A second impeachment of President Trump may turn on a language question: the meaning of the word "fight."
The impeachment article introduced by House Democrats accusing him of "incitement of insurrection" says that on January 6, "President Trump addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, DC. There, he reiterated false claims that "we won this election, and we won it by a landslide". He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—lawless action at the Capitol, such as: "if you don't fight like hell you're not going to have a country anymore". Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session's solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts."
The historians' and legal scholars' letter also hangs a lot on the word "fight." It says, "Instead of engaging in the peaceful transfer of power, he encouraged an insurrection by a mob of his supporters on January 6, 2021, urging them to march on the U.S. Capitol, to 'fight,' in his word, and halt the constitutionally prescribed process of counting the Electoral Votes that would confirm former Vice President Joseph R. Biden as President-Elect."
When Trump used the word "fight," did he mean "violently bash the Capitol Police over the head with fire extinguishers, hockey sticks, flagpoles, and any other weapon at hand?" Or did he mean, as he said elsewhere in his speech, "peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard"?
Let's have a look at the context, via a transcript of Trump's January 6 remarks. Trump referred to Mayor Giuliani: "He's got guts, unlike a lot of people in the Republican party. He's got guts, he fights. He fights." He referred to Rep. Jim Jordan: "There's so many weak Republicans. We have great ones, Jim Jordan, and some of these guys. They're out there fighting the House. Guys are fighting, but it's incredible." He went on: "Unbelievable, what we have to go through, what we have to go through and you have to get your people to fight. If they don't fight, we have to primary the hell out of the ones that don't fight. You primary them." He said, "everybody had us down for a victory. It was going to be great. And now we're out here fighting." Trump said of his interactions with the news media: "But it used to be that they'd argue with me, I'd fight. So I'd fight, they'd fight. I'd fight, they'd fight. Boop-boop. You'd believe me, you'd believe them. Somebody comes out. They had their point of view, I had my point of view. But you'd have an argument. Now what they do is they go silent." Then he said, "But our fight against the big donors, big media, big tech and others is just getting started." Toward the end of the speech, Trump said, "most people would stand there at 9:00 in the evening and say, "I want to thank you very much," and they go off to some other life, but I said, "Something's wrong here. Something's really wrong. Can't have happened." And we fight. We fight like Hell and if you don't fight like Hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."
The last thing I am is Trump's impeachment defense lawyer. I think he lost the presidential election and that his prolonged refusal to concede that was bad for the country and his own reputation. It contributed meaningfully to fueling the violent and dismaying riot and disruption of Congress that resulted in multiple deaths on January 6. No parsing of language will excuse that. In the context of this speech, though, "fight" is repeatedly used—Trump fighting with media interviewers, Giuliani and Jim Jordan fighting, fighting against big donors—in a way that carries my Webster Second Unabridged's definition of "to try to overcome, as by legislation, argument," rather than the definition of "to contend with in battle, as with fists, weapons."
For example, Senator Elizabeth Warren suspended her Democratic presidential campaign with a Medium post headlined "The Fight Goes On," insisting "I am so proud of how you all fought this fight alongside me," and "In this campaign, we have been willing to fight, and when necessary, we left plenty of blood and teeth on the floor," and "I know that you aren't ready to leave this fight," and "this fight — our fight — is not over. And our place in this fight has not ended."
"Because for every young person who is drowning in student debt, for every family struggling to pay the bills on two incomes, for every mom worried about paying for prescriptions or putting food on the table, this fight goes on.
For every immigrant and African American and Muslim and Jewish person and Latinx and trans woman who sees the rise in attacks on people who look or sound or worship like them, this fight goes on.
And for every person alarmed by the speed with which climate change is bearing down upon us, this fight goes on.
And for every American who desperately wants to see our nation healed and some decency and honor restored to our government, this fight goes on.
And sure, the fight may take a new form, but I will be in that fight, and I want you in this fight with me."
Warren's followers didn't storm the U.S. Capitol, no more than Harvard Football fans did in response to the "Fight Fiercely Harvard" song. But you'd have to be a knucklehead of the sort who stormed the Capitol to take a politician literally when he or she uses the term "fight."