Donald Trump's a traitor — and we shouldn't cut him the same slack we gave Jefferson Davis

Presidents Day originated in 1885 to honor the birthday of George Washington, who as our nation's first president established the pattern and practice of a peaceful transition of power. That endured up until Donald Trump and his Jan, 6 insurrection that left five people dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

Forty-three Republican U.S. senators voted on Saturday to acquit former President Donald J. Trump of inciting the insurrection that was witnessed in real time by the entire world on live TV. Last month, 197 House Republicans voted against impeaching Trump for the second time.

It's important to contextualize their abdication with the reality that our nation is in the throes of a mass death event likely to kill a half-million Americans and infect 30 million with a life-threatening killer virus by the end of the month, all while food and shelter insecurity spreads across the land.

Unlike their Senate colleagues Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump, keeping his political aspirations alive, did not want to jump into the breach that had already proved fatal to Officer Sicknick.

That dozens of people of such privilege and rank, like the congressional Republicans who opposed holding Trump accountable, opted to instead protect their own partisan political position, has ample precedence in our history.

Luckily, for us, the original framers were more visionary in spirit and put the potential of our democracy, not yet fully conceived, above their own personal fortunes, with the awareness that if they did not "hang together" they would surely "all hang separately."

Incredibly, the Republican leader in the Senate concluded that holding Trump accountable should be left to the country's civil and criminal justice system. This provided a procedural fig leaf for the GOP caucus' 'Don't be a snitch' culture, which actually works to undermine the Constitution that serves as the foundation of our criminal and civil law.

By choosing to avoid holding accountable the bully and his mob they fear, Republicans memorialized their subjugation.

"When the holding and keeping of power is the organizing principle then everything else becomes a means to that end," observed biographer and historian Jon Meacham on MSNBC this past weekend. "It may be politically rational, but it is constitutionally derelict."

After the acquittal vote, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted that Trump's actions that resulted in the storming of the Capitol for several hours were "disgraceful" and "a dereliction of duty."

"Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor," McConnell said. "They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president."

The Kentucky Republican observed that Trump's "unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began," adding that "whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day … whatever reaction he says he meant to produce … by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world."

McConnell continued. "A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!"

In the minority leader's own words, Trump then had crossed that "Rubicon" line from being the inciter of the riot to an actual participant-by-proxy, with his own vice president now on the run.

"Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger … even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the president sent a further tweet attacking his vice president," McConnell said.

What was established in the U.S. Senate trial, and supported by a 57-43 bipartisan vote to convict, is a fact pattern far more treacherous and lethal than a bid to delay the certification of the Electoral College. Rather it was a near-successful bid to murder the two elected officials in the direct line of succession after the president.

Add into this crucible the recent disclosure that when the Trump-activated rioters breached the Capitol and sent Pence scrambling for safety, his entourage, which that was sent into rapid retreat, included an Air Force officer who carried the "nuclear football" — a suitcase that contains the nuclear weapon launch codes.

As the House managers' prosecution of the case against ,Trump demonstrated, facts can move minds which accounts for the decision by seven Republicans to go against their party's partisan interests to vote with their Democratic colleagues.

What was clear was that for a number of those senators, it was what Trump did not do after the Capitol riot got underway that helped convince them of his guilt.

What we need now is for the Secret Service to be compelled to disclose publicly what its agents knew, when they knew it, how they sorted it out in real time and whether they saw this coming.

For a few hours there, we had one executive security detail protecting Pence while another was protecting Trump — who, even after he learned Pence was on the run, used his tweet artillery to further incite the mob that was pursuing him.

In terms its trajectory the Jan. 6 insurrection bears a striking similarity to the strategic arc of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. That plot also targeted Vice President Andrew Johnson, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of State William Seward, who survived a gruesome knife attack.

When Johnson took office after Lincoln's death, he ordered that the several suspects in the conspiracy be tried not by an Article III court, but by a military tribunal.

Four people were hanged for their participation in the conspiracy. (Booth refused to be captured alive and was shot dead by Union soldiers. Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis, a former senator from Mississippi, who became the so-called president of the so-called Confederacy, was arrested and charged with treason in May of 1865. He was never tried.

Two years later, Davis was released on bail raised mostly by prominent Northern abolitionists, including Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, who all "advocated for a speedy trial or release of Davis in order to heal the country."

Ultimately, federal prosecutors blinked and never pursued the treason case against Davis for fear that he "would either prove to a jury that secession was legally permitted under the U.S. Constitution or he would be transformed into a martyr if convicted and executed."

