Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that Democrats want a 9/11-type of congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol building in order to politicize the issue and further attempt to discredit former President Donald Trump as he clearly remains the Republican Party’s most influential voice.
McConnell is absolutely right, but that doesn’t mean the investigation shouldn’t take place.
Some things are more important than political expediency, such as getting to the bottom of how on earth an angry mob was able to infiltrate the seat of government of the most powerful nation on the planet.
On display for the entire world to witness were throngs of protesters, most civilized and law-abiding, legally remaining on the National Mall, questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election as is their constitutional right to do, but also hundreds unlawfully breaking into and entering the Capitol, dressed in all sorts of attention-getting garb from colonial hats to Viking horns, with Confederate and Trump banners in hand, as they invaded the offices of congressional leaders, some even calling for the lynching of Mike Pence, the then-incumbent vice president and an eminent Trump loyalist, because he refused to singlehandedly decertify the electoral votes.
Jan. 6 was not the most devastating day in American history — 9/11, Pearl Harbor and the 1814 British invasion of Washington, D.C., are more fitting to warrant that distinction — but it was arguably the most embarrassing. After all, the attackers on those other infamous occasions were not Americans; this time, we were raided by our own.
In one fell swoop, those who spent the previous five years (dating back to Trump’s famous 2015 escalator ride announcing his presidential run) convincing those who were hoodwinked by media malpractice and obsessive Trump-hating histrionics that Trump and his supporters are not deranged, seditious, narcissistic and perennially dangerous white supremacists saw their efforts stamped out by the damning optics of our hallowed halls of government violated by criminal trespassers sporting MAGA hats.
To deem Jan. 6 as anything less than utterly despicable is to ignore that it embarrassed the United States on the world stage more than all of the presidential flubs and faux pas — like George W. Bush saying he’ll put “food on your families” or Barack Obama announcing he had visited “57 states” — combined.
It’s especially painful for those of us who now face the unenviable task of preventing charlatans posing as historians from portraying that shameful episode as the embodiment of the Trump presidency.
Nonetheless, though the attackers deserve no sympathy, there are some important considerations to keep in mind.
First, while the breach was indeed criminal, it was by no means a successful “coup,” which is a violent overthrowing of government. Last I checked, since our nation’s founding in 1776, our government was never overthrown, not least of all on Jan. 6.
To purport that our country was ever in any actual danger of succumbing to a coup is the epitome of disingenuousness and absurdity.
Of course, one may call it an attempted coup, but unless there was a reasonable likelihood of success, it’s no different than any other violent uprising against law and order, such as we saw throughout several American cities last summer.
Second, although Trump arguably wanted throngs of his supporters to “peacefully and patriotically protest” the election results, to hold him responsible for “inciting a riot” by insisting that questioning an election’s integrity constitutes fighting words beyond First Amendment protection surely would have been deemed laughable by Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote the Supreme Court opinion in Terminiello v. Chicago (1949), limiting such prohibited speech to that which is likely to present a “clear and present danger.”
Never would Douglas have fathomed the temerity of applying that standard to the phrase “the election was stolen.”
Just because the Jan. 6 debacle is a stain on our glorious history doesn’t mean Trump or other Republicans should be held responsible.
However, just because it may be bad PR for the GOP as it prepares for 2022 and 2024 doesn’t mean we should sweep it under the rug and pretend it was just a bit of fraternity house mischief.
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