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Daniel Breen (LGLS)

Former President Trump’s lawyers were on distinctly wobbly constitutional ground when they defended his conduct by citing his right to freedom of speech. The First Amendment protects all manner of strong and offensive language, but it does not protect direct incitements to immediate violence. To tell a crowd of fanatic supporters that it had to be “strong” and to urge it at that moment to march towards the Capitol and “fight like hell” against what for two months he had been depicting as an attempt to steal an election is to incite violence — which, of course, is exactly what happened. But even if Trump’s one isolated call to be “peaceful” during his tirade is enough to shelter him from an incitement charge, it was hardly enough to justify his acquittal in the Senate. Impeachment does not hinge on the question of whether or not a crime has been committed, but rather on whether the president has violated “public trust.” If summoning people to overturn a democratic election, and doing so by assaulting a constituent branch of government, does not constitute a violation of public trust, then nothing does. Those who voted for acquittal deserve nothing but contempt.

Daniel Breen is a senior lecturer in Legal Studies.