One year ago today, we did not realize that the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was simply one element of Donald Trump’s massive effort to overturn the 2020 election and effectively declare himself dictator of the United States of America. Now we know. Steve’s question of the day: What are we going to do about it?
In my last post, I took a rather immodest victory lap, reminding readers of one of my brother’s uncannily accurate election predictions and congratulating myself on several posts that were reasonably prescient.
Fairness demands that I ‘fess up when I mess up.
I posted this on January 8, 2021:
“I must admit, however, that watching the videos of the presumed insurrectionists swarming the Capitol did not make me existentially worried for our Republic. These people appeared to be no more capable of mounting an actual coup than conquering high school math. Based on their casual swagger, one suspects that the majority of them have absolutely no idea of the gravity of the crimes that they were committing. Sure, many in Trump nation are patriotic Americans who have fallen behind economically, and many are alienated people working two jobs who turned to Trump because they felt betrayed and abandoned by their government. But those folks are not the people who strolled through the U.S. Capitol wearing shirts featuring a skull and crossbones that was labeled ‘Camp Auschwitz.’ No, what Donald Trump unleashed on the U.S. Capitol building was a mixed bag of extremist hooligans: Dunces of the Confederacy, walking hate crimes, a scrum of scum looking for trouble.
How wrong could I have been?
It turns out that my assessment of the intellectual pedigree of Trump’s mob was considerably overstated. Many of the 30-watt bulbs pillaging the Capitol not-so-cleverly provided the primary evidence in their own trials by posting their criminal behavior on social media, and are now behind bars. It’s as if a drunk driver tried to coax the cop into not issuing a ticket by offering him a swig of vodka.
But my far graver mistake was to underestimate the existential threat to our democracy posed by Donald Trump and the Republican Party leadership that he continues to own.
Only now – through the diligence of the January 6 committee – are we coming to realize that the January 6 insurrection was just one of many Hail Mary gambits Donald Trump was aggressively pursuing to end democracy in the United States, many far more dangerous and more effective than the charge of the mentally light brigade on the Capitol a year ago today.
Perhaps most shocking is that on January 6, 2021, Donald Trump sat in the dining room adjacent to the Oval Office and watched the insurrection on television. And for a full 187 minutes, he did absolutely nothing about it, nothing to stop it.
Can you imagine any President in our lifetime – any President ever – sitting and watching a violent attack on the Capital Building and doing nothing to stop it? JFK? Reagan? Ike? Either Bush? Clinton? Obama? Would any of them – Republican or Democrat – passively allow such carnage to unfold and continue unabated for three hours?
Trump made no effort to stop the violence, despite being urged to do so even by his own army of sycophants, grovelers, and lackeys -- senior Republicans leaders, Fox News, and two of his children.
The inference is clear: in his inaction, he was rooting for the mob. He was hoping that the violent psychopaths he had unleashed would stop Congress’s constitutional duty to validate the Electoral College results, or – who knows? -- perhaps simply hope to accomplish the same end by hanging Mike Pence.
Only now are we coming to understand the degree to which Donald Trump was ready to take any step imaginable to stay in power and install himself as permanent dictator of the United States of America.
Trump leaned into Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, demanding that he “find” the 11,780 votes that were needed to change the result of the election. Trump lawyer John Eastman wrote a memo with a theory about how Mike Pence could overturn the election results… and publicly made very clear that he expected Pence to act on it.
Trump has poisoned faith in our elections among a full quarter of our population. This manufactured, unfounded mistrust is being used as rationale for Republican legislatures to pass voter suppression laws that will substantially curtail access to the vote among minorities who lean heavily Democratic. In 2020, Trump and the Republicans in Congress have already demonstrated a willingness to challenge the electoral votes won by Democrats. If Republicans re-take the House and Senate in 2022, could a Republican Congress can reject the will of the voters in the 2024 Presidential election?
Only now do we realize that the pliant Republican leadership will likely once again fall wholly in line behind Trump should this would-be dictator make another run at the White House as these gelatinous amoral cowards commit ritual exorcisms of long-standing party members who refuse to ingest the Lysol.
It is all there to see. It is as plain as day. It is not going away. Donald Trump and the leaders of the Republican Party are making another run at ending democracy in America.
