Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Donald Trump Isn’t on Trial. The Republican Party Is.

We know Trump is guilty. We don’t know (yet) whether the Republican party can be saved.
February 11, 2021
Donald Trump Isn’t on Trial. The Republican Party Is.
(Hannah Yoest / Shutterstock)

Adam Kinzinger says that convicting Trump is necessary to save America. Adam Kinzinger is wrong.

As a matter of principle, Trump should be convicted. He spent two months telling flat-out lies designed to undermine American democracy and keep him in power even though he had lost the election. He demanded that the vice president of the United States violate the Constitution. When Mike Pence refused, he ordered a violent mob to march on the U.S. Capitol, which they did while chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” If you can’t impeach a president for fomenting sedition, what can you impeach him for?

Luckily for us, America’s continued survival as a democracy isn’t wholly dependent on the moral fortitude of the Senate Republican caucus.

First, the trial has already achieved one of its major objectives by creating an indelible historical record of the events of January 6. The “timeline” video introduced into evidence on Tuesday was a stunning, damning record of the events of the day as they unfolded. That 14-minute video will come to define the Trump administration for future generations. A hundred years from now, children will study it in school.

But more importantly, while convicting Trump would be a step in the right direction, it wouldn’t save America—because Trump isn’t really the problem. Donald Trump didn’t create Marjorie Taylor Greene. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the millions of people like her, created Donald Trump. And regardless of what happens to Trump, these people aren’t going away.

We are currently in the grip of an American Counter-Enlightenment. The people who support Trump and his attacks on American institutions like to mouth the word “Constitution” but they fundamentally reject the philosophical principles which animate it. In one poll shortly after the sacking of the Capitol, 45 percent of Republicans said they supported the attack. You are not pro-democracy if you want to overthrow our system of elections. You can’t claim to value reason while championing lies and conspiracy theories.

These people are dangerous and if Donald Trump is cast out from American politics, they will find another leader, possibly someone less cartoonish, more intelligent, and in possession of more self-control.

If anything, that could be a worse outcome. Better to be matched against a dime-store Mussolini than an American version of Victor Orban.

But while convicting Donald Trump isn’t sufficient to save America, it is necessary to save the Republican party. If it can be saved.

By launching a second impeachment, Democrats gave Republicans a great gift: a final opportunity to put Donald Trump and his personality cult firmly in the rearview mirror. But this gift also carried a peril: Because to fail to cut ties to Trump now—when there were no judges or policies or elections at stake, would mean binding the party even more tightly to Trump.

Horses, water, drinking, etc.

There’s a great deal of irony swirling around here. Many of Trump’s supporters mouth slogans like, “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” But now, when Republican leaders are faced with an actual opportunity to stand up for the most basic principles of our democracy—literally for Truth, Justice, and the American Way—most of them have eagerly prostrated themselves before Trump. Again.

But a party defined by conspiracy theories, QAnon, and irrationality is on a long road to nowhere. If the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world are the future of the Republican party, then the party has no future as a national party capable of governing.

These people have to be confronted. They can’t be appeased. Republicans tried appeasement and ran up against a sort of political Gresham’s law where the crazy people drove out the sane ones to the point that we now have Texas Republicans proposing secession and Arizona Republicans wanting to give the state legislature the authority to overturn election results.

Whether Donald Trump is convicted or not, America is going to have to confront the political forces that brought him to power. The real question in this trial isn’t whether or not Donald Trump is guilty.

It’s whether Republicans are going to confront those forces too, or simply surrender to them.

Chris Truax

Chris Truax is an appellate lawyer in San Diego and the CEO of, the first system designed to deter foreign interference in American social media. He is a member of the Guardrails of Democracy Project.