I’m not breaking news when I say that at any given time, half the country doesn’t want to talk about important things we have to deal with. These days, for example, Democrats don’t want to talk about the effects of their myopic fiscal policy on inflation. They don’t want to talk about progressive policies leading to rising crime and homelessness. They don’t want to talk about their culpability in the threatened lives of Supreme Court justices. These things should be talked about, and voters should hold respective Democrats accountable.
Republicans, meanwhile, seem to think those are the only things we should talk about. Most notably, as we saw last week, they criticize the January 6 committee and its prime time event last Thursday, mostly saying that either the committee is illegitimate or that Democrats are focusing on the wrong problems facing our country. Fox News, during Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity’s two hours, was the only major news channel that didn’t air the committee’s evidence. Carlson argued that Fox News wouldn’t show it because it was all a lie. So fearful was he that people would accidentally hear the lies of the damning January 6 committee summary, his show didn’t even air commercials for his hour, a viewer-holding strategy almost without precedent. They so badly didn’t want to risk their viewers giving Congress three minutes of their time that they ignored the people who pay the network’s bills.
So while Democrats try to explain away the important day-to-day problems facing America, Republicans are seemingly ignoring something more existential to the country. Inflation rises and falls. So do gas prices and crime. Perhaps a Republican with ideas to fix these problems should be elected. However, I will not allow Democrats’ arguably bad policy to overshadow the most important political development of my lifetime — a President who acted the role of tyrant.
I like to think I generally use measured language on this website, so I hope you know I chose that last word carefully. I’ll circle back to it by the end of this piece.
In the meantime, I’d like to focus on the fact that “January 6” has become a misleading term, one that can be more easily handwaved than the longer history it represents. Those who either defend January 6, or at least minimize its importance, might call it a lamentable moment, maybe even a tragic one, but they also often argue that it was isolated. Alongside the violent offenders, which many conservatives concede should be prosecuted, they highlight the majority of peaceful protestors. (This framing is a tremendous inversion from the prior summer’s racially charged riots, when it was Democrats who dodged charges of violence with “mostly peaceful” rhetoric.) They also seem to think an invisible barrier exists between Trump and the events of the day, as if he wasn’t even partially responsible for the event, to say nothing of primarily responsible — which he absolutely was.
Because here’s the thing: what we call “January 6” was about so much more than January 6. Trump’s desperate attempt to keep his office — when many of his closest advisors, TV hosts, and family members told him the election was not stolen — was planned for months, first with rhetoric and then with specific plans. Our strong institutions and the backbones of key bulwarks against the President’s lies stood in his way, but that doesn’t absolve his attempt to overturn the results of the election — and his ongoing efforts to elect Republicans who agree with him, just in case they’re needed in 2024.
I’d rather not spend too many words re-living the history, so here’s a brief 10-point version of Trump’s strategy to overturn the results of the election — a strategy that began well before a single black day in American history.
- For months before the election, he lay the groundwork that the only way he could lose was if the election were rigged. We know what his supporters think of him, so Trump’s conspiratorial rhetoric was voraciously gobbled by the kinds of people who ended up attending the January 6 rally. Even on the night of the election, his supporters descended onto polling places, some chanting “Stop The Count!” and some “Count The Vote!” depending on whether Trump was leading or trailing in that state.
- On the night of the election, before all the votes were counted, he declared himself the winner. Confusion, as we see, is a key tactic of his overall strategy.
- His ensuing 70 or so lawsuits were generally frivolous, but kept sucking his donors’ cash anyway. In the coming weeks, the courts listened but ultimately dismissed his lawyers’ flimsy evidence. The right-leaning Supreme Court — a third of which was appointed by Trump — refused to hear a case associated with the election.
- Trump therefore knew he’d have to rely on the states to overturn their results, which meant getting the people in those states to pressure their legislatures. It was fine that the President took his case to the courts, but as those lawsuits failed, things turned dangerous. With neither the facts nor the judiciary on his side, he turned to inciting his base. It was wrong to do, it was bad for the country, and it provides deep insight into his character and priorities. Weeks of accusations of foreign influence, bad voting machines, and more each failed in the courts, but in the court of public opinion, where his supporters were well-primed for an explanation of how he could possibly lose, they gained traction. Protestors descended on the homes of election officials in Michigan and Georgia. Yet, so baseless were these claims that some of Trump’s campaign officials later revealed they knew they were false. Most prominently, Trump advocate Sidney Powell, facing a countersuit from the voting machine manufacturer Dominion, had her lawyers base an argument around “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements [by Powell about the 2020 election] were truly statements of fact.” Still, because Trump’s supporters believe him over the facts, his narrative took hold. Earlier this year, an Ipsos/NPR poll on the anniversary of January 6 found that two-thirds of Republicans still believe “voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.” Earlier this month, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that a majority of Republicans think the Capitol riot was led by left-wing protestors.
