Trump leaves, but the chaos sown remains 

Capitol riot stirs debate over speech and insurrection

DONALD TRUMP will be the first president in more than 150 years not to attend his successor’s inauguration, jetting off this morning to Florida in a denialist huff about his reelection defeat. 

The Washington Post documented more than 30,000 false or misleading claims during his four years in office. One of them, of course, overshadows all others, and provided the foundation for the mob insurrection by his supporters at the US Capitol earlier this month that left five dead, including a Capitol police officer: The claim that he won reelection in “a landslide” and had the election stolen from him. 

With Trump probably anxious to hit the links later today at Mar-a-Lago, the fallout from the Capitol riot that even Mitch McConnell now says he incited is being felt in town halls and courtrooms across the country, where his most fanatical followers are now facing a reckoning over their wrecking. (Trump will face his own accounting in a looming Senate impeachment trial.) Two Massachusetts residents who went to Washington for the January 6 action — an organizer of the 2019 Straight Pride Parade in Boston and a Natick town meeting member — were arrested yesterday on charges related to the attack on the Capitol. 

A lawyer for Mark Sahady, the parade organizer, questioned what the evidence is against his client. Prosecutors’ case  against Natick town meeting member Suzanne Ianni includes a photo showing her pumping her fist inside the Capitol, which protesters illegally stormed. 

As proceedings against rioters on various federal charges play out, Trump’s final act of disruption is also forcing a broader debate over free speech issues. 

In an online forum last weekend hosted by the Ward 15 Democratic Committee in Boston, both of the announced candidates for mayor, City Councilor Andrea Campbell and City Councilor Michelle Wu, said in response to a question that, if elected, they would fire any city worker who was at the Capitol melee. Whether that would include someone who marched to the Capitol but didn’t illegally enter it was unclear. 

Meanwhile, some Democrats are saying Congress should consider expelling members who aided the rioters or whose actions or speech incited an insurrection — in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Among those voicing such views is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, probably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, who said Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley may have crossed that line. 

Free speech rights under the First Amendment are generally regarded as unqualified and absolute. That we are now facing debate over whether they have been exercised by members of Congress in ways that violated another constitutional amendment is just one more bit of the detritus left behind by a president who vowed to disrupt established norms. 

On that score at least, no one will question his administration’s frequent refrain, “Promises made, promises kept.”