Jamelle Bouie concludes that 1876 is probably not the model to replay:
All of this is to say that we are already in a place where a substantial portion of the country (although much less than half) has aligned itself against the basic principles of American democracy in favor of Trump. And these 2020 deniers aren’t sitting still, either; as these election results show, they are actively working to undermine democracy for the next time Trump is on the ballot.
This fact, alone, makes a mockery of the idea that the ultimate remedy for Trump is to beat him at the ballot box a second time, as if the same supporters who rejected the last election will change course in the face of another defeat. It also makes clear the other weight-bearing problem with the argument against holding Trump accountable, which is that it treats inaction as an apolitical and stability-enhancing move — something that preserves the status quo as opposed to action, which upends it.
But that’s not true. Inaction is as much a political choice as action is, and far from preserving the status quo — or securing some level of social peace — it sets in stone a new world of total impunity for any sufficiently popular politician or member of the political elite.
Now, it is true that political elites in this country are already immune to most meaningful consequences for corruption and lawbreaking. But showing forbearance and magnanimity toward Trump and his allies would take a difficult problem and make it irreparable. If a president can get away with an attempted coup (as well as abscond with classified documents), then there’s nothing he can’t do. He is, for all intents and purposes, above the law.
Among skeptics of prosecution, there appears to be a belief that restraint would create a stable equilibrium between the two parties; that if Democrats decline to pursue Trump, then Republicans will return the favor when they win office again. But this is foolish to the point of delusion. We don’t even have to look to the recent history of Republican politicians using the tools of office to investigate their political opponents. We only have to look to the consequences of giving Trump (or any of his would-be successors) a grant of nearly unaccountable power. Why would he restrain himself in 2025 or beyond? Why wouldn’t he and his allies use the tools of state to target the opposition?
American history is rife with showing forbearance to opponents of democracy and equal citizenship in the hope that they will reciprocate, and the failure of this strategy is total. Replaying it this time is unlikely to have a happier ending.