Enough

Joe Holley is a writer here in Texas with a background in newspapers and magazines right up to his own books.  He writes the feature column Native Texan in the Houston Chronicle about Texas places and people and history, and today he started off referring to “The Captured,” a history of frontier Texas telling the story of Anglo children captured by Indians in the late 19th century.  He uses it to touch on the harshness of life on the Texas frontier in those days, facing not only the Natives but the constant threat of disease, and outlaws, you name it.  And yet, Holley says,

…it’s only today’s Texas, our Texas, that experiences mass shootings in a suburban high school, in churches, a Walmart, an Army base, the streets of Midland-Odessa, a Luby’s Cafeteria and a small-town elementary school. Our frontier forebears, whatever their own travails, would have been aghast, unbelieving.

I’m wondering, why aren’t all of us today just as aghast and unbelieving?  Sure, with each new horror we mumble some hopefully appropriate words to express shock and disbelief, but are we really so surprised?  I mean, it just keeps happening, over and over again; can we really still be shocked, and really feel the emptiness in the pits of our stomachs that we ought to feel when innocent children are massacred with weapons meant for war on the battlefield?  This time, in Uvalde, it was fourth graders…nine and ten year olds; it was six-and-seven-year olds in Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. ten years ago.  The Washington Post chose the almost arbitrary starting point of the Columbine shootings in 1999 and calculates that more than 311,000 American children, at 331 schools, have been exposed to gun violence at school in those years.  All the students in that time, right up through today’s college graduates, have normalized the grotesque concept of the active shooter drill as just a part of life.

Why would a person take a gun to a school and open fire at…some kids, ones they often don’t even know?  Why did I take a magnifying glass to school in the fourth grade and focus sunlight to burn holes in a classmate’s sweater I found hanging on a fence at recess?  Same response to both questions: who knows?  Short of finding that answer, we should be doing something to try to reduce the chances of our schools become killing grounds, and of our own children and those of our friends and neighbors becoming one of those small images in a large collection of class photos that identify the dead.

Holley recalls the 1937 natural gas explosion that killed some 300 students and teachers in New London, Texas, and that the Texas Legislature and then Congress responded to that by requiring the “odorization” of natural gas so future leaks could be detected before they became catastrophes.  What can we, through our elected representatives, do now to make a meaningful change in the normal course of business that will better protect our children’s lives when they simply go to school?

Among the common sense suggestions I’ve read since last week – and not that it hasn’t been suggested before – is that we stop letting children buy these guns legally.  Our laws prohibit those under age 21 from buying alcoholic beverages; why not guns, too?  Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who’s been working on gun restriction legislation since he represented Newtown in the House of Representatives, argues that “most of these killers tend to be 18, 19 years old.” and PolitiFact has rated that claim as Mostly True: “That’s largely accurate when looking at school shootings alone, according to a Washington Post database of school shootings since 1999. The database did include shootings that did not result in a death, and the share of teenagers committing mass shootings overall is smaller.”

Also judged to be Mostly True is the assertion last week by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, that “90% of Americans, regardless of political party, want universal background checks.”  PolitiFact finds that “For years, polls have shown a majority of Americans support gun background checks for all buyers. Some polls show overall support in the ballpark of 90%. Support is lower among Republicans (emphasis added), but polls still indicate majority backing” for a review designed to make sure that guns are not being sold to people who are not permitted under law to possess guns, people who have been “convicted of a serious crime or committed to a mental institution.”

No right guaranteed under the United States Constitution is absolute.  The law recognizes, even when some Americans don’t or won’t, that rights come with some limitations.  Even your right to life is not absolute, not if you are convicted of committing a crime for which the approved punishment is the loss of your life.  Your right to be free of government censorship of your expression of your thoughts and feelings doesn’t mean your speech can endanger the health and safety of others with impunity.  And none of us has an unrestricted right to gun ownership.

Please, let’s get creative.  Adding mercaptan to AR-15s won’t stop school shootings, but expanding background checks and limiting gun ownership by minors will help.  We’ve got to find something else that will make a difference.  We can’t just accept that this is the way things have to be, and there’s nothing we can do.  I don’t want to settle for the situation Holley found himself in as he finished up his phone call with the Uvalde County Judge, Bill Mitchell:

When it came time to hang up, I tried to tell him how sorry I was. My voice broke. So did his. Perhaps for both of us, the faces of those little kids swam into view.

We were two men of a certain age. We’ve seen much over the years. Words failed us.

Lie of the year

No hemming and hawing.  No ifs, ands or buts.  No maybes, or what-ifs, or allegedlies or it’s-been-reporteds.  None are needed, because there is no question of the facts of what happened: we all saw it with our own eyes, as plain as day.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, supporters of President Donald J. Trump breached the U.S. Capitol, turning the seat of American democracy into the scene of an unforgettable crime.

That’s PolitiFact’s lead on its 2021 Lie of the Year story, in which it lays out—as plainly as I’ve seen—the facts of what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and refutes the lies that Donald Trump and his worshippers have been telling about it.  On this anniversary of the worst attack on our government and our way of life in any of our lifetimes, take a few minutes to be reminded of what happened then, and what the people behind that attack have been doing ever since, as they continue to try to steal our democracy right out from under us.

You can read the full story at the link above, or right here:

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, supporters of President Donald J. Trump breached the U.S. Capitol, turning the seat of American democracy into the scene of an unforgettable crime.

Inside, lawmakers had been preparing to count the Electoral College votes that would bring Trump’s presidency to a close. Outside, the rioters erected a hanging gallows. They waved “Trump 2020,” “Blue Lives Matter” and Confederate flags. Some were armed.

After marching down Pennsylvania Avenue at Trump’s urging, the rioters had overwhelmed police surrounding the Capitol. They pushed past them, stripped them of their weapons, dragged them to the ground, sprayed them with chemical irritants, beat them, bludgeoned them, or tased them.

Through clouds of smoke, they broke down barricades. They scaled the walls. They shattered windows. Congressional staff took cover in offices and closets, piling furniture against doors as the crowd snaked through the building’s historic hallways. The rioters forced their way into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. They entered the Senate chamber. They reached the dais, where Vice President Mike Pence had sat moments earlier.

Network and cable TV, plus internet sites, broadcast it all live for hours.

Around the nation, people called friends and family as the attack unfolded right before their eyes, expressing a mix of disbelief, horror and fascination:

“Can you believe this?”

Members of Congress, evacuated from their chambers with gas masks in tow, could hardly believe it themselves.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., called into CNN as the attack was happening. “I have not seen anything like this since I deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008,” he said. “I mean, this is America. And this is what’s happening right now. The president needs to call it off. Call it off. It’s over. The election is over.”

