Donna Brazile: The Trump impeachment trial and our duty to history

At this very fraught moment in history, America is facing dire emergencies related to public health, to the economy, and to the very moral fiber of our democracy. It is vital that our nation’s leaders address all these emergencies with every ounce of their will.

This week, even as the new Biden-Harris administration continues to tackle the urgent crises of the pandemic and the economic travails, the U.S. Senate is taking time to attend to the equally pressing matter of trying former President Donald J. Trump of the United States on a charge of incitement to insurrection.

Some may ask: if the votes aren’t there from the very get-go, if an acquittal seems to be a foregone conclusion, then why even go through with the impeachment trial?

The answer is that even if we think we know how the impeachment trial of Donald Trump will end, we need to go through with this trial for sake of history. We need to do it for the sake of future defenders of democracy.


Firstly, no one should ever be allowed to commit the egregious and deadly acts that the former president stands correctly accused of committing, namely of purposefully gathering and inciting a mob with the expressed purpose of upending an election, subverting democracy, and threatening members of Congress and his own vice president. 

On an even more fundamental level, we need to let future generations know that this awful breach of democratic principles did not go unnoticed. It was not swept under the rug as an embarrassing aberration or quickly dismissed in the face of the pressing need to attend to other crises. We can work to heal our nation simultaneously on multiple levels.

We need to let future generations know that there were people who insisted on planting a marker here and now that what occurred on January 6th and in the days leading up to it was morally reprehensible.

We need to let those future generations know that there were people who insisted on planting a marker here and now that what occurred on January 6th and in the days leading up to it was morally reprehensible and utterly at odds with the democratic principles this nation holds dear.

By conducting the trial and presenting the evidence in a compelling and forceful fashion, we give future Americans something to build on so that they can prevent another such breach of democratic principles.

Former President Trump has been using and glorifying violence ever since the rallies of his 2016 campaign.

He told a gathering of police officers not to worry about injuring suspects during arrests. He told rally attendees to “beat the crap” out of a protester at the event. He told his followers he would pay their legal fees.


He spent most of the 2020 campaign prepping his followers to feel that they had been cheated if he didn’t win the election. In the months leading up to November 3rd, Trump continuously repeated the assertion that the only way he could lose would be if the election was stolen from him. He seemed to have more of a plan to falsely claim he won a lost election than he had any plan to actually win.

The days between the election and January 6th were a steady drumbeat of incitement—pulsating with anger and grievance.

As Trump steadily exhausted every imaginable legal avenue to overturning the election (over 60 lawsuits in all!), he began more and more to prime his fanatical followers to take extralegal and violent actions to secure him a victory. Already, on December 19th, he was hyping, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” and promising “Be there, will be wild!”

And it worked. Rioters repeatedly told the media and told law enforcement after they were arrested, that they attacked the Capitol because Trump told them to. He promised them he was going with them. And we all heard him.

However much the rioters believe the election was stolen, the election challenges ran the full process of the legal system. Sixty-one lawsuits (two won by Trump), multiple recounts with observers present, and Republican legislatures certifying the results are ample proof that the Rule of Law was fully respected.  The law was being respected, with challenges to the vote allowed, as the Electoral College count was underway.

The only purpose to entering the Capitol, unlawfully, and seeking out the Congress and Vice President Pence as the electoral votes were being counted, was to obstruct that process.

If Trump fails to be convicted because the U.S. Senate says that a president can’t be impeached after they leave office, it sets a precedent for future despots: nothing you do in your final few weeks is punishable by anybody in any way. That is a terrible precedent.


We must set a precedent of our own by vigorously conducting this trial, no matter what the outcome. We need to create a legal legacy that future generations can turn to and know that not everyone at this moment lacked the courage to do what was right.

There’s a difference between clinging to a lost cause and standing on principle. We need to fight this battle even if we lose it, in order to carry on the longer-term struggle to maintain our democracy.


Veteran political strategist Donna Brazile joined Fox News Channel as a contributor in 2019. She’s the founder and director of Brazile & Associates LLC, a general consulting, grassroots advocacy, and training firm based in Washington, DC.