In the days following an attempted coup by a band of Trump-supporting insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol, Republicans—many of whom eagerly fed the lie that the election was stolen, enabling Trump’s worst proclivities for violence—have quickly turned from belated condemnations of the coup to their favorite message, in a cynical attempt to avoid accountability. It’s time, they have increasingly parroted, not for impeachment and consequences, but for unity and healing.
“This kind of vicious partisan rhetoric only tears our country apart,” proclaimed Ted Cruz, just days after objecting to the certification of the election. “Unity and healing,” wrote Jim Jordan, “doesn’t happen with cancel culture and impeachment.” To these Republicans, any form of condemnation that includes real consequences is an attack. “I firmly believe impeachment would further destroy our ability to heal and start over,” Lindsey Graham announced. Joe Biden, Marco Rubio stated, “has a historic opportunity to unify America behind the sentiment that our political divisions have gone too far,” seemingly forgetting that Donald Trump is still the president. In a letter to President-Elect Joe Biden, a group of House Republicans urged Biden, “in the spirt of healing and fidelity to the Constitution,” to request that impeachment proceedings against Trump be halted, describing impeachment as “unnecessary” as well as “inflammatory.”
What they mean by “unity” and “healing” is impunity, not only for Trump, but for themselves. Calls for healing after moments of crisis are always a call for forgetting, for not only maintaining the status quo but for strengthening it. In demanding that we move on, these anti-impeachment Republicans are not only arguing that Trump should escape any accountability for his actions, but hoping that we forget their own role in aiding and abetting the actions of the counterrevolutionaries who stormed the Capitol.
They are once again stating that the feelings of Republicans and their base matter more than the majority of Americans who believe Trump should be removed from office. They are asking us to find common cause with white supremacists and fascists whose anger and motivations they believe are worthy of care and consideration. They are inviting the sort of violence we saw on Wednesday to happen again. And by painting impeachment as divisive—instead of recognizing that Trump has eagerly stoked division with almost every action over the past four years—they are attempting to place blame at the feet of the Democrats and Joe Biden, giving themselves a ready excuse to obstruct everything the Biden administration hopes to accomplish.
Maybe impeachment is divisive, but so what? We never should have coddled Trump’s enablers. As Jamelle Bouie noted, “Accountability is divisive. That’s the point. If there is a faction of the Republican Party that sees democracy itself as a threat to its power and influence, then it has to be cut off from the body politic.”
This is a reality that Democrats in Congress understand, and especially those who have long been calling for Donald Trump to face consequences. It’s not lost on me that it was progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar who were some of the first to demand his impeachment. “When we talk about healing, the process of healing is separate and, in fact, requires accountability,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in an interview over the weekend. She added, “If we allow insurrection against the United States with impunity, with no accountability, we are inviting it to happen again.” Newly elected Congressperson Cori Bush put it bluntly, describing what real unity should look like: “I don’t want to unite with those responsible for the insurrection at our nation’s Capitol. I want us to unite in holding them accountable.” It’s impossible to unite with people whose demands are untenable, after all: Like a cancer, you have to cut them out first.