On the phone with Fox News that afternoon, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., condemned the attack as “un-American” and “unacceptable.”

“I have been in this Capitol for more than 10 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” McCarthy said.

As the insurrectionists forced their way into the building, they chanted, “Fight for Trump!” and “Hang Mike Pence!”

Pence, as vice president, had the constitutional responsibility of overseeing the typically quiet certification of state election results by Congress. Although Trump urged Pence to reject results from the battleground states that gave Joe Biden his victory, Pence said he would not intervene, enraging the pro-Trump crowd.

As the chaos unfolded, Trump’s media supporters — who would later downplay and deny what happened in various ways — grew concerned and tried to get messages to the president.

Fox News personalities went through his chief of staff Mark Meadows. ​​”Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Laura Ingraham of Fox News wrote. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.” Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade sent similar messages to Meadows.

McCarthy, the Republican House leader, was able to reach the president directly to ask him to put a stop to what was going on. McCarthy would later evade questions about the call, but other House members said Trump told him, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

Around 4 p.m., Trump finally asked his supporters to go home. “This was a fraudulent election. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home, we love you. You’re very special.”

By the night’s end, democracy was still standing. But the manipulation of the narrative was already underway.

In the days that followed, Trump, some of the loudest and most influential members of the Republican Party and vocal partisan media personalities offered a deluge of justifications, excuses and conspiracy theories to reframe the events of Jan. 6 as no big deal.

  • They said Jan. 6 was instigated by undercover left-wing activists who were part of antifa. That was proved false.

  • They said the rioters hadn’t used force and one Republican congressman likened the events to “a normal tourist visit.” Video proved that wrong.

  • They claimed the attack on the Capitol had nothing to do with race, even though white supremacists and far-right militia groups were among the most active participants, and many rioters wore racist t-shirts.

  • They suggested the whole affair was staged by the government, a false flag operation. Others suggested it was entirely a peaceful protest. All of that was wrong.

  • They said that the rioters were political prisoners and shouldn’t face serious charges. A host of federal judges and courts have held otherwise.

The political shapeshifting was striking. McCarthy at first said that “the president bears responsibility” for the riot. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “failed insurrection,” said that “the mob was fed lies,” and argued that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day.”

But soon they tolerated bizarre claims from lawmakers in their ranks, such as that those arrested for rioting were treated worse than prisoners at Gitmo and that federal agents may have been instigators.

The two Republican leaders disparaged bipartisan efforts to investigate Jan. 6. “There is no new fact about that day that we need the Democrats’ extraneous ‘commission’ to uncover,” McConnell said in a statement.

Even Pence, whose life was in danger, downplayed the unprecedented attack as just “one day in January.”

PolitiFact had many options to choose from for our Lie of the Year: claims that the 2020 election was stolen, claims that the COVID vaccine didn’t work, and this one, lies about the Capitol insurrection.

We picked these lies for two reasons. First, the attack was historically important; a federal judge called it “the most significant assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812.” While some members of Congress lodged protests when the Electoral College count was close, as in 2000, or when individual states had close margins, like Ohio in 2004, never before had Americans overtaken the Capitol to hold up electoral proceedings and threaten lawmakers. In fact, “the peaceful transfer of power” has long been a hallmark phrase in describing, with pride, the American experience.

Second, the events of Jan. 6 were widely broadcast on that day and many days afterward, allowing the public to see for itself exactly what happened. The body of evidence includes direct video documentation and many eyewitness accounts. So efforts to downplay and deny what happened are an attempt to brazenly recast reality itself.

“It’s meant to sow doubt and make us unable to react in the ways we need to react to what is actually a threat to democracy,” said Kate Starbird, an associate professor and expert in misinformation at the University of Washington.

Lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its significance is the 2021 Lie of the Year.

Change the evidence: Jan. 6 was a peaceful “tourist visit” 

Soon after Jan. 6, people trying to dismiss the day’s importance plucked out isolated images to portray the throng as peaceful people simply walking through the Capitol.

Lou Dobbs, a former Fox Business Network host, dismissed the idea that it was a “full-on riot with armed looters going through the building.” Dobbs said on that very day it wasn’t what he saw.

“As I watched, at least, on a number of occasions, looking at the Statuary Hall, the protesters who had invaded the Capitol were walking between the rope lines. It was really a remarkable scene.”

Months later, U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., focused on the same images.

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures,” Clyde said during a May committee hearing. “If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

Clyde’s words belied his own actions that day. A Roll Call photographer shared an image of Clyde helping barricade the House chamber door as rioters disrupted Congress. PolitiFact rated his statement about a “normal tourist visit” as Pants on Fire.

Trump said the protesters were downright affectionate.

“It was zero threat, right from the start, it was zero threat,” Trump told Ingraham in March. “Look, they went in, they shouldn’t have done it. Some of them went in, and they are hugging and kissing the police and the guards.”

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell didn’t think so. Gonell told Congress he thought he was going to die as he sought to protect the Capitol. Gonell said officers were “punched, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants, and even blinded with eye-damaging lasers by a violent mob” and at one point he felt himself losing oxygen as he was crushed by the rioters.

“I’m still recovering from those ‘hugs and kisses’ that day that (Trump) claimed that so many rioters, terrorists, were assaulting us that day,” Gonell said. “If that was hugs and kisses, then we should all go to his house and do the same thing to him. To me, it’s insulting. It’s demoralizing.”

The rioters caused $1.5 million in property damages. They smashed glass windows and door panels, broke furniture, ruined artwork and ripped historic lanterns from the ground. They stole a laptop in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, documents from the Senate chamber, escape hoods from police officers’ bags and a Capitol Police vest. Some rioters snatched up items from officials’ offices as if they wanted souvenirs — including a bottle of wine and a Fox News football.

A federal judge ridiculed Clyde’s characterization during a defendant’s sentencing hearing in June.

“I’m especially troubled by the accounts of some members of Congress that Jan. 6 was just a day of tourists walking through the Capitol,” said U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Reagan appointee. “I don’t know what planet these people are on.”

Excuse it: It wasn’t that big a deal

Despite evidence showing that dozens of rioters were armed with real and makeshift weapons as they tried to overturn the election, claims that Jan. 6 was “not an insurrection” hardened into a popular talking point.

On her show in February, Ingraham said that the events of Jan. 6 paled in comparison with history’s other insurrections. In June, Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo said that calling Jan. 6 an armed insurrection is one of the nation’s “biggest lies.”

Those hosts and others zeroed in on the people who wore costumes into the Capitol.

“Come on, guys. Buffalo head guy was poised to take over the U.S. government?” Ingraham said in July, referring to Jacob Anthony Chansley, the so-called “QAnon Shaman” who wore a horned fur cap. “Are you kidding me?”

Some commentators insisted that because no person has been charged with insurrection, the riot couldn’t be considered one. They objected to fatality counts from the riot, noting that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick’s death the day after fighting with rioters was determined to be from natural causes after suffering two strokes.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson repeatedly denied that Jan. 6 had anything to do with race, falsely claiming that white supremacists bore no responsibility for what happened.

“You know what that was, and you also know what it wasn’t,” Carlson said in January on his Fox News program. “It was not an act of racism. It was not an insurrection.”

Several people with known ties to white supremacist groups were involved, including people now facing conspiracy charges. Symbols of white supremacy and anti-Semitism were prominently on display: a hanging gallows; Confederate flags; racist “Pepe the frog” imagery; a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt.

Carlson, Bartiromo and others also described a supposed lack of firearms among the rioters. Radio host Buck Sexton wrote in July that “the most ominous weapon that any of the Jan. 6 organizers seemed to have was QAnon Shaman’s spear, with flag attached.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., minimized the attack by arguing in February that it couldn’t be considered an armed insurrection. We rated that Pants on Fire! 

Court documents make clear that many of the people who breached the Capitol that day were armed. As the assault on the Capitol unfolded, Ryan Nichols, a former Marine who carried a crowbar with him, stood on the ledge of a broken Capitol window. “If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon!” he shouted into a bullhorn.

The rioters brandished bats, crutches, flagpoles, skateboards, hockey sticks, knives, zip ties, chemical sprays, a fire extinguisher and other makeshift weapons, court documents show. They stole and wielded police batons and riot shields. Several had guns on them or stashed nearby.

At least 190 people had been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding police officers, including over 60 who were charged with using a weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer, the Justice Department said in October. More than 65 people have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.

The Coup D’etat Project at the University of Illinois’ Cline Center for Advanced Social Research determined shortly after the attack that the storming of the Capitol qualified as an attempted coup.

Several of the weapons charges were filed against members of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other far-right militia groups who wore combat gear and used military-style tactics in the crowd.

Michael Fanone, 40, was one of roughly 140 law enforcement officers injured while defending the Capitol on Jan. 6. Testifying on Capitol Hill in July alongside other officers, he described getting dragged into the crowd, stripped of his badge, beaten, tased and threatened with chants to “kill him with his own gun.” He said he fell unconscious, suffered a heart attack, and was later diagnosed with a concussion, a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

His testimony did little to chasten the media’s Jan. 6 deniers.

As Fanone spoke, conservative commentator Julie Kelly tweeted that he was a “crisis actor.” Newsmax host Greg Kelly speculated that protesters may have mistaken Fanone as affiliated with antifa, a loosely organized coalition of left-wing anti-fascist activists that has counter-protested and clashed with white supremacists in recent years.

On Fox News, Ingraham mocked Fanone with a sarcastic award for “best performance in an action role.”

Throw everything at the wall: Jan. 6 conspiracy theories

Many of the same right-wing voices who went to great lengths to excuse or minimize the attack also teetered between wild conspiracy theories that sought to entirely rewrite what happened.

They suggested that the violence was the work of antifa, a familiar right-wing specter. And when that was proven false, a number of them, led most conspicuously by Carlson, blamed the FBI.

There was no documented trace of antifa at the Capitol, nor was there ever compelling evidence that the FBI or any other government agency instigated the attack. Eleven months later, with more than 700 people facing charges related to the day’s events, there still isn’t.

But talk about antifa and a “false flag” began to take off on anonymous online forums a little after noon EST on Jan. 6, according to PolitiFact’s day-after analysis.

Shortly after the rioters forced their way past Capitol barricades, posts in pro-Trump Facebook groups were already claiming that antifa was behind what was happening. The idea spread on Twitter and Parler, a social media platform popular with conservatives, then to right-wing radio and TV. Several lawmakers endorsed it.

“I believe that this was agitators strategically placed inside of this group — you can call them antifa, you can call them people paid by the Democratic machine — but to make the Trump campaign, the Trump movement, look bad, and to make this look like it was a violent outrage,” said Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., as he phoned into Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk’s radio show a little after 3 p.m.

“This has all the hallmarks of Antifa provocation,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tweeted at 5:04 p.m. He had posted a photo of the pro-Trump crowd at the rally hours before. 

Between 5 and 6 p.m., antifa was mentioned nearly 156,000 times across social media, broadcast and traditional media, and online outlets, according to an analysis from Zignal Labs Inc., a media intelligence firm.

The rumor was part of multiple reports on Newsmax, local news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, and websites like the Gateway Pundit. By evening, it was mentioned on the House floor and each of Fox News’ three biggest primetime programs — including the shows hosted by Ingraham and Hannity, both of whom sent texts on Jan. 6 urging Meadows to tell Trump to call off the rioters.

Blaming antifa for domestic unrest is a well-worn talking point, said Starbird, the misinformation expert, so people were “already primed to believe that things are being caused by antifa.”

But the pro-Trump rioters made clear they didn’t want give up the credit. They proudly touted their attack, live-streaming themselves from the Capitol, posing for pictures with statues, interviewing with nearby reporters and boasting about their escapades on social media.

“It was not Antifa at the Capitol,” one rioter tweeted. “It was freedom loving Patriots who were DESPERATE to fight for the final hope of our Republic.”

The evidence didn’t seem to matter. Within months, another conspiracy theory developed, claiming that Jan. 6 was an inside job — a false flag operation orchestrated by the FBI.

This one took off thanks to a little-known, right-leaning website called Revolver News, run by Darren Beattie, a former Trump White House speechwriter who was fired in 2018 after appearing on a panel with a white nationalist.

The website’s unproven theory focused on charging documents and the fact that the FBI had used informants and undercover operatives to foil an extremist plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

A cursory look showed the theory was rife with holes, inaccuracies and circumstantial speculation. PolitiFact rated the claim that federal agents directly incited people as False.

But the next day after the Revolver News article appeared, Carlson told his millions of viewers that “the FBI was organizing the riots of Jan. 6.” Beattie came on as a guest.

InfoWars founder Alex Jones said later that he had provided feedback to Revolver News on the article, and that he had helped get it into Carlson’s hands.

Carlson followed up with op-eds and segments promoting the FBI false flag theory. Daily Wire host Candace Owens tweeted that it was “common sense.” House Reps. Marjorie Taylor  Greene, R-Ga., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. tweeted out clips of Carlson’s interview with Beattie.

In a House floor speech, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, cited the Revolver News article and said he saw Carlson’s segment on it. “This is like Putin kind of activity,” said Gohmert.

Months later, Carlson featured Beattie as a star player in “Patriot Purge,” a three-episode series about Jan. 6 that pushed the FBI and antifa conspiracy theories further.

According to Carlson’s documentary, the FBI had a dystopian end goal. The show warned, falsely, that Jan. 6 was not only a false flag, but a pretext to justify a “purge” of Trump voters — a “new war on terror” that would turn the national security apparatus inward and strip millions of their rights.

The show turned the Jan. 6 perpetrators into victims. They weren’t attacking democracy; they were victims of the deep state. The tactic allowed Trump supporters to “fight the sort of cognitive dissonance of who you think your side is, and what you think you’re about,” Starbird said.

Dismiss it: Further investigation isn’t necessary

The loudest deniers of what happened on Jan. 6 weren’t shouting into a void. As Carlson and others pushed their false narratives about antifa and the FBI, Republican lawmakers responded to the attack with another form of downplay: silence.

Months after the siege, even those who initially condemned the attack decided that the day was no longer worth talking about. Americans had learned enough about what happened, they said. There would be no need to probe further. Outrage was unnecessary. It was time to move on.

McCarthy and McConnell, both outspoken in the wake of the attack, corralled their members to shoot down a bipartisan bill that would have formed an independent commission in the mold of the body that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I think we have a pretty good idea what happened (on Jan. 6); I was here,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in late May. “And this is unlike the 9/11 Commission in that respect.”

“The Jan. 6 commission would have ultimately been one party investigating the other,” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said in June.

The bill was sponsored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Ranking Member John Katko, R-N.Y. McConnell said it was slanted because the chair, appointed by the Democrats, would have hired the staff. McCarthy called it “duplicative.”

The bill passed the House in May with support from 35 Republicans, who defied McCarthy’s recommendation to vote against it. The 175 Republicans who opposed the commission included some who had at first spoken out against the rioters, including Gallagher, the Wisconsin representative who told Trump to “call it off” on CNN. About a week later, the Senate’s Republicans killed the bill.

“It isn’t designed to produce a serious inquiry,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted. “It’s designed to be used as (a) partisan political weapon.”

When the House responded with a measure to form its own select committee, all but two Republicans in the House voted against it. Few stood up to defend their vote during a floor debate. More than two dozen skipped the debate entirely, opting instead to spend the day with Trump at the border.

“We need to spend our time finding solutions and helping Americans, not creating partisan commissions to do work that has already been done competently by the U.S. Senate and by law enforcement,” said Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., on the House floor.

The committee that ultimately formed includes just two Republicans, both outliers in their own party. McCarthy withdrew all five of his recommendations after Pelosi rejected two of them.

“We will run our own investigation,” McCarthy vowed in July.

But he never did.

“There’s nothing I have that can add to that day,” McCarthy told a local TV station during an interview in September. Pressed about his own phone call with Trump on Jan. 6, he added: “I have nothing to hide, but I have nothing to add.”

It was a stunning about-face for Republicans who have otherwise said they support the police and law-and-order measures.

Despite the claims of partisanship, the goal of the Jan. 6 rioters was to stop a legitimate election process by force, noted Tom Nichols, a former Republican who writes about democracy and politics.

“I have never seen a situation where elected officials’ lives were in danger, and they downplayed what happened,” Nichols said. “Those protesters did not differentiate between Republicans and Democrats — they were going to hang Mike Pence.”

What lies about Jan. 6 tells us about American democracy

Nearly a year later, there is zero evidence to say that Jan. 6 was an antifa operation, a tourist visit, a false flag, or an uneventful day to forget.

The falsehoods were not without isolated criticism on the right. Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera criticized the “outrageous and uncorroborated” claims in Carlson’s documentary series. The two co-founders of The Dispatch, both Fox News contributors for years, resigned in November from the network over the series. Chris Wallace, the network’s premier journalist, recently left the network; NPR reported that Wallace had expressed concerns to network leadership about the Carlson documentary.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who rejected Trump’s false election fraud claims and voted to impeach him over what happened on Jan. 6, is one of two Republicans to serve on the House select committee, and used her standing to blast the “false flag” conspiracy theory.

“It’s un-American to be spreading those kinds of lies, and they are lies,” Cheney said.

But the repetition of the Jan. 6 falsehoods demonstrates that a political movement can coalesce around obvious lies — and that, despite the facts, it can be difficult to stand against.

“This is our new world — denial of what your eyes are actually seeing,” said Laura Thornton, director and senior fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“The effort to rewrite history in the service of political power goals is not unheard of in America or anywhere else,” said Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist who has studied the Tea Party and anti-Trump resistance. “What is brazen is the history they want to rewrite includes pictures of what actually happened.”

“Because Jan. 6 was not successful, now they have to rewrite history and in some cases they were doing that in 24 hours, saying you didn’t see what you saw,” added Phillipe Copeland, clinical assistant professor at Boston University School of Social Work.

So far, the consequences for what happened before, during and after Jan. 6 have been limited to rioters like the “QAnon Shaman” who were charged or sentenced for storming the Capitol.

Political leaders and pundits, on the other hand, are going about business as usual. Trump, acquitted in the Senate for a second time, may run again in 2024. McCarthy is angling to take back the speakership. Carlson remains one of the most-watched cable news hosts on TV.

Meanwhile, Cheney was cast out of the mainstream of the Republican Party when the House removed her in May from her leadership position after her impeachment vote. Similar moves against Republicans who criticized Trump have taken place across the country.

It’s a sign that elections could remain a contested space for years to come, as Republican grievances about the outcome of the 2020 election fuel the rewriting of election laws around the country. And it’s a sign that Jan. 6 downplay and denial could be hardening into yet another litmus test for Republicans. Primaries in 2022 are shaping up to be contests where pro-Trump loyalists challenge anyone who dissents.

“We are in an extremely dangerous place,” said Thornton. “An attack on your Capitol where people are threatening to murder the vice president is bad enough, but when you have a political party — one of two in our country — that are downplaying or diverting or misrepresenting, it’s extremely upsetting. I don’t know how we come back from that.”

