by Martin Odoni

I find it a little disturbing how so much reaction to last week’s coup attempt in Washington has been of the, “Hey-let’s-go-easy-now!” variety, when judging what penalties should be imposed. If a supposedly ‘democratic’ country places any true value on its electoral system, no matter how weak, old, creaky and obsolete it may be, the correct response is to protect it by every means available, with firmness and resolve.

For instance, while I rarely disagree with anything Jonathan Cook writes, I find his horror at Donald Trump’s Facebook-and-Twitter ban – a very minor punishment for attempted sedition when all is said and done – a little misfocused. As I pointed out before, Trump is not being ‘censored’ in any recognisable sense, because he still has the attention of the world every time he speaks into a microphone – as indeed he did yesterday to disavow responsibility for the riot. (No, Jonathan, his ban does not “cut him off from 88 million followers,” because all they have to do to learn what he has to say is turn on a TV or radio, or look in a newspaper, or read a website; you know, what everyone used to do to learn what a President has to say prior to about 2005.)

As for the much-touted argument that, “If they do it to the President, there’s nothing to stop them doing it to the left as well.” Well, duh! We already know that there is nothing to stop them doing it to the left, because they already do. Leftists get kicked off social media sites all the time, sometimes on the most absurd pretexts. That is certainly no argument for Twitter tolerating Trump’s abuse-of-platform. Quite the opposite, it makes for a refreshing moment of relative balance. This objection very much closes the stable door after the horse has bolted.

There is certainly a debate to be had over whether tech companies should have power to restrict access to politically-charged ideas. If they let mainstream ideas through unchecked but restrict anything that is ‘outside-the-box,’ there is a real danger of reinforcing the Establishment by default. But this really is a quite different matter. Trump, and his fellow speakers (especially Rudy Giuliani) at the Stop-The-Steal rally undoubtedly incited the crowd to violence. That is expressly against the law. Trump then used Twitter to double-down on what was said at the rally.

House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, after several days of characteristic struggle to find her nerve, and of hoping Vice President Mike Pence could get her off the hook by invoking the 25th Amendment, has finally set out an article of Impeachment. Another pushback from the “Go-easy!” crowd is that such an Impeachment is pointless with Trump to leave office in a week’s time anyway. What difference will a few days make?

Impeach some sense into him!

Well, I would argue it makes a huge difference.

It is crucial that US legislators make clear that they will not tolerate any President attempting to exceed his powers, and violently attacking the very system that put him in office in the first place. It does not matter whether he incited the coup attempt in the second week of his term, or in the second-to-last week, or any week in between. A precedent, as Bernie Sanders (dammit, USA, why did you not choose him instead?) has so rightly said, must be set.

Just consider if it is not; the President Elect is Joe Biden, a once formidable, if firmly centrist, figure on Capitol Hill. Nowadays he is something of a Democrat version of Donald Trump. Biden is no longer sharp intellectually, and is sometimes unintentionally comedic. Cognitive decline set in years ago, even before he became Vice President to Barack Obama, and the uncomfortable common view is that he is going senile.

Now, Biden’s mental condition is not the same as Trump’s. Trump is a rapist with narcissistic dementia. Biden is a man who touches women inappropriately, and has senile dementia. (A disastrous reflection on the condition of the current USA if these were the top options to lead the country.) So I must stress my next bit of speculation is somewhat unlikely. But there is just enough similarity between the two that it is not impossible. Say Biden loses the next Election in four years’ time, and he takes it as badly as Trump took his defeat. What if he then decided to try and pull the same stunt?

If Biden’s incitement were to fail, he could simply say, “Well, Trump did it unpunished, so you can’t punish me either.”

Whereas, were it to succeed, well, democratic Elections will probably cease to be a part of American life.

And of course, even if Biden stays his hand, there will be plenty of other outgoing Presidents and beaten Presidential candidates in future. Failing to punish Trump appropriately sets an ugly precedent in which an Election loser can just stir up violent trouble as a kind of no-cost, ‘coin-flip’ last resort. Heads, the riot succeeds and (s)he is President as long as (s)he likes. Tails, (s)he is not, but nothing else happens. Starting a riot becomes a consequence-free shot at overturning Election results. An impeachment as the price for the attempt, even if it only denies the transgressor a few days in office, sets in stone that a crime has been committed, and sanctions the transgressor.

In other words, without at least an attempt at impeachment, there will be no deterrent to future losing candidates against trying to change the outcome of an Election by force.

Surely, even the most tribal of Republicans and Democrats can agree that they absolutely do not want that?