Can the House January 6 Investigation Save Democracy?
January 6 was a war for America’s democracy. It was an immoral war instigated and prosecuted by Donald Trump and his political party allies and supporters. –Judge Michael Luttig
There have been and will be revelations arising from the House Select Committee’s January 6 inquiry. They have done an excellent job of using those from the President’s circles to tell the story the committee wants told.
Based on what I’ve seen I think everybody can agree that former President Donald Trump wasn’t interested in participating in a peaceful transfer of power where he was the one relinquishing power.
From the refusal of the former president’s administration to cooperate in allowing the incoming staff access to everything from office space to refusing to even discuss looming trade issues, the smoldering anger of a billionaire boy denied more playtime defined the post election period.
Testimony before the Select Committee has (and will) establish the existence of an all-hands-on-deck effort by the administration to remain in power. Federal agencies, the courts and Congress were asked to take actions contrary to tradition, ethical standards, and the law.
In many cases, as happened with the Department of Justice, these demands were rebuffed. Some credit must be given to the failure of the Trump administration to vet appointees for competence (as opposed to loyalty), since things like the executive order to seize voting machines got lost along the way.
The infighting between the so-called “normal” administration officials and outsiders like Rudy Giuliani also proved to be a problem.
Still, there were enough people on board with blocking Joe Biden’s ascension to consider an effort to stop the Congress from certifying the results. And violent extremists, once pushed to the periphery of the political process, were given the nod to play out their twisted notions of what patriotic Americans should do.
The involvement of right wing extremists was based partially on something the Trumpsters expected to happen on January 6, but didn’t come to pass.
After ramping up warnings about the dangers of Antifa in the weeks following the election, the Trump administration made good on a months-old promise to designate the group as a terrorist organization on January 5.
Documents from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows obtained by the House Select Committee included an email saying the National Guard would "protect pro Trump people."
The problem was that there was no Antifa, BLM, or any of the other made up threats to be found.
The D.C. National Guard’s leadership, as it turned out, watched in horror for three hours after the call for help came in from Capitol Police because the secretary of the Army was trying to reach the secretary of defense.
Here’s just one of many unexplained coincidences, via CNN:
The Army is now acknowledging that Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, the brother of President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, was in the room for one of the key January 6 phone calls in which DC government and US Capitol Police were asking for National Guard troops to quell the unfolding violence at the US Capitol.
The decision-making has come under scrutiny as city and Capitol Police officials have alleged that the Pentagon was slow to respond, while the Pentagon and Army maintain they never denied or delayed requests for the National Guard.
A coup is, by definition, against the law, and that’s what was in store for the United States in early 2021. How many of the lawbreakers involved will see justice remains an open question.
Sadly, the most likely charges that could be filed against the former president aren’t federal. The infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump tried to convince state election officials to gift him thousands of fake votes, remains at the top of the list.
Once you get past the riff-raff MAGAs, how many of the rest of Trump’s gang will face political consequences for their actions?
As of this moment the answer to that question is almost nobody. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the sleaziest of the bunch get offered regular slots as pundits on mass media outlets.
I’ll be willing to bet that those who stepped up and did the right thing (i.e. actually said, “hey look, something bad happened”) are more likely to have committed political suicide.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to stop the certification of the electoral vote because he couldn't find a lawyer (or a bible passage) saying it was legal, skipped the annual Faith & Freedom Coalition gathering this year, even though he’d long been considered a hero to many there.
Instead, the meeting of evangelicals heard former President Donald Trump denounce Pence as “weak,” and telling the crowd:
Remember, in the end, they are not after me. They are after you. That's true. They're after you. They're after everything we stand for.
Presently there are candidates for offices at every level in the US willing to ascribe to the “fact”: that Donald J Trump won the 2020 election with 7 million fewer votes than Joe Biden. They also generally ascribe to a variety of “fact flavors” of what can best be described as bullshit.
From Dan Rather’s Substack:
In a front-page article this week, The New York Times analyzed recent election results and concluded something many of you already know: In several battleground states, Republicans have nominated extremist candidates eager to do Trump’s bidding — or that of any Republican leader who wants to dynamite the American political system.