Davis remained resolute that his course of action was correct, telling the Mississippi Legislature in 1884, "It has been said that I should apply to the United States for a pardon. But repentance must precede the right of pardon, and I have not repented. … If it were all to do over again, I would again do just as I did in 1861."

In the final analysis it was the North that blinked: In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation passed by Congress that restored Davis' U.S. citizenship.

In substance we know that from Andrew Johnson onward, the federal government would betray the nation's enslaved African Americans and their descendants by letting the South, driven by its racist paranoia and passion, dismantle the ephemeral gains of Reconstruction.

"One of the great mistakes we have made in the country historically is that in the aftermath of the Civil War we did not hold insurrectionists — rebels — accountable for what they did," observed Meacham on MSNBC.

That's precisely the thought I had when I saw an FBI flyer depicting the Trump insurrectionist who carried the Confederate flag inside the U.S. Capitol, something that had never happened before Jan. 6.

We have no bandwidth to make that mistake again.

Trump's coup attempt and the worsening pandemic are not separate stories — they're aspects of the same chaos

It's a new year, but our once-in-a-century mass death event continues. In my home state of New Jersey, the COVID death toll closes in on 20,000, while our national government remains in the kind of turmoil we might associate with a nation without a long tradition of the peaceful transition of power.

A nation with the mightiest and most high-tech military in the world has been cornered by a deadly virus — and by predatory leadership that's trying to exploit a public health crisis to perpetuate its hold on power.

As with so much during the Trump administration, what was promised in federal pandemic support to the states has failed to materialize in spectacular fashion, with the outgoing administration falling far short of its goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020.

CNN reported that only 2.1 million people have gotten the vaccination, just a tenth of the goal of Trump's "Operation Warp Speed." This speed bump, which anyone who knows Donald Trump could have predicted, came as several states confirm cases of the newest COVID strain from Britain, which scientists say is no more lethal than the original — but far more contagious.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease physician, has said that 80 to 85 percent of the nation's population would need to be inoculated for us to achieve so-called herd immunity. That would be more than 260 million Americans.

"At the current rate, it would take the United States approximately 10 years to reach that level of inoculation," warned Washington Post columnist Leana Wen. "That's right — 10 years. Contrast that with the Trump administration's rosy projections: Earlier this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted that every American will be able to get the vaccine by the second quarter of 2021 (which would be the end of June). The speed needed to do that is 3.5 million vaccinations a day."

While the United States, the world's wealthiest nation and sole remaining superpower, represents just 4 percent of the world's population, it has reported almost 20 percent of the earth's 2 million COVID-19 deaths.

Here in New Jersey, with more than 200 COVID deaths per 100,000 people, we account for 5.7 percent of the deaths but are just 2.77 percent of the nation's population. "Put another way: if it were a country, the Garden State would have the highest COVID-19 per capita death toll in the world," reported NJ Advance Media on Dec. 14.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, President Trump has played red states off against blue states even as he downplayed the seriousness of the virus, consistently misleading many Americans into believing that the highly contagious and deadly virus was like the flu.

Rather than coordinate the nation's pandemic response, Trump installed political operatives in the CDC twisted its public health messaging to suit the presidential campaign calendar, undermining the critical agency's credibility when the nation's states were looking to it for science-based leadership.

Just as with Trump's reckless campaigning, this added to the body count and helped accelerate the spread of the virus, which at various times people in the White House suggested was the administration's goal, in pursuit of herd immunity.

The November election was, if anything, a referendum on this unprecedented betrayal of the public trust, whose deadly consequences will be felt by American families for generations to come. More than 81.28 million Americans voted for Joe Biden, blowing past the previous record for the most votes cast for a single presidential candidate, set in 2008 when Barack Obama garnered 69.49 million votes.

Despite the certification of the states' returns, a sizable faction of the Republican Party, including New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who was elected as a Democrat in 2018 before switching parties during Trump's impeachment, want to end-run the will of the American people as and have the votes thrown out from swing states that went for Biden.

On Wednesday, well over 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives, along with about a dozen members of the U.S. Senate, are planning to protest the formal certification of Biden as president, even though all the lawsuits alleging voting fraud filed by Trump and his allies have been rejected by every court, including the nation's highest.

Moreover, despite the Trump campaign's post-election challenges in the contested states, Biden's victory in those states survived the labor-intensive process of hand recounts, which also produced no evidence of voter fraud.

On Dec. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to throw out the certified vote tallies from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, based on the claim that the mail-in ballot processes adopted by those states amid the COVID pandemic violated the law and were subject to widespread fraud.

