Courtney: Our politicians need more guts

Trump’s acquittal in the Senate is part of a long list of events showing that our politicians need more guts.

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Zach Courtney

Just seven days ago, former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate concluded. Fifty-seven senators voted that Trump was guilty, including seven Republicans (Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey). Although this was the most bipartisan effort ever to convict a president, it was still 10 votes short of the 67 needed to convict.

I’ll start with the obvious. On the merits, Trump was guilty as charged. Even overt partisan Mitch McConnell acknowledged as much immediately after voting not guilty, saying, “Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” McConnell — and many other Senate Republicans — hide behind the argument that it is unconstitutional to convict a president who is not currently holding office, even though the founders’, legal scholars’ and originalists’ interpretation of the Constitution argue otherwise.

I applaud all seven Republicans for being able to buck the former president and do the morally right thing. That being said, Trump’s impeachment trial reminds me of two situations in our nation’s history: One where the convenient wrong was done, and one where the inconvenient right was done.

The convenient wrong

This event took place on Sept. 22, 2011, at a Republican primary debate. Stephen Hill, a gay soldier serving the United States in Iraq, asked Rick Santorum about the historically awful policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As Hill finished asking the question, there were audible boos from the crowd, seemingly unhappy with a gay man in the military. Being upset with this is (or at least should be) obvious to anyone. Instead of acknowledging disgust with the boos or proclaiming that he doesn’t want the vote of anyone who boos an American soldier that was literally in combat, Santorum took the convenient wrong, stayed silent and answered the question.

The inconvenient right

Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ, as he was known) assumed the presidency after the assassination of JFK in 1963. LBJ was a Democrat from Texas. I know that sounds like an odd combination but it was far more common then than it is today (Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive Republican from New York). Then, LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. Although a lot still needed to be done to end racial discrimination even today, this was a crucial step in the right direction.

When signing the bill into law, he turned to an aide and said something to the effect of, “There goes the South for a generation.” While this is definitely a simplification of the issue, he was right. Southern conservatives slowly turned away from the Democratic Party, and now Democrats seem to be wasting their breath campaigning in deep-red states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.

Other than four years of Jimmy Carter, the Republican Party held onto the White House from 1969-1982. Sometimes politicians use the term “country over party.” LBJ actually lived and acted upon it, taking the inconvenient right.

Oftentimes I love debating public policy whether I agree or disagree with politicians. These situations are far from that. It’s about leadership. Part of being a leader is having the guts to tell others when they are wrong. Trump lost the election — plain and simple. It wasn’t stolen. Republican congressmen and congresswomen know that. They just didn’t have the guts to do the inconvenient right. Trump incited an insurrection at the Capitol. Republican members of Congress know that. They just didn’t have the guts to do the inconvenient right. Many of those who did stand up have already been either censured or criticized by their home state or, in the case of Mitch McConnell, have been the subject of a nasty statement from the former president himself.

Part of having guts is doing the inconvenient right. No Republican should want the vote of those homophobes that booed Stephen Hill. No Democrat should want the vote of those in the Deep South that opposed the Civil Rights Act. It’s early, but we can already add to that list. No Republican should want the vote of someone who thinks Trump won the election. No Republican should want to win if it means sweeping Trump’s incitement of insurrection under the rug.

Even if it doesn’t show in the moment, one thing always shows in the history books: our politicians need guts.

Forty-three Senate Republicans failed to do the inconvenient right. Mark my words: History will look upon them poorly.