This is of course an American problem, because it threatens our entire constitutional order. But we need to be very clear — this is a cancer that resides firmly within the Republican Party. It has been allowed to linger and grow, and now metastasize. And it is taking root by infecting state and local governance in ways that could very well turn what happened on January 6 into just an opening act.
What makes this so dangerous is that Republican election officials don’t need to actually overturn elections to serve their purpose. They can just cause havoc and chaos, and by doing so undermine the faith the American people have in our democratic systems. We saw a preview of this recently in New Mexico.
This sort of dangerous denialism didn’t fall from the sky. It is a byproduct of the major marketing successes of the twentieth century.
Robert Proctor, science historian at Stanford University, along with linguist Iain Boal, have studied two of the biggest lie-producing corporate campaigns of the last century: Big Tobacco’s efforts to distract from the dangers of their products, and Dirty Energy’s undermining of climate scientists’ research.
An article in Fast Company by Aaron Huertas provides some clear insights:
[They call the] “study of such propaganda campaigns “agnotology”—meaning research related to the production of ignorance. The goal of these campaigns is not to convince people that something untrue is a fact. Instead, it’s to convince people that the truth can’t be known. In the hands of industries that make harmful products, including the gun industry, these tactics have led to years of delay on important public policy issues…”
…The goal of spreading ignorance is not to end policy debate. It’s to prolong it in bad faith. These tactics extend to many industries, from sugar producers to pharmaceuticals. They’ll also be familiar to anyone who followed Republicans attempting to overturn the 2020 election. Spreading misinformation—what Donald Trump advisor Steve Bannon calls “flood[ing] the zone with shit“—misled supporters for months, culminating in the January 6 attack on the Capitol as Congress certified Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory…
…In the face of these propaganda campaigns, it’s tempting to play Whac-A-Mole, chasing bad arguments with good information. But in doing so, scientists, advocates, media outlets, and political leaders wind up playing on the agnotologists’ turf.
When it comes to expectations from the various January 6 inquiries, a good starting place really isn’t just seeing Donald Trump behind bars. The acts of one (albeit crazy) man can not be allowed to overshadow the very real danger the country faced in 2021.
Next time it could be somebody with a different agenda. The basics of how to pull off a coup have been covered. The former President wants another go at it in 2024.
“Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy, ” Luttig said at the close of the hearing. “They would attempt to overturn that 2024 election in the same way that they attempted to overturn the 2020 election, but succeed in 2024 where they failed in 2020. I don't speak those words lightly. I would have never spoken those words ever in my life, except that that's what the former president and his allies are telling us.”
Thomas Zimmer, writing at the Guardian, has a clear-eyed perspective on the road ahead:
We need to acknowledge that that’s where Republicans are: they either subscribe to the big lie outright; or they feel queasy about the specifics of the big lie, but consider Democratic governance illegitimate nonetheless; or, at the very least, they think anything is justified to defeat “the left”. The committee needs to communicate this unsettling reality to the American people, because that, in Judge Luttig’s words, is the “clear and present danger to American democracy.” Even if it initially failed, that’s how Trump’s coup attempt might still succeed.
The real political battle for pro-democracy forces in the coming months involves building trust in the voting process and pointing out the egregious actions of Trumpian extremists.
We need to demand that every candidate running for every office should declare their willingness to abide by the decision of the electorate, and those that won’t need to be called out for their lack of patriotism.
This is the sort of activity suitable for organizations ranging from the League of Women Voters to Indivisible. Perhaps a universal symbol, like those used on food products (Gluten Free, etc) could be used to alert the public to a candidate's commitment.
Once Republicans get wind of this idea, I’m certain they’ll try and use it as a bludgeon, and that’s okay, because the first idea out of the gate usually triumphs in these situations.
The key to success going forward is NOT trying to convince followers of the Trump cult (or whatever political variants emerge) that their beliefs are wrong. Facts don’t matter to those folks and playing “what-aboutism” with them is a fool’s errand.
The people who haven’t bought into that crap and aren’t convinced of the dangers democracy faces are where organizers need to focus. Getting out the vote will be a critical mission in the coming years. And it’s going to be a tough sell in the face of people trying to tell us that there is no hope.
The January 6 hearings are vitally important in understanding what happened, but they are not the end game; they are the starting point toward saving our embattled democracy.
Email me at WritetoDougPorter@Gmail.com