One year ago, the United States experienced a very dark day. But in reality, the Capitol riot and the insurrection were not just one dark day in American history. They were the culmination of a concerted effort by Donald Trump to overturn the will of the people as expressed through the 2020 presidential election. What’s more, the problems did not go away as Congress accepted the results of the Electoral College count and as the sun set on January 6, 2021. We are still living with the fact that none of the ringleaders of what can accurately be described as a coup attempt have been held accountable and the possibility that they may try again.
Like September 11, referring to the Capitol insurrection as “January 6” is a shorthand, but it is one that misses the real problem. The riot was bad. So were the ransacking of the Capitol and the assaults on Capitol Police officers. The real problem, however, was the blatant attempt to steal the election and with it, the office of the president.
Republican leaders who played footsie with Trump after the election probably never saw the revolt coming, although this blindness may have been willful. As Trump launched his salvos of lawsuits in the battleground states, the consensus among the traditional Republicans left in leadership seemed to be, “Just humor him. He’ll tucker himself out and finally give up and go home.”
Trump never got tired of playing the victim and stoking the anger of his supporters. At noon, a year ago, then-President Trump began speaking to his supporters at the Stop the Steal rally and told them, “If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.”
Trump closed his speech by inviting the crowd to march on the Capitol, telling them, “So we're going to, we're going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I love Pennsylvania Avenue. And we're going to the Capitol, and we're going to try and give.”
What Trump was going to “try and give” was an excuse for Republicans in Congress to contest the Electoral votes of enough states to deny Joe Biden his victory. There are now numerous smoking guns that detail the plot to steal the election in the name of stopping the steal. These include a memo by Trump lawyer John Eastman and numerous statements by former White House advisor Peter Navarro. One of the most detailed of these was a recent interview with Rolling Stone, but Navarro also detailed the plot for posterity in his new memoir.
The plan was to have Vice President Pence throw out the Electoral votes from the battleground states that went for Biden using a pretext of fraud, never mind that the president had filed and lost more than 40 lawsuits that made the same allegations. The fraud claims were themselves a fraud.
“One of two things could happen,” Navarro told Rolling Stone. “They go back there [to the states], they look at it and they say, ‘Nope. It’s certified.’ [The votes] come back, and that would be it. Fair enough.”
“But the more likely scenario based on our assessment of the evidence was that states would withdraw any certification,” he continued. “And the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives. And even though the House is controlled by Democrats, the way votes would be counted in a presidential election decided by the House, Trump would almost certainly win.”
Navarro claims that the attack on the Capitol was never part of the plan and that “the violence overtook” the real coup effort that was underway in congressional chambers. In other words, Navarro says that the plotters didn’t want to start a riot, they just wanted to peacefully steal the election. They wanted to destroy the Constitution in order to save it.
Let’s get one thing straight. The Trump/Navarro/Eastman plot was unconstitutional on its face and based on fraud. Nothing in the Constitution allows the vice president to throw out Electoral votes on a whim. Neither does the poorly worded Electoral Count Act. If this theory was based in reality, Donald Trump would never have become president in the first place since then-Vice President Joe Biden could have just thrown out enough votes to make Hillary president.
There is nothing in the writings of the Framers or original intent that suggests that the Founders wanted the vice president to have veto power over presidential elections. The idea that a single politician could refuse to honor the votes of entire states represents the worst kind of intentional misreading of the Constitution’s clear meaning.
Thankfully, Mike Pence reached the correct conclusion that he did not have the authority to do what Trump asked and refused to block the Electoral College decision. In his courageous refusal to knuckle under to the plotters, Mike Pence may have singlehandedly prevented a civil war. As a nation, we owe him our gratitude.
Nevertheless, even after the insurrectionists were cleared from the halls of the Capitol, 147 congressional Republicans still voted to throw the election to Trump. More than half of the House Republican caucus voted to disenfranchise the states that didn’t vote the way they wanted them to.
If you expected things to get better after January 6, you’d have been wrong. While some Republicans initially criticized Trump for both stoking the fires of insurrection and his dereliction of duty in allowing the rioters to run amok for hours before calling in the National Guard or telling his supporters to stand down. The initial wave of rioters broke through the Capitol Police lines at about 1:00 p.m. but it was 3:36 p.m. before Kayleigh McEnany tweeted that Trump had deployed the National Guard. It wasn’t until 4:17 p.m. that Trump tweeted a video to his supporters, telling them, “We love you, you’re very special… but go home, and go home in peace.”