Know your enemy

On Friday morning, after a night of insomnia fueled by worries about raising children in a collapsing society, I opened my eyes, started reading about efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to seize control of the state’s elections, then paused to let my tachycardiac heartbeat subside. Marinating in the news is part of my job, but doing so lately is a source of full-body horror. If this were simply my problem, I’d write about it in a journal instead of in The New York Times. But political despair is an issue for the entire Democratic Party.

It’s predictable that, with Donald Trump out of the White House, Democrats would pull back from constant, frenetic political engagement. But there’s a withdrawal happening right now — from news consumption, activism and, in some places, voting — that seems less a product of relief than of avoidance. Part of this is simply burnout and lingering trauma from Covid. But I suspect that part of it is about growing hopelessness born of a sense that dislodging Trump has bought American democracy only a brief reprieve.

One redeeming feature of Trump’s presidency, in retrospect, was that it was possible to look forward to the date when Americans could finish it. Covid, too, once seemed like something we’d be able to largely put behind us when we got vaccinated. Sure, Trumpism, like the virus, would linger, but it was easy to imagine a much better world after the election, the inauguration and the wide availability of shots.

Now we’re past all that, and American life is still comprehensively awful. Dystopia no longer has an expiration date.

Last week in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg worried about the future of our American democracy.  Like thousands/millions of others, I share her concern, and so should you.

The problem isn’t just that polls show that, at least right now, voters want to hand over Congress to a party that largely treats the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as heroes.

(snip)

What’s terrifying is that even if Democrats win back public confidence, they can win more votes than Republicans and still lose. Gerrymandering alone is enough to tip the balance in the House.

(snip)

Meanwhile, Republicans are purging local officials who protected the integrity of the 2020 election, replacing them with apparatchiks. It will be hard for Republicans to steal the 2024 election outright, since they don’t control the current administration, but they can throw it into the sort of chaos that will cause widespread civil unrest. And if they win, it’s hard to imagine them ever consenting to the peaceful transfer of power again.

(snip)

I look at the future and I see rule without recourse by people who either approve of terrorizing liberals or welcome those who do. Such an outcome isn’t inevitable; unforeseen events can reshape political coalitions. Something could happen to forestall the catastrophe bearing down on us.

Here’s a hopeful sign: two long-time contributors to Fox News giving a thorough and public explanation of why they just can’t take it any more.

…there are still responsible conservatives [at Fox News] providing valuable opinion and analysis. But the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.

A case in point: Patriot Purge, a three-part series hosted by Tucker Carlson.

The special—which ran on Fox’s subscription streaming service earlier this month and was promoted on Fox News—is presented in the style of an exposé, a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism. In reality, it is a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions. And its message is clear: The U.S. government is targeting patriotic Americans in the same manner —and with the same tools—that it used to target al Qaeda.

(snip)

This is not happening. And we think it’s dangerous to pretend it is. If a person with such a platform shares such misinformation loud enough and long enough, there are Americans who will believe—and act upon—it.

This isn’t theoretical. This is what actually happened on January 6, 2021.

Over the past five years, some of Fox’s top opinion hosts amplified the false claims and bizarre narratives of Donald Trump or offered up their own in his service. In this sense, the release of Patriot Purge wasn’t an isolated incident, it was merely the most egregious example of a longstanding trend. Patriot Purge creates an alternative history of January 6, contradicted not just by common sense, not just by the testimony and on-the-record statements of many participants, but by the reporting of the news division of Fox News itself.

There are still many real conservatives who recognize that the Orange Emperor has no clothes, and who have not drunk the toxic brew that has let so many Republicans (and others) show true feelings they have always keep secret, until now.  Jennifer Rubin is one.

When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, Never Trumpers (now largely ex-Republicans) warned that he would corrupt the party in every way imaginable. His misogyny would morph in the party’s toxic masculinity and degradation of women, they cautioned. His infatuation with brutality and violence (boasting he would kill terrorists’ families, exhorting his supporters to slug protesters) would metastasize to the party as a whole. Boy, did those predictions pan out.

You only have to look at the vicious imagery showing the murder of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) deployed by Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), the verbal attack on her from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) last year — and Republicans’ defense of both — to understand that their refusal to dump Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape came to light was merely the prelude to an era of normalizing violence (especially against women), culminating in the Jan. 6 violent insurrection, which many Republicans, including Trump, tried to paint as nonviolent.

Threats and portrayals of violence against women have turned into a badge of honor for a party in which traditional notions about gender (back to the 1950s!) have become a key predictor of Republican support. Casting men (even a Supreme Court nominee) as victims of aggressive, “nasty” or unhinged women accusing them of wrongdoing has become standard fare in the Trump party.

Rubin cites Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute, who is willing to lay the blame for the violence we’re seeing now at the core of Republican party voters: White evangelicals.

Today, for an alarming number of white conservative Christians, the mark of Christian faithfulness is not a love that inspires them to lay down their lives for their friends, but a defensiveness that lures them to take the lives of their fellow citizens.

The anti-democratic and white supremacist core of this worldview snaps into focus as soon as we ask just one question: What is the “America” they are saving? This question is at the heart of the MAGA ideology that has now fully overtaken one of our two major political parties.

That second “A,” for “again,” is the hermeneutical key that unlocks the obfuscation.  This nostalgia for a White Christian America has become the weapon of choice in the culture wars. In that vision of the country, white law and order reign, and with refreshments and pats on the back, white vigilantes are informally deputized as partners. And Black people protesting in the streets or even shopping in the local CVS are seen as suspect for not playing their properly deferential roles or staying in their assigned subservient places.

If Trump has done anything for us, he has peeled back a thin veneer of patriotic- and Christian-sounding words to reveal the core claim underneath it all: That God intended America to be a white Christian nation. That claim has literally generated—for those among the chosen— a license to kill anyone who threatens that norm and the confidence that those actions will not only be free of negative consequences, but be rewarded both here on earth and in heaven.

“Christian nationalism” is the threat.  Let’s start by defining the terms, thanks to Paul D. Miller at Christianity Today.

There are many definitions of nationalism and an active debate about how best to define it. I reviewed the standard academic literature on nationalism and found several recurring themes. Most scholars agree that nationalism starts with the belief that humanity is divisible into mutually distinct, internally coherent cultural groups defined by shared traits like language, religion, ethnicity, or culture. From there, scholars say, nationalists believe that these groups should each have their own governments; that governments should promote and protect a nation’s cultural identity; and that sovereign national groups provide meaning and purpose for human beings.

What is Christian nationalism?

Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future. Scholars like Samuel Huntington have made a similar argument: that America is defined by its “Anglo-Protestant” past and that we will lose our identity and our freedom if we do not preserve our cultural inheritance.

Christian nationalists do not reject the First Amendment and do not advocate for theocracy, but they do believe that Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square. The term “Christian nationalism,” is relatively new, and its advocates generally do not use it of themselves, but it accurately describes American nationalists who believe American identity is inextricable from Christianity.

What is the problem with nationalism?

Humanity is not easily divisible into mutually distinct cultural units. Cultures overlap and their borders are fuzzy. Since cultural units are fuzzy, they make a poor fit as the foundation for political order. Cultural identities are fluid and hard to draw boundaries around, but political boundaries are hard and semipermanent. Attempting to found political legitimacy on cultural likeness means political order will constantly be in danger of being felt as illegitimate by some group or other. Cultural pluralism is essentially inevitable in every nation.

Is that really a problem, or just an abstract worry?

It is a serious problem. When nationalists go about constructing their nation, they have to define who is, and who is not, part of the nation. But there are always dissidents and minorities who do not or cannot conform to the nationalists’ preferred cultural template. In the absence of moral authority, nationalists can only establish themselves by force. Scholars are almost unanimous that nationalist governments tend to become authoritarian and oppressive in practice. For example, in past generations, to the extent that the United States had a quasi-established official religion of Protestantism, it did not respect true religious freedom. Worse, the United States and many individual states used Christianity as a prop to support slavery and segregation.

There is much more here you should read.  Know your enemy, while there is still time to win the fight.

This is not about all Christians, or even all Christian evangelicals.  But those who think “freedom of religion” means everyone is free to practice their particular strain of Christian faith in their houses of worship and through the imposition of their religious beliefs in secular law, those who harbor a “nostalgia for White Christian America,” and who have been succeeding politically at achieving their goals since at least the days of the Moral Majority, those are the political enemies we need to get serious about defeating.  Right now, political despair be damned.

The truth can hurt—tell it anyway

One of my first jobs after graduating from college was hosting a weeknight radio talk show in Austin, Texas.  This was the early 1980s and Austin was both politically and socially a very liberal town, yet over time I found a higher-than-expected percentage of conservatives among my audience on a radio station that played rock and roll the rest of the day.  I did interviews when an interesting guest was available—Madalyn Murray O’Hair came to the studio one night, had Timothy Leary on the phone once—but often it was an open line to talk about, and debate and argue, topics in the news.  I enjoyed the give and take with people who had a different opinion and were willing to make their case, and to listen to mine and respond on the merits.  I fancied myself left of center but not crazy; I had more than one caller who complimented me for being funny and so reasonable…for a liberal.

This was as a new American conservatism was eclipsing the old one: William F. Buckley, Jr.’s worldview was being subtly undermined and overwhelmed by the Moral Majority appeal to right-thinking Christian evangelicals who were urged to get involved and install their religious beliefs as secular law.  America was a Christian nation after all, they were told, so it was the right thing to do; any fancy intellectual arguments, or any point of view that sprung from a differing interpretation of the will of God, could be safely ignored.

And here we are.  Give the radical right credit: they played the political game on its own terms, they played it smart, and they won.  A lot.  We have the same American states, same U.S. Constitution and structure of government, and at least on the surface we have the same tradition of respect for the rule of law, for freedom of speech, for individual liberty and societal responsibility, as we did forty or more years ago.  But it’s not the same.

I try to be optimistic.  I believe that each new generation of Americans is more committed than the last one to the “liberal values” of racial and gender equity and equality, and the free exchange of ideas, and freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion, and that the fearful closedmindedness at the heart of the professional patriots of today will force their movement to wither and become the appendix of the American political system: present, but useless.

But in the meantime, I think the far right senses that its time is running out, and it’s desperately grabbing at any opportunity to maintain relevance and power, going all out to fortify their calcified beliefs in law and install like-minded judges to protect those gains.  Here in my state of Texas this week, a state legislator who is running in the Republican primary for attorney general has initiated “an inquiry into Texas school district content,” which is to say, he’s using his state house committee to investigate the books that public schools use to teach our kids.  (The vice chair of the committee says the panel never took a vote on this; she learned about it from a local school official.)

Attached to [Matt] Krause’s letter was a 16-page list of books published from 1969 to 2021 that included “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. Other books on the list deal with issues of race, gender identity and sexuality.

The Fort Worth Republican asked school leaders to identify where copies of the listed books were located in school libraries and classrooms and the amount of money districts had spent on them.

He also asked districts to identify any other books or content that address human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, or any material that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race or sex.

The far right is very good at creating a villain where none existed, then using that villain to whip up fervor among those who don’t know any better.  Think Joe McCarthy, but with a broader canvas.  In this case, appealing to the good Christian souls who don’t have a racist bone in their bodies to battle the evildoers who would indoctrinate the innocent little schoolchildren of Texas into thinking the unthinkable: that the racism of the present as well as of the past, including not just the toleration of human slavery but the promotion and protection of it in law and custom, has tangible effects that all we experience today.

Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinions…how they act on them is another thing.  In the Washington Post this week, Michael Gerson makes the point that only one side in the current ideological dispute in America is threatening the future of our country:

In a country of 330 million people, one can find plenty of anarchist rioters, Marxist college professors and administrators who use tolerance as a club to beat those they deem intolerant. But judging their threat as equivalent to that of the populist right is itself a threat to the country. At some point, a lack of moral proportion becomes a type of moral failure.

My main concern here is with previously rational and respectable conservatives who are providing ideological cover for the triumph of Trumpism on the right. Often some scruple prevents them from joining fully in former president Donald Trump’s gleeful assault on democratic legitimacy. So their main strategy is to assert that leftist depredations against democracy are equivalent. If both sides have their rioters and petty autocrats, why not favor the rioters and petty autocrats whose success will result in better judges?

But here’s the rub: By any rational standard, both sides are not equivalent in their public effect.

Only one party has based the main part of its appeal on a transparent lie. To be a loyal Republican in 2021 is to believe that a national conspiracy of big-city mayors, Republican state officials, companies that produce voting machines and perhaps China, or maybe Venezuela, stole the 2020 presidential election. The total absence of evidence indicates to conspiracy theorists (as usual) that the plot was particularly fiendish. Previous iterations of the GOP tried to unite on the basis of ideology and public purpose. The current GOP is united by a common willingness to believe whatever antidemocratic rot comes from the mouth of an ambitious, reckless liar.

Only one side of our divide employs violent intimidation as a political tool. Since leaving the presidency, Trump has endorsed the view that the events of Jan. 6 were an expression of rowdy patriotism and embraced the cruel slander that the Capitol Police were engaged in oppression. Turn to Fox News and hear hosts and guests referring to a coming “purge” of patriots, alleging that the left is “hunting” the right with the goal of putting conservatives in Guantánamo Bay, and speaking of “insurgency” as a justified response.

Only one political movement has made a point of denying the existence and legacy of racism, assuring White people that they are equally subject to prejudice, and defending the Confederacy and its monuments as “our heritage.” This is perhaps the ultimate in absurd bothsidesism. My side suffers from economic stagnation and the unfair application of affirmative action. Your side was shipped like coal and sold like cattle; suffered centuries of brutality, rape, family separation and stolen wages; and was then subjected to humiliating segregation and the systematic denial of lending, housing and justice. Who can say which is worse?

Gerson is not the first to make this point; it needs to be made more often, with volume and clarity.  This is not a “both sides of the story” thing where you intimate that the two sides just have a philosophical difference of opinion.  And here, journalism has let us down.

The practice of journalism in America has changed over the centuries, if not necessarily evolved and improved.  I come out of the post-Watergate era of journalism education, which taught us to get “both sides” of a story and not favor one over the other.  It was not that a reporter could not have a personal opinion on a topic, it was just irrelevant—the goal in writing a story was to uncover facts and context and assemble them into a narrative for the reader so he or she could better understand an issue and come to their own opinion about it.

Of course, the truth is there have always been more than two sides to most stories, and any reporter’s worldview influences how they go about the uncovering of facts and context.  Editors are there to help smooth that out so the final product is accurate, and fair, and enlightening.  But in the end, the journalism is done for the benefit of the customer: the reader, the listener, the viewer.  We sure as hell are not there to campaign for any politician, yet for generations politicians and their supporters have accused reporters and their employers of being unfair: if you write bad things about me, you’re against me; you’re biased.  It doesn’t matter whether the “bad things” are in fact true, or that the reporter or the paper routinely publish “bad things” about all candidates from all parties.  (From our perspective, those are all good stories!)

But over the years, some outlets—many of them—developed a preemptory defense against accusations of unfairness: report facts, but don’t add context that leads to a judgment about the participants; then they can’t accuse you of being unfair.

Of course, they still can and do make the accusation, so the strategy is flawed on its face.  But in a tragic example of the law of unintended consequences, that acrobatic effort to produce “neutral” journalism is failing the customer.  As Jackie Calmes writes in the Los Angeles Times, in the case of national politics today it is failing the country.

I started to chafe at false equivalence a quarter-century ago, as a congressional reporter amid Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution. One party — his — was demonstrably more responsible for the nasty divisiveness, government gridlock and norm-busting, yet journalistic pressure to produce seemingly “balanced” stories — pressure both ingrained and imposed by editors — prevented reporters from sufficiently reflecting the new truth.

By 2012, as President Obama dealt with the willful obstructionists, conspiracists and racists of an increasingly radicalized Republican Party, political scientists and long-respected Washington watchers Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein put the onus for the dysfunction squarely on the GOP in their provocative book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” Significantly, they implicated journalists: “A balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon is a distortion of reality and a disservice to your consumers.”

The ascension of Donald Trump four years later should not have been such a surprise. With his continued hold on the Republican Party in the Biden era, Mann and Ornstein’s admonition is truer than ever.

Yes, it’s critical for political journalists to remain fair and balanced, in contrast with the right-wing network that cynically co-opted those adjectives. And, yes, variations on the word “lie” justifiably made it into the mainstream — something I never thought I’d see, let alone write — to describe what comes out of Trump’s mouth whenever his lips move. Sadly, that was progress.

(snip)

This is a Republican Party that is not serious about governing or addressing the nation’s actual problems, as opposed to faux ones like critical race theory.

Healthcare costs, child care, climate change, income inequality, you name it — Republicans don’t even acknowledge the problems, let alone propose solutions. Statewide candidates from Nevada to Virginia echo Trump in claiming that addressing (nonexistent) election fraud is, as he put it in another statement Wednesday, “the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”

Republicans in Congress scandalously opposed a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection, which threatened them as well as our democracy. They won’t support a must-pass increase in the nation’s debt limit, despite the trillions of debt that they and Trump piled up. Yet it was Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, who came in for pundits’ rebuke last week when he lambasted Republicans for flirting with a default, just after they’d allowed a temporary debt-limit measure to pass. What was he supposed to do? Celebrate the Republicans’ “bipartisanship” in defusing, only until December, the dynamite they’d lit under the economy?

On Saturday, the Senate’s most senior Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, gleefully accepted Trump’s endorsement for reelection at a rally in Iowa where Trump repeatedly lied that he’d beaten Biden. The next day on “Fox News Sunday,” the second-ranking Republican in the House, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, repeatedly refused to say that the election was not stolen from Trump.

Democrats can’t be expected to deal with these guys like they’re on the level. Nor should journalists cover them as if they are.

E pluribus unity

After two days of consideration, and some moping, I’ve determined that I am disappointed with the final vote by the Senate in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, especially since they were so close to calling witnesses who might have provided evidence that could have won over enough votes to convict him of the charges.

I got up early (for a Saturday) to watch the closing arguments, and even though Mitch McConnell had emailed that he would vote to acquit I was happy to learn that there was a chance that witnesses would be called to testify.  As someone who believes Trump’s illegal and un-American behavior deserves whatever punishment is available, I began dreaming—calling witnesses was going to increase the chances that something would happen that would persuade more senators to convict Trump.  It might be the only way to get Republicans who were hell bent on protecting Trump—or who at least wanted to look like they were protecting Trump, in order to insulate themselves from the anger of Trump nation—into a position in which they could vote their real conscience.  Deep down, where everyone knows that Trump is a menace.  Even Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.

Although disappointed in the verdict, I am not surprised by it.  Because this is not a movie.  In fiction, without a doubt, there would have been a surprise speech from some Republican senator that clearly and persuasively and emotionally laid the blame for inciting the attack on Congress on Trump, not just for his speech on the Ellipse that day but for the months of blatant lies inflaming his supporters into thinking a nefarious force was stealing the election.  Something like this, right up until the “but…”

Of course, there was a nefarious force at work…it was Trump.

I can’t comprehend how or why people believed Trump’s warning that an election that had not yet happened had already been rigged.  Not that Trump doesn’t have a high enough opinion of himself to make the claim that the only way he could lose would be through theft, but I still don’t get how so many Americans would accept this transparently self-serving claim as true—before the first vote was even cast, and with no offer of proof for how it would happen.  After all the opposition to Trump’s policies and his actions that had developed over the years, why was it hard to believe that a lot of people wouldn’t want him to be president any more?  You didn’t have to agree with those people to be honest enough with yourself to see that they were there, and they were going to vote for someone else.

