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Democrats: The Time to Act Is Now.

January 10, 2021
Democrats: The Time to Act Is Now.
Insurrection. (Samuel Corum/Getty)

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

—W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

These lines have been quoted so many times in recent years that one tends to dismiss them, though we shouldn’t. But at this particular moment I don’t want to discuss the interesting question of whether the center can or cannot hold. I don’t want to dilate on the fact that “the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” That has become terribly evident, never more so than this past week.

Instead I want to say a word about the notion that “the best lack all conviction.” Because that really is how democracies fall.

The center is always problematic. The worst are always with us.

But what about the best? Or even the decent, the good, the well-meaning? Do they have conviction? Will they step up?

I am alarmed.

Every Democrat believes Trump deserves to be impeached and convicted. Every Democrat knows in his or her heart that the time to do that is now, while memories are fresh, when lessons can be taught, at a moment when the necessary liberation of American politics from Trumpism can most easily begin.

But Democrats are wavering. I am alarmed that, less than five days removed from a day that will, truly, live in infamy, resolution is already giving way to uncertainty, haste to delay, the determination to act to the rationalization of inaction.

Democrats are currently being gripped by a host of doubts and are fixating on the hypothetical problems that impeachment might create. So for example, as a result of these doubts, it’s been suggested that it might be prudent to wait to impeach until after President-elect Biden has been inaugurated, confirmed a cabinet, and passed COVID-19 legislation.

Given the stakes and the uncertainty, such delay—which is born out of well-meaning concerns—is madness. Who knows what Trump will do in the next ten days? Who is to say what other more-pressing challenges might emerge by the end of Biden’s first 100 days? This is the time for action.

I’m also struck that some anti-Trump forces aren’t even doing the easy stuff, short of impeachment. Mitch McConnell has put the Senate on recess for ten days. This is insane. We are in the midst of a governing crisis and a security crisis. McConnell is trying to protect his caucus from having to vote on impeachment even if it means placing the country in further jeopardy. This is the same Mitch McConnell who enabled Trump for the last four years, now doing him one final service for the sake of his partisan interest.

Have Democrats been criticizing McConnell this weekend? I haven’t noticed it.

Far be it from me to encourage senators to violate the sacred bonds of courtesy and comity in the upper chamber. But perhaps this is a time for Chuck Schumer to make his voice heard. To say that the Senate must be called back into session in this time of crisis and if McConnell won’t do his duty now, then he should step aside now and let his successor do it.

Or perhaps Dick Durbin could say that the Democratic conference would welcome Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Pat Toomey to join them for ten days, so that Schumer can become majority leader right now and call the Senate back into session. Why should Romney, Murkowski, and Toomey want to protect their Trumpy colleagues from having to vote on a removal that a large majority of the country now favors? These three senators have been clear-eyed about just who their colleagues are and what games they have been playing. For the good of the country, the Republican conference ought to be forced to go on the record about Trump’s insurrection. Romney, Murkowski, and Toomey could make that happen. But they can’t if Democrats don’t remain strong.

And perhaps the incoming Biden administration could make clear that it is capable of beginning its work at noon on January 20, even if cabinet appointees are confirmed a few days later? Because standing up for democracy comes first, since it is the foundation that makes everything else possible.

As for Republicans in the House, many know what should be done, and some have suggested privately, and a few publicly, that they might be ready to vote for impeachment. These few need encouragement and support. Their votes will not be popular with many of their supporters in their districts. But they will be left in an even more vulnerable position if Democrats lack the conviction and determination to do what is necessary.

Much of the Republican caucus is using the fact it’s so late in the president’s term as cover for their cowardice, implying that they might have finally found their spine if only it weren’t for the inconvenient timing. They should not be allowed to get away with this dodge after spending two months enabling the president’s assault on our electoral system.

Defending democracy is a complex, long-term task, requiring deep thought and multifaceted action. But defending democracy is also a matter of acting urgently at moments of crisis, at the inflection points.

This is such a time.

Donald Trump should be impeached and removed now.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.