The Texas AG was joined by the attorneys general of Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

One hundred twenty-six Republican House members, including Van Drew, aligned themselves with that Texas challenge, which was unanimously rebuffed by the Supreme Court. Yet, this faction, with an eye on their own ambitions, have chosen to embrace Trump over abiding by their sworn duty to "support and defend the Constitution … against all enemies, both foreign and domestic."

In President-elect Biden's Dec. 14 speech, given after the certification of the election returns, he described the Texas lawsuit as an effort to wipe out the votes of more than 20 million Americans, a "position so extreme, we've never seen it before, a position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law and refused to honor our Constitution."

Biden went on to proclaim that the November results meant that "faith in our institutions prevailed" and that "the integrity of our elections" remained intact while suggesting now was the "time to turn the page as we've done throughout our history, to unite, to heal."

But as Trump and his junta have repeatedly demonstrated throughout the pandemic, they have no interest in uniting and healing, even in the midst of a once-in-a-century mass death event — if fostering division will help tighten their grip on power.

Their self-serving antics, pulled on a weary nation aching for a shred of normalcy in a sea of misery and uncertainty, need to be framed for posterity as the opening line of their obituaries.

America is a failed state -- and Trump leaving the White House won't suddenly change that

In the waning days of the Trump presidency, there's a steady drumbeat coming from the corporate news media and its pundits: the suggestion that, come Jan. 21, everything will suddenly and magically return to "normal."

Never mind the mounting COVID death toll, which on several days this month has spiked above 3,000 a day.

The projection of normalcy is essential to preserving the existing economic order, to organize our self-image as the noblest of nations built on the wisdom of great white men, the landed gentry, who — with the exception of their reliance on slavery — were divinely inspired when they wrote the Constitution.

After four years with Donald Trump at the helm, one would have to be a comatose ancestor worshipper not to see how Trump exploited the shaky 18th-century architecture of patriotism for his own family's enrichment.

A man who failed to win the majority of the popular vote in 2016 had carte blanche to turn state against state in a COVID civil war that produced a body count that may end up rivaling that of the Rwandan civil war of the 1990s, when actual weapons were used to kill 800,000.

The Trumpian internecine conflict tore the nation asunder at the granular level. Millions of once close-knit extended families have become alienated from each other over arguments as to the efficacy of wearing a mask or socially distancing.

And the legitimate public health remedy of social distancing and limiting in-person communication only encouraged the stratification of our society that was already well underway, thanks to late-stage vulture capitalism and its acceleration of wealth concentration.

Trump, by pitting red against blue, robbed the entire country of its most essential defense: cohesion. But Trump was not happy with that alone. He dug deeper, like the sadist he is, fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia that existed in volcanic fissures just below the surface of our nation. He hoped to ride that lava flow of ash and burning cinder to realize his ambition.

But to finger Trump alone for our miserable situation fails to not fully grasp the awful truth that's been decades in the making. That true narrative reads more like science fiction than like the accurate, if bleak, recounting of our post-9/11 history it is.

As the world's wealthiest nation, we invested vast sums in the deadliest and most ecologically destructive weapons known to man. We cut public health spending and closed hospitals in rural and urban areas where the poor lived.

Life expectancy declined in the U.S. three years in a row, just as it did around the time of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. Two decades into the 21st century, millions of American households either had no health care insurance or were underinsured. Thus, well before the onset of the pandemic, we had a significant population of Americans beset with chronic disease and with inadequate medical care. Even though we also have the most expensive health care system in the world.

In pre-COVID America, the vast wealth inequality we were seeing rivaled what we had experienced during the Great Depression. Now, in the jaws of this killer virus, the daily experience gap between those who are privileged enough to work from home, and those forced by economics to go out in the world to earn their daily bread, harkens back to the era of feudalism: the nobility safe in the castle, while the "essential" serfs must face bandits, wolves and weather outside the walls.

"There are the college-educated knowledge-based workers, who can continue to work insulated in their homes, who are served by the essential workers in transit and retail sectors who have to be out in the world to serve them," observed Dr. Harriet Fraad, a New York psychotherapist who focuses on the intersection of family life and the economy. "This means during this pandemic that it's the poor and working class, made up primarily of women and people of color, who are more likely to die."

In his victory speech, President-elect Joe Biden pledged "to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify" and who will seek to "heal and restore the American soul."

That presumes America had a soul before the pandemic.

A fully honest examination of the struggles of tens of millions of American households before COVID, and how they have fared during the pandemic, suggests we have yet to find it.

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