Jan. 6 and the GOP’s masterclass in the emptiness of words
In the hours after rioters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Republicans – even those closely allied with President Trump – seemed to recognize just how close our nation came to calamity. It was clear even to the faithful that this mob, incited by Trump’s rhetoric and sustained by his silence, had threatened the democratic order itself.
“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that evening. “There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” Even a visibly shaken Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) took a rare step away from his powerful White House ally. “All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.”
What a difference a year makes.
To the GOP’s lasting shame, the party that once rejected moral relativism as the godless liberals’ gateway to societal collapse just spent all last year conducting a masterclass in the emptiness of words. Recently released text messages exchanged between prominent Republicans and the White House on Jan. 6 reveal individuals acutely aware that something very wrong is happening — and pleading for someone, anyone, to exert control over Trump’s excesses.
One of the most shocking examples comes from the phone of Fox News broadcaster Sean Hannity, who the Jan. 6 Select Committee recently asked to appear as a fact witness to discuss his conversations with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Hannity, who initially condemned the attack, has since become one of Republicans’ most reliable attack dogs against both the Select Committee and the argument that Jan. 6 was as serious as Democrats claim.
Far from the confident, all-weather Trump defender he plays on television, Hannity appeared deeply concerned about the president’s lucidity in private text messages to Meadows. “I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I’m not sure what is left to do or say, and I don’t like not knowing if it’s truly understood.” Lost for a solution, Hannity simply asks, “Ideas?”
Despite the concern boiling just beneath the GOP’s swampy surface, it has become almost impossible to find a single Republican lawmaker willing to flatly condemn the attack that sent them fleeing to safety. And undermining the Jan. 6 Select Committee has become the GOP’s new go-to media strategy, with everyone from Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pitching in to undercut public faith in a bipartisan investigation about a major national security breach.
Republicans may be saying whatever they can to avoid rankling Trump’s feathers, but their willful blindness has real negative effects when that impenetrable layer of spin is blanketed out across the airwaves and Twitterverse to millions of Americans. In June, nearly half of Republican voters felt the Jan. 6 attack was a “legitimate protest.” And only 55 percent of Americans believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president — a decline of 3 percent from a year ago. That Americans are losing faith in core realities ought to concern everyone.
Not the GOP. Instead, the party amplifies the voices of Trumpist Republicans such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who reportedly participated in “dozens” of planning briefings with the extremist organizers behind last year’s riot. None of this is hidden. None of it requires dogged journalistic digging.
Greene is more than happy to defend the actions of the Jan. 6 rioters, as she did in October while arguing that they were just exemplifying the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Given her leading role in supporting those same rioters, Greene has every reason to dodge accountability.
In remarks marking America’s grim anniversary, President Biden expressed a desire to lead the nation forward in healing the wounds of Jan. 6. But any doctor knows that bandaging an infected wound only compounds the harm. The healing Biden seeks can’t take place until accountability has cleansed the festering wound of Jan. 6. That does not mean finding some imaginary unity with lawmakers who abandoned their oaths to the Constitution of the United States. It means holding them accountable and, where merited, expelling them from Congress.
Our country has rarely made use of this severe form of remedy to cleanse the halls of Congress of those who similarly abandoned their oaths to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. In the interest of healing, Congress should stand ready to make use of every tool necessary to ensure free and open democracy survives the ongoing attacks of an increasingly antidemocratic Republican Party.
Max Burns is a Democratic strategist and founder of Third Degree Strategies, a progressive communications firm. Follow him on Twitter @themaxburns.
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