The Meadows texts must have George Washington turning in his grave
In “Hamilton,” Lin Manuel Miranda’s 2016 Tony award-winning play, there’s a song “One Last Time,” in which George Washington tells a stunned and disbelieving Alexander Hamilton that he intends to give up power and not seek a third term. Washington asks Hamilton to write a farewell address to help set the new nation’s template for the peaceful transition of presidential power.
One of the song’s most memorable lines: “We’ll teach them how to say goodbye.”
The just-revealed texts from various House Republicans to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows show that they were prepared to do whatever it took to keep an electoral loser in power, despite his defeat. The texts also tell us the lengths to which they thought former President Trump should go to cling to power.
If Miranda were to write a song about the Meadows texts, it might well contain the line: “Let’s teach them how NOT to say goodbye.
With the Jan. 6 Committee soon to vote on criminal referrals from its extraordinary investigation, the newly exposed texts have prompted speculation about whether the referrals may include any of the authors of the texts sent to Meadows.
That’s unlikely to happen, even though they include several who defied the committee’s subpoenas.
Criminal referrals, however, will not in themselves save the nation from the damage the MAGA Republicans in the House are poised to do when their party comes into power in the next Congress. Their plan is to spend the next two years holding hearings — spectacles — to amplify election denialism and to attack President Biden, his cabinet, his family, the Department of Justice and the FBI.
There’s every reason to fear that the inmates will be running the asylum.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), for example, is set to chair the House Judiciary Committee, where he has already signaled his plan to “investigate the investigators” at the DOJ.
Jordan was one of those who reportedly texted Meadows the day before the Congressional certification vote, urging him to pursue the unlawful plan to have former Vice President Pence steal the election for Trump. Jordan reportedly wrote: “On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all.”
Pence, as we know, declined to exceed his legal authority. Channeling Washington, Pence helped teach Trump, kicking and screaming, how to say goodbye.
We now know from news reports that Meadows had “coup” communications with 34 Republican members of the House.
For example, three days after the Nov. 3, 2020, election, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) reportedly texted Meadows that “when we lose Trump we lose our Republic.” The notion that any one man could stand in for the nation and its founding principles is exactly what America’s first president wanted to bury.
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry, chair of the far-right Freedom Caucus, was another one apparently working to promote that counter-constitutional idea. Perry reportedly texted Meadows on Nov. 10 that he was trying to set up a “cyber team” to seize and put under “lock and key” voting machines in battleground states Wisconsin, Arizona and Michigan.
Extreme right Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) reportedly texted Meadows on Jan. 17 — 11 days after Jan. 6 and three days before President Biden’s inauguration — asking for Trump to “invok[e] Marshall [sic] Law!” to stay in power.
We learned months ago about a virtually identical text from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to Meadows the same day, with the same misspelling.
Greene is the same Congresswoman who told a friendly audience of Young Republicans in New York City earlier this month that “if Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.”
Greene called the Jan. 6 Capitol invaders “political prisoners” in November 2021, and Perry has complained — falsely — that they were being treated like “terrorists at Gitmo.” No one should be surprised when the MAGA House holds hearings to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrectionists’ alleged mistreatment by “the Biden Justice Department.”
The Meadows texts tell us about the breadth of the post-2020 election conspiracy and the disloyalty of so many Republican House members. Not since the Civil War have members of Congress betrayed our constitutional republic and subverted the union that it makes possible.
The wayward House majority leadership has already told us what it will do between now and 2024. Americans should not expect legislation to assist Main Street. Republican election rhetoric about inflation and crime were just so much smoke and mirrors. The strategy for these Republicans in the new Congress is simple: Energize the MAGA base for 2024 by scorching the earth on which their perceived political opponents — and anyone associated with them — stand.
Unfortunately, that earth is also the ground of democracy.
In the face of this impending assault and the betrayal revealed in the Meadows texts, Americans need to remember that democracy helps those who help themselves by staying aware and engaged.
As former President Barack Obama said in his own farewell address, ceding power to Trump: “The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious … So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
Echoing George Washington’s farewell address, Obama exhorted Americans “to be … anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy.”
When the next election comes, we can guard our republic by doing what so many voters did last month with election-deniers in competitive ballot contests in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: One last time, we can teach them how to say goodbye.
Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College. He is author of numerous books on America’s death penalty, including “Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty.” Follow him on Twitter @ljstprof.
Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor.
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