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Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Impeachment Is Late Attempt to Curb Violence & Racism at Heart of Trump Era

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We look at the fight for accountability after a white supremacist mob attacked the U.S. Capitol and as President Trump is impeached for a historic second time for his incitement of violence. Supporters who took part in the January 6 attack — including current police officers — have been arrested across the U.S. for their involvement in the insurrection. Ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration, the FBI is warning police chiefs around the country to be on high alert for right-wing domestic terror attacks. The Pentagon said it’s increasing the number of National Guard soldiers deployed to the nation’s capital to 20,000 — twice the combined number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — in stark contrast to the response to last week’s riot. “The impeachment yesterday is a culmination of sorts of the kind of violence and racism that has been at the heart of the Trump administration that finally boiled over,” says Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University and contributing writer at The New Yorker magazine. “We have a government that has completely spun out of control at the hands of Donald Trump.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue to look at President Trump’s second impeachment. It’s historic. The House voted 232 to 197 to charge Trump with inciting last week’s deadly insurrection at the Capitol, making him the first president to be impeached twice. During Wednesday’s debate, newly sworn-in Congressmember Cori Bush of Missouri called Trump a white supremacist president.

REP. CORI BUSH: Madam Speaker, St. Louis and I rise in support of the article of impeachment against Donald J. Trump. If we fail to remove a white supremacist president who incited a white supremacist insurrection, it’s communities like Missouri’s 1st District that suffer the most. The 117th Congress must understand that we have a mandate to legislate in defense of Black lives. The first step in that process is to root out white supremacy, starting with impeaching the white-supremacist-in-chief. Thank you, and I yield back.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS: [booing]

SPEAKER PRO TEMPORE: And from your wishes to reserve, the gentleman from Ohio…

AMY GOODMAN: After Cori Bush’s remarks, some House Republicans booed. Congressmember Bush has said her first resolution in Congress will be to, quote, “call for the expulsion of the Republican members of Congress who incited this domestic terror attack on the Capitol.”

As Trump was impeached Wednesday, more of his supporters who took part in last week’s attack were arrested, including current police officers from around the country. In Queens, New York, the FBI arrested Eduard Florea, a leader of the far-right Proud Boys group, for allegedly plotting another attack on the U.S. Capitol. The FBI also confirmed the arrest of Douglas Allen Sweet in Virginia, who was photographed with the mob in the Capitol wearing a shirt that read “Camp Auschwitz” in reference to the Nazi death camp. In Virginia, two police officers from the town of Rocky Mount were arrested, after they boasted online about joining the insurrection last week. One is an Army veteran and trained sniper. And a Houston police officer was placed on administrative leave and will likely face felony charges, after he was filmed joining riots at the Capitol.

This comes as the FBI is warning police chiefs across the country to be on high alert for right-wing domestic terror attacks before, and during, Joe Biden’s inauguration next week. The Pentagon said it’s increasing the number of Guard soldiers deployed to the nation’s capital to 20,000 — twice the combined number of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This massive mobilization stands in stark contrast to last week’s riot. NPR reports despite open planning of the violent attack on social media, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security filed no security report ahead of January 6, even though they produced similar intelligence bulletins ahead of demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter marches and the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America.

For more, we’re joined by the renowned scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University, contributing writer at The New Yorker magazine. Her latest piece there is headlined “The Bitter Fruits of Trump’s White-Power Presidency.”

Professor Taylor, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don’t you respond to the impeachment yesterday and what you saw this insurrection — what underlies it?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: I think the impeachment yesterday is a culmination of sorts of the kind of violence and racism that has been at the heart of the Trump administration that finally boiled over. And, you know, this is an effort to, I think, reassert some kind of authority and control in a situation that seems to have spiraled out of control politically at an incredibly dangerous time. I mean, if we think about all of the things that are happening in the United States right now, with the exponential spread of COVID, with the disintegration of the U.S. economy, with millions of people — it is not hyperbole to say millions of people stand on the precipice of eviction and foreclosure at the end of January. And we have a government that has completely spun out of control at the hands of Donald Trump. And I think that the impeachment procedures are an effort to regain control, which is why you’ve seen some — not many, not a significant number, but some Republicans who have finally grasped the depths of depravity of this Trump administration and really the danger that it represents.

And I think that this has gotten to this point because it has been allowed. The Trump administration has been allowed to court white supremacists and white extremists from before Donald Trump won the presidency, and certainly well into his presidency, that all of his comments, his racist comments, his comments encouraging violence against his political opponents, both in politics and both in the population at large, have been downplayed, have been ignored, or, in some cases, have been egged on. And all of that has brought us to this point, has brought us to this point today.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Keeanga, could you elaborate on that point, what you said about the House Republicans who broke with the party and voted to support in favor of impeachment? Do you see that as indicative of where the party might go after Trump? I mean, many have said, in fact, that 10 is nothing, that everybody should have voted to impeach him, given what happened. Where do you see the party going once Trump is out?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: I think, given that Donald Trump not only received 74 million votes, but he significantly increased his voter turnout even at the most hysterical part of his presidency, the most unhinged part of his presidency — towards the end, he still continued to grow his voter base. And so I think the idea that this is either the end of the Republican Party or the Republican Party has learned from its mistakes is sadly mistaken.

I think that the Republican Party, for most of them, feel as if they have benefited from the rancor of Donald Trump. And I think what will really make the difference in terms of whether they continue to embrace this kind of unvarnished white extremism in the heart of their party or whether they try to put the cloak back over it — which I think is an important thing to say, that even for those people, those Republicans who have come out and finally said that this is a bridge too far, I mean, this is pretty dramatic for the bridge too far to be this. If we think about all of the things that Donald Trump has said and done in his very short, one-term presidency, for it to get to this point — insurrection, riot in the Capitol building, that resulted in the deaths of two police officers — one officer was killed in the Capitol, another committed suicide days after the riots in the Capitol. If that’s what it takes for you to break with Donald Trump, it speaks to the rot at the core of the Republican Party. And I think that because they have been so successful embracing this politics of racism, of extremism, of xenophobia, of Islamophobia, of political violence, of the idea that only Republicans are entitled to win elections, that there will have to be some demonstration that those politics are no longer popular among a certain strain in the population for them to abandon that strategy.

So it remains to be seen what Donald Trump’s influence will be, whether the corporate titans jumping off the Titanic will be enough to get the attention of the Republican Party. But that so many of them continue to cling to this demagogue even after the deaths of police officers, even after the mayhem at the Capitol, is both astounding and speaks to the utter corruption of the Republican Party writ large.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the comments of people like Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, who, along with many others, like Norma Torres, Ayanna Pressley, have talked about the horror — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — these women of color fleeing this mob, not to mention some of the African American Capitol police, who felt completely unprotected themselves from their leadership as they were being chased by the mob. But you had Pramila Jayapal bringing these two issues together. She is the third congressmember to test positive for COVID-19, that we know of — the New Jersey Congressmember [Watson Coleman] also tested positive, 75 years old, African American, cancer survivor — because of sequestering with Republican congressmembers who refused to wear masks. Jayapal said, “Only hours after President Trump incited a deadly assault on our Capitol, our country, and our democracy, many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic — creating a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack.” Now Pramila Jayapal’s husband has tested positive, as has Ayanna Pressley’s husband. Can you talk about the coming together of these two issues, now Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats demanding that these Republicans wear masks or be fined, and having those fines deducted from Republicans’ paychecks if they don’t wear them in the House, but both this attack last week and the disproportionate effect COVID has on people of color?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: I mean, it is just utterly disgusting, and it shows something about the selfishness, the hypocrisy of the Republican Party to put these people at risk for the sake of their political brand. And, you know, I think that there’s something much more pernicious to this, when we think about the ways that these people are responsible, have a political obligation to make determinations about how the country responds to this virus, to be responsible for creating the provisions to mitigate the worst aspects of this virus, and are now in political control of how the vaccine is disseminated in response to the virus.

And so, I think that when you look at the absolutely astounding, appalling response of the most powerful nation on Earth to the coronavirus, you get some insight into why the political response has been so completely bungled. With the Republican Party in charge of the Senate and the presidency, they have had absolutely no interest in pursuing an aggressive strategy to try to contain this virus. I think that, early on, the Republican Party took the stance that was imposed on meat workers in the meatpacking industry, that they would force people to work, that they would create a situation where there were no public provisions so that people could safely shelter in place at home, which has been the only real known way to curb the virus. But we know that the only way that is possible is if you make sure that people’s rent is paid, that if you make sure people are able to afford groceries, that if you make sure people are able to provide for their families, that is the only way that you can stay at home. And so, the Republicans led the effort to take that off of the table to force people to go to work, which has resulted in the disastrous death toll that we have in this country, all on the hedge that Americans would become immune to thousands of people dying, and that would be the way that they would get away with it.

And so, their personal politicization of wearing the mask, of taking preventative measures, also underlies a political approach to not containing this virus, as it has had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people, on Black people, on Latinx people, who are forced to work in the public sector. And these people simply don’t care — this party, disproportionately millionaire, disproportionately white male — do not care about the impact, right down to putting their colleagues, the people that they work with, at risk. It speaks to something deranged within the individuals that compose that party. It is disgusting.

AMY GOODMAN: And a correction on the congresswoman’s name from New Jersey: It’s Congressmember Bonnie Watson Coleman. And we’re going to link to her op-ed piece in The Washington Post, “I’m 75. I had cancer. I got covid-19 because my GOP colleagues dismiss facts.” Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Keeanga, as you’ve just outlined this, really, litany of abusive policies that the Trump administration has carried out right to this moment, despite that, as you’ve written about extensively, he received over 70 million votes. And as you’ve also said, there was an increase in the people who voted for him among demographics that one would not — demographic groups that one would not expect to support him. So there are these 70 million people who are Trump supporters, and we’re going into the Biden-Harris administration next week. What’s going to happen to all these people? How should the Biden-Harrison administration engage with them, if at all, and in what ways?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: So, I think there are two things here. One is, you know, I think Trump increased his overall voting turnout, to the shock of many people, but I don’t think that the 74 million people that voted for Trump are all white supremacists, white extremists, who are chomping at the bit to overrun the Capitol and kill people in the Democratic Party. Clearly, there is a stratum of that among those people, but I think that there’s a more complicated set of issues going on here. I think that Trump increased his voter totals among Latinx people, among Black voters, including Black women. There was much more talked about his increase among Black male voters, but, you know, he also increased his turnout, or his total voting totals, among Black women. So I think that there is a much more complicated story to tell about, really, the collapse in the credibility of both parties, in that people feel like the world is falling apart around them and that there has been an anemic response from the political parties involved.

And in some ways, you know, there are lots of things, I think, that motivate Trump voters, one of them being registering one’s disappointment, disapproval with government itself. I mean, Trump has become this absurd symbol of anti-government. Even as the president, the most powerful elected position not just in this country, but in the world, he still registers as a kind of anti-government figure. I think that people feel that his boorishness, his behavior, is also a rebuke of the kind of buttoned-up political theater that most other elected officials engage in.

And so, what I think that really speaks to is the lack of political options and alternatives for people in this country. And that’s why when people talk about “Is this the end of the Republican Party? Is the Republican Party going to dissolve over this?” — I mean, people were saying the same thing in 2015, when Donald Trump became the candidate for the Republican Party, which seemed ridiculous, and the Republicans were somewhat of a laughingstock as result of that, until they actually won the presidency. And so, when there are two parties, you know, it limits your ability to really register opposition, and it leaves people to vote for one or the other.

That being said, I think that there is an opportunity for the Biden and Harrison administration to actually be able to demonstrate government that can be effective. They have to seize this opportunity that has been dropped in their lap because of the activism and work of Black activists and other voting rights activists in Georgia that helped flip the Senate seats in that state. That means, officially, once Joe Biden is inaugurated, that there are no more excuses, that the Democratic Party has control of the Senate, and that should very quickly open up a period of intense legislation. The $2,000 checks, we want to see them. Relief for renters in this country, stopping evictions, we want to see that. Healthcare, a real plan around the distribution of this vaccine, I think all of those things and more — canceling student loan debt — all of these things are now plausible. The Democrats do not have the Republicans as an excuse for why they can’t get things done.

And so, I think it means that the Biden and Harris administration are going to have to abandon this plan of bipartisanship, of trying to appeal to the discredited and disgraced Republican Party in the name of some false unity, and instead they must plow ahead with a plan that can actually fix the not just deep problems, but problems that seem and appear to be completely out of control in this country. They have to use this authority to do so. And, you know, we know that from Joe Biden’s —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: — Joe Biden’s history that that will be a hard thing for him to do. And so, it means that the social movements that were most activated through the summer around Black Lives Matter have to reemerge to force the Biden-Harris administration to follow through on the promises that were made.

AMY GOODMAN: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, we want to thank you so much for being with us, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University, contributing writer at The New Yorker magazine. We’ll link to her most recent piece, “The Bitter Fruits of Trump’s White-Power Presidency.”

Next up, more than 8,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 in just the past two days alone. We’ll talk about the botched vaccine distribution and what needs to be done not only in this country, but around the world. Stay with us.

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