January 6, 2021 was not the beginning, and it most certainly is not the end.
Today, on January 6, 2022, it feels as if America is in a slow-motion car wreck, drifting inexorably toward authoritarian rule that we are helpless to stop.
Is there anything we can do?
Uh, yes. Most assuredly, there is.
But it is not what most people seem to think the answer is.
For one thing, it may be time to get real and admit that the voting rights act is not going to be it. The GOP is lined up against it, and with Manchin and Sinema firmly opposed to a filibuster carve-out, it can’t happen. We’ll be lucky to get a bi-partisan bill that clarifies the role of the Vice President in the certification process, which would ease the pressure on any future Mike Pence. No noose is good noose. But that’s it.
Maybe, you’re thinking, the January 6 committee will recommend an indictment of Donald Trump for dereliction of duty. Newsflash: remember those two impeachments? All that accomplished was to harden the resolve of the far right.
But have we forgotten the most basic strategy of all?
Yes, that’s right. Win the mid-terms.
It seems that all we read now is about the inevitability that the Democrats will lose their majorities in the House and Senate in the mid-terms. Yeah, that’s what the history books tell you almost always happens: the party in power loses legislative seats in the mid-terms – particularly when the President’s approval rating is under water.
It’s as if the Democratic Party has already accepted this fate.
Wake up, Democrats. It is time to fight.
History is not destiny. For one thing, the very polarization of our country at this moment makes historical precedent less relevant. Once upon a time, there were huge swings in Presidential approval ratings. George Bush ran the gamut from 90 to the mid-twenties.
Today? No. Donald Trump spent his entire Presidency parked in a ten-point spectrum from 38% to 48%. And now Joe Biden – even with Covid, inflation, and international problems – is holding steady at 45%. Less of the electorate is even in play – and that’s very good news for the majority party.
Come on, Democrats! Get to work!
Defend four toss-up Senate seats and flip two of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin – all very doable – and guess what? You never have to listen to Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema again! If we have 52 Senate seats, we can end the filibuster, ensure voting rights, and watch those two blowhards float off into irrelevance.
Get to work, Democrats!
Daunted by the challenge of keeping the majority in the House? Focus all resources on the 30 races that actually determine the majority.
How do Democrats win?
The old-fashioned way, by driving ever higher voter turn-out. This century, that is how elections in this country are determined. You don’t win by wasting your time try to convert Republicans or nudge independents. You turn out the voters who are already on your team.
And guess what? That work is done by volunteers. Ordinary Americans. Whether they are literally on the ground in key districts, or working the phones and writing post cards from afar. The work of turning out the vote is done at the grassroots.
By people like you.
Is there anything you can do, you ask? The answer is that only you can do the most important thing: help turn out the vote.
We no longer have the luxury of outsourcing our democracy that a small group of “activists” who work to get the job done.
If the Democrats are going to win in November – and save democracy in America – every Democrat must become an activist.
If you want to know how you can help save democracy, start by asking that very politically active friend of yours what they do. It’s not hard. It can be done in the hours you have to give. Get involved. Be ready to debate the Republican at the cocktail party who thinks this administration hasn’t done enough. Join a local Democratic party organization. Write postcards, stuff envelopes. Run for the school board or the local election board. Raise money. Drive people to the polls. Give money. March. Protest. Write to the local newspaper. Scream bloody murder.
Ride through the town crying “One if by insurrection, two if by voter suppression.”
It’s January 6, 2021. One year ago today, we learned just how vulnerable our democracy is.
If you want to know what you can do to save democracy in America, the truth is at once hard, but simple. The best answer is to win.
And the best way to do that is for everybody who cares about preserving our democracy goes to work to defend it.
The lesson of January 6, 2021 is that freedom is no longer a given in this country.
The lesson is that there are powerful people who will do anything they can to seize control of our government, and rule as dictators. To conclude anything else is naïve.
And to do nothing about it is to abdicate.
Our forefathers thought that freedom and democracy were so precious that they were willing to fight for it. They sent an army of ordinary people who put their lives on the line to fight for freedom.
Now it’s our turn.
Every single one of us.
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