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Congress can’t protect voters from themselves


Some little kids will heed your advice and never touch the hot stove; others need to find out for themselves. It’s the kid who touches the hot stove twice you’ve got to worry about.

Those supporting this week’s second impeachment of the disgraced former president argue it is necessary to ensure that he can never run for office again. I disagree.

Before continuing with that argument, I should acknowledge that the disgraced former president was responsible for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol building. The rioters would not have come if he hadn’t called on them to, and they would have shut it down sooner if he had called on them to do so.

I agreed with the decision by the House of Representatives to impeach the disgraced former president a second time, giving him a record as unbreakable as Cy Young’s 511 career wins. And, I thought it was important they completed the process before he left office.

But I’m not sure what the point is now, other than to prevent the disgraced former president from ever running for office again. I don’t think that decision should be left to the 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

And, I don’t think it’s necessary.

The disgraced former president lost the popular count by nearly 3 million votes in 2016 and by more than 7 million votes in 2020. His party lost control of the House in 2018 and the Senate in 2020.

It’s hard for me to believe that four years from now, Republican voters are going to look at that record of failure, being thoroughly displaced as the majority party, and decide they want to touch that hot stove again. But if they do, it’s not up to Democrats in Congress to protect them from themselves.

Nor is it their duty to protect us from ourselves. If the voters in 2024 decide the disgraced former president is the best person for the job, then he will deserve to be elected and we will deserve the government we’ll get for the four years after that.   

Representative democracy is a risky business. It requires we put our trust in voters, even following times when voters make decisions that prove to be misguided. We have to trust voters to correct their mistakes when given the opportunity in two or four years down the road. And if they don’t, we just have to live with the consequences.

Risky as it is, our democratic system still beats the alternatives, and must be preserved even when that means temporarily ceding power to the other side.

As I write this Monday, the Senate trial has yet to begin. I expect it will be entertaining television and will try to watch as much of it as I can. But we all know the final result is both predetermined and inconsequential.

There will be accountability for the Jan. 6 riot, but it will come in the form of criminal trials held throughout the country for the perpetrators of the violence and in congressional inquiries into the inexcusable lack of preparation for an attack that had been bubbling in plain sight on social media for weeks.

As the impeachment trial plays out on TV, a new president is working with health officials to devise a national plan to combat the pandemic, and with Congress to give people economic relief. His success or failure will guide voters’ choices in the upcoming elections, regardless of the noises that may be coming from Mar-a-Lago.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel