After the unprecedented crisis at the end of the Trump Administration, which devolved into chaos and violence at the U.S. Capitol, and a second impeachment, Republicans and Democrats alike are faced with stark choices.
For the Republicans, who enabled Trump for four years, right up until the very end, the choice is particularly clear: keep abetting conspiracy theories they know to be false, feeding the paranoia, division, and violence; or clearly and publicly reject Trump and his aggrieved supporters and their preposterous theories that the election, and indeed the country, has been “stolen” from them.
Brushing aside the entire Trump era as some sort of historic aberration will not help us move forward. Trying to “heal” the country by denying the deep roots of white supremacy won’t work.
That means more than joining Mitch McConnell’s eleventh-hour declaration that “the United States Senate has a higher calling than an endless spiral of partisan vengeance”—as if McConnell himself had not been the chief architect of partisan divisiveness in the U.S. Senate these past ten years.
The Republicans, as a group, must look at how they have been using racism, hate, white grievance, and every other means they can find to suppress the votes of people of color and hold onto power. True, Trump replaced the GOP dog whistle with a bullhorn, calling on his white supremacist, Confederate-flag-waving supporters to storm the Capitol. But racism, misogyny, and the rigging of elections have been part of the Republican playbook for decades.
Take the nationwide push to “investigate” baseless claims of voter fraud. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, backed away from opposing Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory after the insurrectionists broke in. But Johnson continues to assert that the delusions of tens of thousands of Trump supporters that the election was stolen necessitates hearings on the matter—as if Trump and his campaign had not lost nearly sixty lawsuits, many in front of Republican-appointed judges, on so-called election fraud.
The disgraced ex-President’s enablers have pivoted from riling up the base with lies about a stolen election to sober proclamations about the need to investigate those lies because people believe them. State commissions are now looking at ways to eliminate opportunities for voter fraud in what was, by all official accounts, a completely secure and remarkably trouble-free election.
Representative Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, denounced the Capitol break-in. But days earlier Gallagher, along with six Republican colleagues in Congress, expressed “outrage” at the “reckless adoption of mail-in ballots” for the presidential election during the pandemic as well as state election officials’ unspecified failures to make sure only “legitimate votes” would count.
Republican state legislators in Wisconsin have appointed a commission to examine nonexistent voter fraud. There is also a bill to switch the method of choosing electors. Under Wisconsin Republicans’ proposal, instead of assigning all ten of the state’s delegates to the Electoral College to the winner of the popular vote, each Congressional district would choose electors based on who won—which, under the current gerrymandered map, would have resulted in a majority for Trump.
Representative Tom Tiffany, another Wisconsin Republican who objected to the results of the presidential election, condemned the violence, but added that both sides need to calm down. “What needs to happen is people on both sides of the aisle, they need to start calling this out and make people stop it,” he said.
But one side’s supporters were not breaking into the Capitol, egged on by Trump and his GOP enablers, carrying plastic handcuffs and firearms, ready to make the “traitors” pay.
In the “both sides,” “truth is in the middle” analysis, everyone agrees that murdering a Capitol police officer by bashing in his head with a fire extinguisher and cooking up plans to kidnap, torture, and execute Democrats is a bridge too far. But Republicans are still pushing for “investigations” of the “fraud” and “illegal” voting that motivated the rioters.
The violence at the Capitol on January 6 ripped the mask off the GOP’s more presentable face. All those suppression efforts aimed at people of color in Georgia were a continuation of Southern segregationist white-power politics.
In his floor speech, Senator Ted Cruz brought home that connection. Cruz demanded a delay in the Electoral College tally and invoked the Congress of 1876, which put an election on hold in a corrupt deal that also helped end Reconstruction, pulling the last federal troops out of the South and ushering in the Jim Crow era. Cruz issued his call just before the modern-day soldiers of the Lost Cause broke down the door, carrying their weapons and Confederate flags.
As the Republicans wander in the wilderness of the post-Trump era, trying to figure out how to accommodate their violent racist base while currying favor with their wealthy establishment sponsors, what will the Democrats do?
The drive to impeach and convict Trump for his seditious incitement of the mob attack on the Capitol is a necessary start. It marks the extraordinary assault on our democracy as unacceptable, demanding serious consequences, and it will hopefully ensure that Trump never runs again. But it is only a bare beginning.
The Democrats now control the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in ten years.
They must show some backbone and push back, not just against the malignant narcissist fired by the voters, but against the whole Republican program that brought him into office. The Democrats must reject the idea that “the truth is in the middle” between the perspective of the violent white racists fed on conspiracy theories and that of people who embrace justice, democracy, and reality.
They need to recognize the assault on the Capitol for what it is—an explosion of simmering hatred deliberately stoked by Republicans that dates back as far as the founding of the United States. Politicians of both parties are in the habit of sweeping this fact under the rug.
“Let me be very clear,” Biden said after the Capitol assault. “The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America.”
“This is not who we are,” said Biden. “We are the United States of America!” he added, tossing in a favorite line. “There’s never been anything we can’t do, when we do it together.”
But brushing aside the entire Trump era as some sort of historic aberration will not help us move forward. Trying to “heal” the country by denying the deep roots of white supremacy won’t work.
It’s offensive to Black and brown people who watched in disgust as the Capitol police opened doors for the looters, snapped self- ies with them, and allowed them to rampage, unchecked, for hours. The contrast with the militarized response to peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, who were met with tear gas and tanks when they marched in the streets after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, is overwhelming.
Moving forward, Democrats are going to have to develop a better response than “this is not who we are.”
It was Black voters in Georgia who just handed their party control of the Senate in a historic election that represents a major repudiation of white supremacist politics in the South.
The attack on the Capitol cut short the celebration of Raphael Warnock’s victory as the first Black U.S. Senator ever elected from Georgia, and of the powerful organizing by Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown, who helped turn out the vote to elect Warnock and fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s first Jewish Senator.
Nearly three-quarters of Black voters backed Warnock, compared with 22 percent of whites, and nine out of ten Black voters chose Ossoff compared with 28 percent of white voters.
It’s time for Democrats to recognize and celebrate who they represent and stop leaning toward the “middle”— always with one eye on peeling off angry white men and somehow bringing them back into the fold. No more bashing progressives for daring to support Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, and Medicare for All. No more jovial accommodation of racism and the sneering sexism that helped lead to the plots against House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The Republicans are hopelessly lost. They have been aiding and abetting a criminal in the White House, spreading his dangerous lies, feeding his supporters’ worst impulses, and hoping not to pay a price. Now is the time to make them pay. And to deliver on a real progressive vision for the great, diverse coalition of Americans who are ready for a better future.
We need to confront the terrible history that brought us to this point. Biden’s patriotic boosterism notwithstanding, there are many things we have not been able to do as a country. Among them: ending racist police violence; recognizing the tremendous economic contributions of undocumented immigrants who are the backbone of many U.S. industries and creating a path to citizenship; transitioning to a carbon-free economy before the planet melts down; expanding health-care access to every American as a right; reducing our nation’s grotesque economic inequality; and making college attainable and affordable for everyone.
Many of these goals are part of the Biden Administration’s rather progressive platform. Now is the time to fight for them—and for us.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.