.

Too divisive? Where have they been for the past five years? And we shouldn’t hold a president accountable for lighting the fire of insurrection because it might upset some people?

If that’s their fig leaf, someone needs to whisper in their ear that it’s see-through.

The excuse for supporting Trump that seems to be gaining the most traction among Republican senators is that the body cannot convict Trump because he is no longer president, a debatable point (though most constitutional scholars say it can) that also is a deflection. The Senate voted earlier this week that it does indeed have the power to convict Trump, and the looming question before the senators now is whether his actions merit conviction.

Senators who cling to the argument that they will vote against the impeachment because the Senate can’t vote to remove him are simply looking for a justification for evading their responsibility to decide the core question: Did the president’s actions merit removal from office? Whether the Senate has the power to vote to remove him is no longer the Senate’s issue; it is Trump’s argument to make to the courts.


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This is the moment of truth not just for Senate Republicans, but for Republicans nationwide. Is it a tenet of Republican conservative thought to embrace falsehoods in an effort to undo the vote of the people? Does political conservatism include supporting attacks on the very structures of democracy? Of attacks on police? Of rampaging through the halls of Congress?

Is holding Trump accountable for his actions, forcing him to take personal responsibility, contrary to conservative beliefs?

We’ll see how the conservatives in the Senate answer those questions over the next few days. And the nation would do well to remember which ones voted as patriots, and which ones voted as sycophants.