- Meanwhile, Trump directed his Attorney General, the loyal Bill Barr, to get federal investors on the case. A month later, Barr admitted there wasn’t fraud nearly on the scale Trump was talking about. Reports said that Trump dressed down Barr, who soon resigned. Barr, therefore, wasn’t around in one of Trump’s most ignominious moments (for which there is considerable competition):
- The January 2 phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, saying he just wanted to “find 11,780 votes” to make up the margin in the state, because “there’s nothing wrong with saying . . . that you’ve recalculated.” This is mobster stuff, and it’s on tape.
- We now know that Trump was trying to muddy the waters enough so that states, Congress, or Vice President Pence would pause electoral certification. A 22-page document from Rudy Giuliani’s legal team reveals their “Strategic Communications Plan,” which gave an overview of their plan for the ten days leading up to January 6. Stage One: tell the public the election was fraudulent, still using the claims that courts determined had no basis in reality. Stage Two: get the public to pressure swing-state legislators and House Republicans to “disregard the fraudulent vote” and instead “certify” President Trump.
- To achieve Stage One, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign continued to gin up his base ahead of January 6. Trump, ever the team player if the team is supplicating itself to him, was clearly trying to do his part. He instructed AG Barr’s successor, acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen, “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.” Rosen refused.
- Waters muddied, Trump hoped states, particularly those controlled by Republicans, could send alternative electors from the requisite handful of close and meaningful states to the Electoral College. We know this part from the infamous Eastman Memo, written by John C. Eastman on behalf of the president, which described a multi-step “January 6 scenario”(!), the lynchpin of which was Vice President Pence. Eastman and Trump thought that the Vice President, as the Constitutional leader of the Senate, could and should refuse to certify the election in that chamber. Instead, Pence could argue that “because of the ongoing disputes . . . there are no electors that can be deemed validly appointed” from the states in question.
- Trump’s pressure campaign on Pence was intense, culminating in asking him to show “extreme courage.” In Trump’s January 6 speech, one in which the President said “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” Pence was invoked several times, before Trump directed the rally to the Capitol building, where they fought like hell. Trump tweeted about his Vice President even as the riot took place (“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution”), a tweet that was relayed to the increasingly rabid crowd through at least one bullhorn. They broke into the building and stormed into the Congressional offices and onto the chamber floors, all while our elected officials ran for their lives and gallows loomed outside the building.
In sum, this was a lot more than just “January 6.”
There’s an important Supreme Court case from 1969 called Brandenburg v. Ohio. It updated freedom of speech restrictions to speech “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” For the reasons I listed above, it is my opinion that Trump’s purposeful, methodical conduct rose to the level of “inciting” January 6’s “lawless actions,” and he should be prosecuted for it.
Short of legal consequences for Trump, there should at least be political consequences. As of now, there haven’t been. Not only was his second impeachment met with the Senate’s second acquittal, but according to both the polling and the oddsmakers, he’s the favorite to be the next Republican nominee and President of the United States.
Republicans are generally hopeful that this comeback will occur, and they have some good reasons why. These reasons were listed at the top of today’s post. The Democrats preside over the highest inflation and gas prices in 40-plus years. Crime is on the rise. Republicans argue January 6 pales in comparison to these real problems.
I disagree. These issues are indeed problematic and need smarter solutions than those attempted, but the foundational principles of America are paramount — a view I thought was held by the modern American conservative.
Arguments of tyrants past have been that only through their stability can order be maintained and prosperity had. These arguments go back to ancient Greece and at countless moments since. They were indeed made by myriad monarchs of the European continent, including the British island from which we proudly broke free in 1776.
We’re better than that. Addressing January 6 is about so much more than one day. It’s about a President of the United States who tried to subvert a free and fair election. All of us should reject this man. Republicans should nominate DeSantis or Pence or Haley or whoever else. The nominee should take Democrats to task for the last two years and the next two, and I wish we could simply debate the merits of Republican versus Democratic ideas to solve our country’s problems. But if someone from one of these parties wants to tear down our elections because he lost, that’s a tyrant-in-training. I don’t want him anywhere near the levers of power again, and neither should the people who tell us January 6 is just about one day.
January 6 was a big deal, and so was everything that set it up. It deserves Congress’s attention, and it deserves yours.