Reality Check: What Trump’s Impeachment Should Remind Us

By Ashley Allison 

Like most of America, I watched, horrified, as a violent mob ransacked the seat of our federal government on January 6. This month, I watched, horrified again, as Trump’s lawyers and Republican members of the very body that was under siege tried to sell a wholly fabricated story of that day to the American people — as if we didn’t see the destruction with our own eyes. With the impeachment trial behind us, one conclusion is certain: We are a nation living in two realities. One is a reality striving for truth, justice, and democracy; the other is clinging to white supremacy.

The Senate’s vote to acquit the former president of inciting the Capitol attack signals the willingness of Republican leadership to tolerate extremism within its own ranks. The Republican Party no longer even hides behind doublespeak and dog whistles. It has surrendered to its most publicly racist and anti-democratic players. The days following the insurrection presented an opportunity for every leader to look squarely into the eyes of racism, acknowledge Trump’s deceit, and denounce the systems of white supremacy that fueled and enabled the attack. Instead, many Republicans made clear they prefer to live a lie than embrace truth. 

When senators reconvened on that infamous night to certify the election results, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the right-wing extremists. He said, “The free choice of the American people is what shapes our self-government and determines the destiny of our nation.” Those are admirable words. But when faced with the choice of truth or white supremacy, Senator McConnell chose the latter. Immediately following the Senate impeachment trial, he gave a hypocritical speech on the Senate floor and said Trump’s actions were connected to the events on January 6. Still, he voted to acquit.

The Senate performed by giving a standing ovation to the courageous Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman one night and then cowardly voted to acquit the very next day. That is not the truth. The truth must be consistent. Lawmakers cannot praise American ideals following a crisis, and then disappear and distort them during the trial that decides whether to hold the perpetrator accountable.

Ten House Republicans, seven Senate Republicans, and every Democrat in the House and Senate selected the truth with their vote to impeach and convict the former president. Their votes put country over party. Truth over white supremacy. And unfortunately, the acquittal was no surprise. Black, indigenous, and people of color are often disappointed by leaders who fail to choose truth. The people wanted their elected leaders to stand in the gap and risk political backlash to hold Trump accountable. Yet, too many would rather cede their party to white supremacy than expel the enemy within and go back to business as usual.

As more than 400 years of American history has taught us, votes to acquit help maintain the status quo and keep the institution of white supremacy alive. Telling lies about the election and inciting the insurrection were intentional efforts to cling to power that run deep within white supremacy. And let’s be clear: white supremacy is more complex than the familiar symbols of swastikas and confederate flags we know we must condemn. It fuels a system where leaders permit the nation’s prisons and jails to unjustly swell with Black and Brown bodies. It allows them to borrow from Jim Crow’s playbook and put up barriers to the ballot to suppress the Black vote, and flaunt conspiracies about COVID-19 as the pandemic disproportionately devastates communities of color. It empowers them to refuse a vote on D.C. statehood and leave more than 700,000 people — predominantly people of color — disenfranchised.

During the trial, Trump’s lawyers tried to falsely equate civil rights leaders and protests for racial justice with the white supremacist mob that we saw on full display at the Capitol. Their argument was as hollow as their indignation. Last year, after a vicious cycle of violence stole the lives of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others, more people peacefully protested than ever before in American history. The marches were multiracial and multigenerational. The Republicans’ version of reality makes no room for the pain at the heart of the summer protests, or the truth of its goals: justice. The events of January 6 should jolt America awake. Those teetering between two realities must shake off the invisible cloak of white supremacy.

When leaders turn away from the truth and fail to make the hard choices, hate in our country only calcifies further. The Republican Party deliberately pushed falsehoods to their base about the election outcome and signaled to the president that he will not be held accountable for future violence. But here’s the thing: where there is people, there is power. No amount of lies can erase the truth about January 6, because the people were witnesses to that day. This impeachment trial is a reminder that there have always been two realities: slavery or emancipation, segregation or integration, suppression or democracy. 

When this country has been forced to shrink the reality of white supremacy, it is rarely our elected leaders who sound the rallying cry. It is the people. People rejected racism during the 2020 election — and we will make sure 2021 is no different. We will not forget. The people will organize, we will fight, and we will win because we are in a reality with truth, justice, and democracy on our side.

Will you join us?

Ashley Allison is the former executive vice president of campaigns and programs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and currently serves as CEO of the Turner Conoly Group.