The time has come to leave the sins and wickedness of the 45th president to the criminal justice system — and to turn attention and energy to the challenges and opportunities that face the 46th. Allowing ourselves to be held captive by the past four years serves no one except a certain self-obsessed ex-president. Better to spend that energy where it can make an actual difference.
Impeachment is history. House managers made a vivid, compelling case that the previous president incited an insurrection. Republican senators tried to use a technicality to weasel out of doing their duty. Afterward, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tried to have it both ways with some righteous-sounding but utterly meaningless words. Democrats were correct to pursue a second impeachment. If we don’t impeach a president for inciting a mob to storm the Capitol in an attempt to void an election and cling to power, then the impeachment clause of the Constitution has no meaning.
But nothing about this outcome is surprising, so why belabor it?
I understand the arguments for some kind of blue-ribbon panel to investigate the tragic events of Jan. 6 — or perhaps even a broader “truth commission” to examine all the un-American outrages committed by the last administration in our names, including the caging of young children. I’m not at all convinced, though, that it would be worth the effort. We already know what happened — we watched it all, and were appalled by it all, in real time. And as far as any potential criminal liability is concerned — including, perhaps, that of former officials — we have courts, not commissions, to sort that out.
Let’s give the Justice Department the responsibility to identify, and file charges against, those who planned and financed the Capitol insurrection. Let prosecutors in New York and Georgia continue the investigations into the former president’s actions and business dealings that they’ve already begun. Let civil lawsuits work their way through the various court systems.
And let’s take those cowardly Republicans at their word. McConnell, for example, went on and on Saturday about how no former officials — even those who have served as commander in chief — are above the law. We should make it clear that we expect that any members of Congress who have relevant information about Jan. 6, potentially including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will patriotically obey subpoenas rather than fight them.
But there’s little the rest of us have to add to that process, beyond our time and energy, which can be put to better uses. To paraphrase the bard Jay-Z, President Joe Biden — and the rest of us — got 99 problems, but a bitter, one-term former president doing an impression of Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” ain’t one.
Under Biden, the nation has far more important things to worry about: designing and implementing, on the fly, a nationwide program to rapidly vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus. Recovering from a massive economic shock that has left millions in desperate straits. Getting the schools open safely. Following through on promises of a serious reckoning with systemic racism. Quelling the biggest wave of white-supremacist domestic terrorism we’ve seen since the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan. Making the United States once more a leader, not a saboteur, in the global fight against climate change. Designing immigration policies that are both humane and effective. To tackle those challenges, we must look to the future.
A whole chorus of GOP senators complained during impeachment that Democrats were wasting precious time that would be much better spent on providing COVID-19 relief. Biden should hammer them with their own words until they seriously engage on his $1.9 trillion relief package. If, as now seems likely, they force Democrats to go it alone on the relief legislation, Republicans will have helped script the campaign ads that will be used against them in next year’s midterm election.
It isn’t only political professionals who can get the word out. Maybe you volunteered for the first time during the 2020 presidential election. If so, remember that Biden’s agenda depends on further gains in 2022: Pick a campaign and get to work.
News organizations, bring your correspondents home from Mar-a-Lago; do not establish de facto Palm Beach bureaus. Treat pompous statements from the “Office of the Former President” as what they really are: the ravings of a depraved private citizen whose vestigial power is sustained only by the oxygen of constant attention.
And most of all, reclaim your mindspace. You might have noticed that I’ve refrained from mentioning a certain name. It wasn’t so hard; you can do it, too. You just might be surprised what you have the time and energy to do moving forward.
Eugene Robinson is an associate editor of The Washington Post and won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2009.