Inciting Insurrection: How Trump Should Respond
“This trial arises from President Donald J. Trump’s incitement of insurrection against the Republic he swore to protect. The House of Representatives impeached him for that constitutional offense.” So begins the articles of impeachment drawn up and passed by the House of Representatives as the basis of Trump’s second impeachment.
Now, this charge raises or should raise an interesting question or two. For example, what constitutes “incitement” and what constitutes “insurrection?” Depending on answers to these questions turns some important implications, leading to another question: Have other presidents, government officials, or politicians incited insurrection against the US government and the alleged republic it represents?
Of course, one possibility that comes to mind is the alleged treason by Aaron Burr, when he allegedly tried to organize an insurrection in what was then the western US in order to create a new government there. However, because Burr was acquitted of the treason charge, his “insurrection” rarely receives the attention it deserves.
Lincoln, in his campaign for the presidency, raised the possibility that the then president, Buchanan, along with Chief Justice Taney, was involved in a plot to make slavery legitimate throughout the nation, that is, to make the US a slave nation. Certainly, this plot was an insurrection, insofar as it existed, even if not an armed insurrection in the stereotypical form of insurrections. While not advocating an armed invasion and take-over of the national government, it would have resulted in such a take-over on behalf of slavery and slave owners.
Were the Republicans who sought to stop the vote recounts in Florida guilty of inciting and engaging in an insurrection? Were the Republicans in 1876, including President Grant, guilty of engaging in an insurrection when they sought, successfully, to deny Tilden the presidency he had clearly won in that election? Grant has national troops at the ready to ensure that Hayes, “Rutherfraud” as he was called, won the presidency. Was Mayor Daley of Chicago guilty of engaging in an insurrection when he made it possible for JFK to win the presidency in 1960 by withholding electoral returns until he knew how many Chicago votes Kennedy would need to offset Nixon’s votes in the rest of Illinois? In fact, can’t any serious political protest be labeled an incitement to insurrection?
There are, obviously, different ways to incite the take over of governments, other than by inciting people to take up arms and over throw the established and sitting government forcefully or violently. One could even say that Trump’s campaign in 2016 was an incitement to take over the US government, was a call to “insurrection.” Isn’t that what Trump meant by “draining the swamp?” And isn’t it also plausible to characterize Trump’s presidency as an incitement to insurrection? Isn’t that what Trump’s first impeachment was about, e.g., the charges of abuse of power? And isn’t that what makes Trump so attractive to so many people who feel shafted by the established order, viz., that his very persona is an “incitement” to “insurrection?”
Inciting insurrection seems then to be the very stuff of politics, insofar as almost any serious challenge to the established government, challenges seeking significant or even radical changes in US policies, may be called an incitement to insurrection. And this is what makes or should make any decision to prosecute people for “inciting insurrection” controversial. It is all-too-easy to use charges of inciting insurrections to stifle political “unrest,” to repress such unrest in order to preserve the established order, however corrupt it might be.
And is it possible to say that this danger is non-existent today, as so many are so committed to impeaching Trump for inciting insurrection? If I were advising Trump, I would tell him to embrace the charges, and criticize this second impeachment as just another tactic by the swamp dwellers to preserve their habitat. He should point out how his impeachment on these charges will spill over to include anyone who, whether a Trump supporter or not, advocates or “incites” an “insurrection” against the established order, because it should be acknowledged that not everyone who wishes to “incite” an “insurrection” against the reigning militaristic oligarchy supports Trump. And in this way, Trump could illustrate how his impeachment, so far from rescuing the republic as its proponents proclaim it will do, actually will serve to undermine that republic.