Partly because the Democrats played politics with impeachment and partly because of Trump’s hypnotic hold on the GOP, The Former Guy escaped conviction by the Senate for a second time in the wake of the riot and coup attempt. Democrats may live to regret their failure as it seems increasingly likely that Trump will once again be the Republican nominee in 2024.
The most amazing thing to me about the whole episode is the acquiescence and lack of anger that Republicans feel towards the man who turned their party into a den of thieves and an unruly mob. As a lifelong Republican until 2016, one of the things that appealed to me was the party’s stance on equality, the idea that all men are created equal and that all men are equal before the eyes of the law.
No longer. The new Trump™ Republican Party is one in which the guiding principles are whatever Trump says and thinks at the moment, even if that violates the Constitution and the law. An attitude that the ends justify the means permeates the party.
Don’t like election results? Send your members of Congress to throw them out. Your supporters start a riot and sack the Capitol? They aren’t violent criminals being prosecuted for breaking numerous laws, they are political prisoners.
Most Republicans didn’t fight to save their party from the man of lawlessness. They willingly handed it over. And not just once, but over and over. And they are poised to do it again in 2024.
I’m continuously amazed and dismayed by the Republicans that I encounter who don’t think that January 6 and its associated plots were a big deal. They look at it in terms of whataboutism and the traditional struggle between left and right. After all, they opine, the left riots too. Yeah, but riots as part of a plot to steal a presidential election are something new. For that matter, having a hostile force occupy the Capitol is a new thing as well. At least since 1814.
Republicans would like January 6 to go away, or failing that, to dismiss it as a Democratic ploy to blow the incident out of proportion for political reasons. The problem is that a literal and figurative assault on the Constitution and our very electoral system cannot be blown out of proportion. It is a YUGE deal. It shouldn’t go away or be forgotten, especially when the perpetrators are still in charge of the GOP.
At this point, I’m more frightened for the future of my country than I have ever been before. Doug Porter once wrote, “A coup attempt that goes unpunished becomes a training exercise.” That’s where we are right now.
My friend Steve Berman believes that a major threat for the future comes from the fact that Republicans have now given Democrats a blueprint for how to steal the presidency. I agree with him that both sides follow the other’s lead in a whataboutism race to the bottom.
But while I don’t disagree that the Democrats might try to follow the Trump/Eastman/Navarro model, the fact remains that Republicans did try to do it. They not only tried it, but they are unrepentant and defiant about their failed attempt. And the same GOP seems deadset on returning the same crowd to office again in 2024. To hear most Republicans talk, the response of Democrats and the media to January 6 was worse than the riot and the coup attempt themselves.
Even though I hold the Republican Party in contempt after the past six years, I’m a conservative at heart. I’d like to have a traditional conservative candidate to vote for, but at this point in our history, character is more important than policy. I draw a line against supporting anyone who supported the insurrection. Hard pass. What’s more, in the future the Senate should refuse to confirm anyone who endorsed the coup plot.
And there are signs that the Trump™ wing of the GOP is hedging its bets. Around the country, Trump supporters are campaigning to oust election officials who were didn’t look hard enough to find a few extra votes or fraud in 2020. That includes six of the seven battleground states won by Biden. That should send shivers down your spine. If these people are elected, the Trump campaign (or another trumpy candidate) wouldn’t need the vice presidency to change election results at the state level.
To put it in Josef Stalin’s terms, “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”
I don’t think that all Republicans are bad, although there are very few elected Republicans that I don’t think much less of after watching their behavior during the Trump Administration. They often say the right things but then vote based on partisan expedience.
I know a lot of people who had serious misgivings about Trump in both 2016 and 2020 but voted for him because they thought the alternative was worse. In the days after January 6, I heard a lot of these decent people say that they would never support him again. It is these people who give me hope for the future.
Everyone wants to vote for a candidate who campaigns on what they believe in. From time to time, however, we have to put platforms aside to keep people who are dangerously unqualified out of office. That was the case back in 1991 when Republicans did the right thing and rallied to defeat ex-klansman David Duke by voting for a Democrat ex-con under the slogan, “Vote for the crook, it’s important.”
As Republicans used to say once upon a time, “Character counts,” not only for the opposition candidates but for Republicans.
2016 and 2020 were those sorts of elections, especially after a full term of seeing the damage that Trump could do. We failed the character test in those years. I hope and pray that we have learned from our mistakes.
The Tweet of the Day is my post-inauguration tweet. I stand by it.