Opinion: Trump's conviction would finally complete the transfer of power

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The impeachment trial in the Senate is an opportunity to reaffirm nationally — and with a strong bipartisan voice — that we are a nation of laws, committed to peaceful transfers of power without exception.

"It is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it."

These were words George Washington delivered in his farewell address after he chose not to seek reelection in 1796.

A thriving democracy requires us to recommit to its principles continuously, and a core feature of that commitment is the peaceful transfer of power between leaders.

Last month, in a most violent and shocking fashion, Donald Trump did not live up to that commitment. He provoked turmoil. He sought to deprive the country of a peaceful transfer of power for the first time in our nation's history.

The impeachment trial in the Senate, however, provides an opportunity to correct course. A verdict to convict him would be a step toward healing the wounds laid bare by Trump. It is an opportunity to reaffirm nationally — and with a strong bipartisan voice — that we are a nation of laws, committed to peaceful transfers of power without exception.

The significance of that power transfer is not an abstract notion. Law enforcement has made clear that the forces behind the insurrection, which claimed five lives and threatened an entire branch of government — even the vice president himself — remain an ongoing national security threat.

As long as Trump remains eligible to run for the presidency, and as long as Trumpism has a viable political heartbeat, the threat of violence and disruption will persist, because those supporters who bow to violence can hold out hope.

Trump must be judged on the merits of the impeachment article lobbied against him. Each senator must decide whether they believe Trump is guilty of "incitement of insurrection" related to the Jan. 6 riot.

Nevertheless, to view the implications of that judgment in a vacuum, without a consideration for how they impact the unity of our country going forward, would be naïve.

A Trump acquittal would ensure that the clamor and rancor that go hand in hand with Trumpism are a constant undercurrent to a country desperately in need of recovery. It could also allow Trump to launch a campaign to frustrate and undercut the efforts of the Biden administration.

In other words, it would relinquish a final opportunity to achieve a clear transfer of power and would, instead, line the country up for further turbulence.

At the same time, convicting Trump cannot be seen as the be-all and end-all antidote to further division. It is a first step in holding Trump to account for his reckless actions in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 riot, and it is a letter of intent for our nation's commitment to prosecute those who desecrated our Capitol.

Nevertheless, this first step can go a long way in ensuring that the most disruptive and provocative figure of the past four years is significantly quelled. It can allow both parties to move on, clear in the knowledge of one key fact: that Donald Trump cannot run for office again.

In making that so, Congress can focus more on the business of the people: passing a comprehensive COVID relief package, ensuring a robust economic recovery, and addressing critical issues like climate change and racial equity. In addition, it would also send a powerful signal that the checks and balances of our democratic system remain intact, and that we can build on those to strengthen our democracy in the years to come.

In his farewell address, George Washington said, "The unity of government … is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize."

Now is the time for Congress to turn the page and to coalesce around that unity, to carry out the transfer of power in accordance with our founding principles, and to reinvigorate our democratic framework so that we can prosper in the years to come.

Ben Hatt is the speechwriter for the executive team at the Center for American Progress.