Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


There's an abundance of disturbing details laid out in the 45-page document — released Tuesday — outlining charges against former President Donald Trump in connection with the Jan. 6 violence at the U.S. Capitol. But one piece of information stands out for its chilling quality:

It's that widespread unrest — "riots in every major city in the United States," as the Deputy White House Counsel put it at the time — was a feature, not a bug, in the unhinged plans to keep Trump in the Oval Office and keep Joe Biden out of it in late 2020 and early 2021.

The legitimate alarm about a country potentially torn asunder drew a cold, calculating response from "Co-Conspirator 4," believed to be Jeffrey Clark, described as a mid-level Justice Department official who saw in Trump his opportunity to lead that influential agency. "Well, [Deputy White House Counsel], that's why there's an Insurrection Act," the co-conspirator is alleged to have said.

Thankfully, cooler heads among Trump's administration prevailed. But it was an uncomfortably close call, one that requires accountability and renewed efforts to mend deep divisions within this country lest it happen again.

"The Insurrection Act authorizes the president to deploy military forces inside the United States to suppress rebellion or domestic violence or to enforce the law in certain situations," according to the Brennan Center for Justice. People would almost certainly have been hurt, even lives lost, if those whose loyalty lay with the country, not with Trump, had been outnumbered.

Our nation again faces a fraught moment with the mounting criminal charges faced by the 45th president. Emotions are running high, bringing with them the potential for more unrest or worse. Once again, the response that best serves our nation shares the qualities that former Vice President Mike Pence and Trump's more responsible appointees employed during the administration's manic last days: staying calm, following the evidence and safeguarding the governing framework our founders bequeathed to us.

Citizens would do well to follow this admirable lead as Tuesday's indictment adds to Trump's legal troubles. The former president now faces four felony charges related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This is in addition to charges that Jack Smith, a Justice Department special counsel, has filed against Trump for his handling of classified documents. The former president has also been charged in New York with falsifying business records and may face more election-related legal challenges in Georgia.

This steady drumbeat has made clear the legal jeopardy Trump is in, stirring passion among both supporters and detractors. Calm, clear thinking remains vital. The legal process should unfold as it does for any American. That no exceptions are made even for someone who once was in the White House should inspire confidence, not sap it or fuel conspiracy theories.

The critical challenge at hand for all who care about our country is increasingly clear: not to become even more divided. That serves no one but the bad actors abroad who wish to bring about this superpower's sunset.

Minnesotans and citizens everywhere have an individual role to play. This is a time to stay informed and seek to understand all facets of this complex legal process and the debate it has fueled.

Read the latest indictment and do the same for those already issued or those still to come. Seek out opposing viewpoints, such as in commentaries from pundits you don't normally follow. Consider the differing opinions that your own family or friends might hold, and have respectful conversations. Ask yourself — and be honest in your answer — if your views are informed by the evidence or, instead, by which political party you identify with.

Above all, start by assuming good intent from your fellow citizens. The passion sparked by Trump's travails is powered by concern about the future and ensuring that we leave this nation stronger for the generations yet to come. Keeping that shared goal in mind and following the evidence wherever it may lead is how we all can help our country successfully navigate this troubling, uncharted post-presidential moment.