The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Tuesday’s Jan. 6 hearing should be a turning point for Republicans

Comment

The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was not just an ugly outbreak of mayhem unleashed by an unhinged mob. It was certainly not a protest that got out of hand. It was a coordinated effort to overthrow our democratic system led by a president determined not to let the voters deprive him of power.

And it was a warning that political violence, spawned by white supremacists and right-wing extremists, threatens to become a regular part of our nation’s political life.

Tuesday’s chilling testimony before the House select committee investigating the insurrection should be a moment of truth. Most Republican politicians have, up to now, embraced a strategy of avoidance. They turn the other way and change the subject. But what they heard Tuesday should make the choice before them clear: If they care about the rule of law, they must break decisively with President Donald Trump and the dangerous forces ready to use coercion to upend majority rule.

If more Republicans had done so before Jan. 6, the bloody destruction might well have been avoided. It could also have been prevented if the Trump aides who now portray themselves as the reasonable people in his administration had spoken publicly at the time about the absurdity of Trump’s claims and warned the nation about the dangers he posed.

Follow E.J. Dionne Jr.'s opinionsFollow

As in earlier committee hearings, the most damning information came from onetime Trump allies. Stephen Ayres — who pleaded guilty last month to illegally entering the Capitol — made clear that Trump was calling the shots. He said he went to the Capitol because Trump encouraged the crowd to go, and left hours after the rampage began when Trump gave them the word to depart.

What’s now obvious is that the violence was not some sideshow, but the last gasp of Trump’s desperate effort to subvert the election.

First, he made up fraud claims and filed lawsuits to try to get some judges somewhere to throw out legitimate election results. The courts uniformly rebuked Trump’s nonsense, and on Dec. 14, electors met at state capitols across the country and affirmed Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

That didn’t stop Trump. Four days later came what White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson called the “unhinged” six-hour meeting where the president’s outside conspiracists laid out bizarre schemes to maintain Trump in office, the Constitution be damned. Among other things, they wanted the Defense Department to seize voting machines.

When his non-crazy advisers showed how the various connivances would fail, Trump turned to the mob — and the hope that Vice President Mike Pence could be pushed to block the ratification of the electors’ vote. In the wake of the meeting, at 1:42 a.m on Dec. 19, Trump sent the infamous tweet: “Big protest in D. C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

A wide array of far-right groups came together to do precisely that, and Trump was only too happy to invite the marginal and the dangerous into the center of the nation’s politics. “He built them up, he expanded their numbers,” Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), one of Tuesday’s lead questioners, said on MSNBC after the hearing.

Significantly, the committee provided convincing evidence that Trump planned to have his supporters march on the Capitol all along, but wanted to keep secret the fact that that he would issue the call to do so at his “Stop the Steal” rally. Planners of the move feared that if law-abiding civil servants had learned of his ploy, they would have stopped it.

The nature of the president’s subversion was summed up in a text from Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign adviser, to a former Trump campaign official. “A sitting president asking for civil war,” he wrote.

The committee brought home the links with the far right and the expectation of violence by revealing White House phone logs showing that Trump spoke to his former lieutenant and chief provocateur Stephen K. Bannon at least twice on Jan. 5. Shortly after the morning call, Bannon went on the air. “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” Bannon said in a clip played at Tuesday’s hearing. “It’s all converging and now we’re on, as they say, the point of attack.” It was the language of warfare.

Only the willfully blind will deny that the Jan. 6 Select Committee has now connected the dots. Trump’s falsehoods about fraud, his groundless lawsuits, his assembling of slates of fake electors, and, finally, his last-ditch resort to force were all components of one effort to let him stay in the White House despite the voters’ democratically issued eviction notice.

By relying on extremist thugs to lead the way into the Capitol, Trump has brought our nation back to some of its very worst moments. It is hard not to ponder the violence used to overthrow Reconstruction after the Civil War — a toxic part of our history.

Ridding our politics of this poison ought to be a bipartisan cause. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Loading...