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Get ready for Trump’s defense

House Democrats rested their case against of President Donald Trump. House impeachment managers dedicated the third day of Trump’s second impeachment trial to showing how the former President cultivated his supporters, drew them to Washington and then dispatched them to the Capitol.

He told them to do it. The managers showed the comments of rioters saying they were at the Capitol because Trump told them to be.

A body of work. They played segments of his comments from four years, comparing his outlandish requests with the actions of the fringe supporters. He said to “liberate” Michigan, for instance, his supporters tried to kidnap the governor. He said to “stop the steal” and so he knew they would do just that.

This wasn’t a “radical break” from Trump’s rhetoric, said lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin. “This was his M.O.”

Read takeaways from Day 3 of the impeachment trial here.

A prebuttal. The Democrats at the impeachment trial also tried to get in front of the Trump defense idea that by calling his faithful to Washington and then whipping them up before the marched to the US Capitol, he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights.

This is not free speech. “I’m sorry,” said Raskin. “There’s nothing in the First Amendment or anywhere else in the Constitution that can excuse your betrayal of your oath of office. It’s not a free speech question.”

He said if anything, it was Trump who was attacking free speech by dispatching his mob.

It’s only a democracy if the voters get their way. Here’s an excerpt of Raskin’s speech:

We have no kings here, we have no czars. Here the people govern, the people. The most important words of the Constitution are the first three, “We the people.”

But all this — all this means little if a president who dislikes election results can incite violence to try to replace and usurp the will of the people, ignore the judicial branch of government and then run over the legislative branch of government with a mob.

Democrats rested their case hours early. Trump’s lawyers have already indicated they won’t take all of their time. This thing could be over Saturday.

Immovable objects. It does not yet appear many or any Republicans beyond the five or six expected to convict have changed their minds, despite sitting through hours of video of rioters storming through the place they work each day.

Cementing divides. If all of this was a foregone conclusion, that brings us back to the central question of whether it was worth it. If it does nothing more than drive Americans into their corners, it seems unlikely.

The big unmasking. But there is some value in making lawmakers cast votes. Usually, when Trump did something incendiary as president, Republican senators would say they hadn’t seen the offending tweets or comments. They have now seen all of his words leading up to the insurrection and they have seen how the mob responded to him.

There’s no playing dumb now. When senators do vote on whether to convict him, Republicans will have to explain that position. This trial will be a waystation for American political parties. In that regard, American citizens are sitting in judgment too. The evidence voters will see is how senators will treat a President who tried to overturn the election.

Senators are jurors. They’ll have to decide to either ignore or look past Trump’s obvious incitement of the mob, Trump’s indifference to the danger lawmakers were in and — most importantly — Trump’s effort to undermine the vision of democracy written into the Constitution.

Some are also co-conspirators. The impeachment managers didn’t spend any time on this, but bear in mind that no small number of Republican senators (Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri) bought into Trump’s rejection of the election results and they were trying to help him reject it by objecting to the counting of certain electoral votes.

They’re also victims. They were there on January 6. They were threatened, and they were rushed to safety.

We already know Trump’s supporters can turn violent. Will Republican senators who vote to bar him from holding future office be putting targets on their backs? We don’t know.

Up next, Trump’s defense. Now it’ll be the Trump defense’s turn to argue his side and give those senators a compelling reason to ignore his behavior and forget that he sent a mob to get them.

Decision time. What GOP senators will have to decide is if they want the party to be in league with Trump, or move beyond him.

Trump’s GOP. There is clearly still a fervent grassroots support for Trump. Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, who was convinced by impeachment managers to say the trial was constitutional, was censured by his hometown GOP chapter.

Post-Trump GOP. There’s also there’s evidence GOP party registrations are down and donors are nervous about supporting the party in the coming election. A group of more than 100 former GOP officials have launched discussions about forming a new, center-right party.

Clear and present danger

All the incitement talk had me reading about Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918.

They were incredible (by today’s standards) curbs on free speech that Congress and President Woodrow Wilson enacted during World War I (and also during the flu pandemic.) Not everyone was on board. This cartoon I got from the Library of Congress is by the artist Winsor McCay, an inspiration to Walt Disney, is from 1917 and it’s quite graphic. Lady Liberty is being pursued by a fat congressman with a whip that says “Espionage Bill.”

The “clear and present danger” test we apply to speech today comes from Wendell Holmes during this era, but he was, after first agreeing with the laws, later in the minority opposing them back then. Congress ultimately repealed them.

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