President Trump’s efforts to remain in office in defiance of democracy cannot be allowed to go unanswered, lest they invite more lawlessness from this president or those who follow.
The attack on the Capitol on Wednesday was not a spontaneous eruption of violence. It was the culmination of a campaign waged by the president of the United States and his allies in Congress and the right-wing media to overturn the results of a free and fair election that began even before the ballots began to be counted on Election Day.
That campaign involved a barrage of lies about the integrity of the voting process from the president, his allies and other elected Republicans. It included farcical legal challenges that were laughed out of court even as they sowed doubt in the minds of a majority of Republicans about whether Joe Biden won fairly. It involved the president and his allies strong-arming state election officials to change the vote count outright. When it all failed, the president held a rally on the National Mall and sent the angry crowd to march on the Capitol and stop Congress from declaring Mr. Biden the winner of the presidency. The riot came at the cost of at least five lives and shook the confidence of the nation and the world in the stability of American democracy.
Each of these efforts amounts to an unprecedented assault on the rule of law. Taken together, they constitute a crime so brazen that it demands the highest form of accountability that the legislature can deliver. As regrettable as this moment is for the nation, there is no other option but to vote to impeach the president for a second time.
Mr. Trump began undermining November’s election before the first vote was cast. Throughout the spring and summer, as the pandemic forced states to be more flexible with mail and absentee voting, he claimed repeatedly and without evidence that mail-in balloting would be rife with fraud.
Then, after it was clear Mr. Biden was the victor, and after weeks of public and private attempts to get states to change their vote totals and deliver him a second term, the president encouraged his supporters to converge on Washington on Jan. 6. (“Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted.) Tens of thousands of them, from all over the country, answered his call.
With that, the crowd struck off and some of the president’s loyalists stormed the Capitol.
The charges against Mr. Trump are clear: inciting an insurrection. The House could give him fair consideration without the lengthy hearings it required to impeach him in December 2019 after he strong-armed the Ukrainian president. The evidence now is not secondhand accounts of meetings and phone calls. The offenses occurred in public for weeks and then live on national television.
Significant support from Republicans would be necessary to achieve the two-thirds majority in the Senate required for a conviction. But the deadly attack on Congress finally seems to have shaken some of them from their reflexive backing of the president who incited it. Senators were driven out of their own chamber, and into hiding, while they were in the middle of performing their constitutional duty of counting the electoral votes.
Mr. Trump may not have called directly for this behavior, but there is no question that he encouraged it and then refused for hours to condemn it, even as the whole world watched in horror. When he finally asked for rioters to stop and go home, he continued to claim the election had been stolen.
In the end, the driving force behind the lies, the chaos and the bloodshed of the past few days and weeks is Mr. Trump. As long as he is not held fully to account, any future chief executive might feel equally unbound by a lawless precedent.