The election came, and he did lose, and he bored right in with the lie.  There was no evidence of widespread fraud.  Court after court after court (after court) rejected literally dozens of legal claims.  Right through the recounts and the canvasses in state after state, right through the certification of electoral votes in all fifty states, the lying persisted.  These men and women who believed themselves patriots—the only real Americans left—convinced themselves that Trump was right, that taking up arms against their own government was the patriotic thing to do.  They were so entrenched in the delusion that they even photo-documented themselves committing the crime, unburdened by any concern for their own legal culpability.  Hundreds of them are now aware of just what a mistake that was.

The case against Trump presented by the House managers left any honest audience little wiggle room in concluding that Trump committed an impeachable offense: encouraging an armed assault against the United States Capitol and its defenders, the members of the legislative branch of government, and his own vice president.  The smoking gun was right there in Trump’s tiny hand: even if you accept the argument that he meant it when told his supporters that day to make a peaceful protest, you have to explain why, for hours after the violence began, he did nothing to try to stop it.  Didn’t get on TV and call on them to stop.  Didn’t Tweet at them, telling them to stop.  Didn’t call in the National Guard, or any other law enforcement to assist the Capitol police.  Did nothing to restore law and order. *

A majority of the U.S. Senate voted that Trump is guilty of the charge, but not the two-thirds of members present that the Constitution requires.  Today the Houston Chronicle editorial board praised those seven Republicans senators who braved the backlash sure to come by voting to convict based on the compelling evidence presented in the trial.  As for the others:

Their colleagues who voted to acquit either averted their eyes from the glaring evidence or cowered behind strained legal arguments. History will judge them, but the American people need not wait. We bore witness to the assault on our nation’s Capitol and the evidence presented in trial.

We will not forget Trump’s crimes or the failure of most in his party to hold him accountable. Senators failed to show the same kind of courage that Republican state officials did as they resisted the former president’s pressure to overturn an election.

They failed to put their duty to safeguard democracy above partisan allegiance. They took no strength from former Vice President Mike Pence, who rebuffed calls to interfere in the Electoral College certification process, or from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who investigated allegations of voter fraud and, finding no evidence, chose to resign rather than perpetuate Trump’s false claims.

They failed to honor the bravery of the officers who risked their lives to prevent further carnage, including Capitol officer Brian D. Sicknick who was killed and the almost 140 officers who were bruised, bloodied and bashed by a mob wielding bats and flag poles.

Perhaps the starkest profile in cowardice belongs to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for voting to acquit and then delivering a damning speech proving he knew better. McConnell declared Trump “practically and morally” responsible for the Capitol riot but relied on a questionable legal interpretation to claim the Senate lacked the power to hold a former president accountable. Then he tried to pass blame on the House for delays when he himself blocked the Senate from starting the trial while Trump was still in office.

Such excuses, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s claim that Democrats were being “unnecessarily vindictive” in pursuing impeachment, aren’t fooling anybody who’s been paying attention.

So, disappointed…but not discouraged.  Not yet.  The verdict of the U.S. Senate does not protect Trump from the criminal justice system, which can still prosecute him for his actions in regard to the attack on the Capitol just as it can for his attempts in Georgia and elsewhere to pressure local officials to commit election fraud.  Not to mention the civil and criminal investigations in New York and elsewhere, which get the feel of being too much to remember, so thanks to George Conway for bothering to write it down.

In the meantime I intend to try to follow the advice offered by E.J. Dionne yesterday: think about how the good that came out of this trial can be the foundation for the future:

…a diverse and able group of prosecutors laid out an indelible record not only of what happened on Jan. 6 and why, but also Trump’s irresponsibility throughout his term of office: his courting of the violent far right; his celebration of violence; his habit of privileging himself and his own interests over everything and everyone else, including his unrequitedly loyal vice president.

This record matters. We often like to pretend that we can move on and forget the past. But our judgments about the past inevitably shape our future. Every political era is, in part, a reaction to the failures — perceived and real — of the previous one. The Hoover-Coolidge Republicans loomed large for two generations of Democrats. Ronald Reagan built a thriving movement by calling out what he successfully cast as the sins of liberalism.

By tying themselves to Trump with their votes, most House and Senate Republicans made themselves complicit in his behavior. And Trump will prove to be even more of an albatross than Hoover, who, after all, had a moral core.

(snip)

It’s a sign of how far and how fast the ex-president has fallen that opponents of impeachment rationalized their votes by saying, as McConnell did, that Trump must still confront the “criminal justice system” and “civil litigation.” You’re in trouble when your would-be friends are saying you should be prosecuted rather than impeached.

All of which strengthens the hand of a president whose central campaign theme was a warning against the threat that Trump posed to democracy itself. A bipartisan majority of 57 senators and 232 House members has now declared that Joe Biden was right.

Here’s some of what Joe Biden had to say, standing in front of the Capitol two weeks after Trump’s mob tried to steal an election and subvert our system of government.

Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now.  A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country.  It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.  Millions of jobs have been lost.  Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.  A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us.  The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.  A cry for survival comes from the planet itself.  A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.  And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words.  It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy:  Unity.

(snip)

I ask every American to join me in this cause.

Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred.  Extremism, lawlessness, violence.  Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.  With unity we can do great things.  Important things.  We can right wrongs.  We can put people to work in good jobs.  We can teach our children in safe schools.  We can overcome this deadly virus.  We can reward work, rebuild the middle class, and make health care secure for all.  We can deliver racial justice.  We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.

(snip)

Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart.  The battle is perennial.  Victory is never assured.

Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed.  In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.  And, we can do so now.  History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.

(snip)

And so today, at this time and in this place, let us start afresh.  All of us.  Let us listen to one another.  Hear one another.  See one another.  Show respect to one another.  Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.  Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.  And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.

My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this.  America has to be better than this.  And, I believe America is better than this.

(snip)

This is a time of testing.  We face an attack on democracy and on truth.  A raging virus.  Growing inequity.  The sting of systemic racism.  A climate in crisis.  America’s role in the world.  Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways.  But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities.  Now we must step up.  All of us.

* EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated to remove a referenced Tweet which claimed Trump and his family watched the attack on the Capitol from a party tent on the White House lawn.  That was not correct; the Poynter Tweet below explains the error.  HIPRB regrets the error.