Convicting Trump would have Required Accepting a Half-Century of Republican GuiltRoundup
tags: Republican Party, impeachment, Donald Trump
Steven M. Gillon is a senior faculty fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia and scholar-in-residence at HISTORY. He teaches history at the University of Oklahoma and is author of America's Reluctant Prince: The Life of John F. Kennedy, Jr.
On Saturday, the Senate acquitted former president Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial. While seven Republicans voted to convict, making it the most bipartisan vote in favor of conviction in a presidential impeachment in history, 43 voted to acquit Trump. In reality, the outcome was never in question because Republicans could not convict Trump without indicting their entire party. Trump may have been the one who invited the angry mob to Washington on Jan. 6, and then stirred them up with repeated false claims about a stolen election. However, the events on that shameful day — and indeed Trumpism itself — simply represent the culmination of a half-century of Republican strategy to mobilize and empower both white-nationalist sentiment and reactionary Christian fundamentalism.
Whether they were bearing crosses, waving Confederate flags, toting automatic rifles or wearing “Make America Great Again” paraphernalia, those who gathered in Washington on Jan. 6 all spoke a common language of white grievance, convinced that traditional American values are under assault by elite leftist intellectuals, feminists, immigrants, members of the LBGTQ community, African American activists and a mainstream media that promoted their agenda.
For them, “Make America Great Again” was not simply a slogan. It embodied a set of intertwined beliefs that compelled them to seize control of the Capitol, attempt to overturn a free and fair election and return the nation to a time when White, native-born, God-fearing, heterosexual men dominated every aspect of national life.
This identity struggle can be traced to the summer of 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson inked two signature pieces of legislation, one dealing with voting rights and the other with immigration. Together, these laws transformed the nation’s demographic landscape and empowered marginalized groups to challenge the dominant social order.
The Democratic Party would eventually come to embrace these new groups and their calls for change by promoting diversity and advocating for civil rights. But Republicans increasingly aligned themselves with those wishing to preserve the past and protect white privilege. In 1995, when Newt Gingrich became the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years, he identified 1965 as a key turning point in modern history. “From the arrival of English-speaking colonists in 1607 until 1965, there was one continuous civilization built around a set of commonly accepted legal and cultural principles,” Gingrich wrote with typical hyperbole. “Since 1965, however, there has been a calculated effort by cultural elites to discredit this civilization and replace it with a culture of irresponsibility.”
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