The party of law and order had a confounding take on the attempted coup at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The party’s leader, Donald J. Trump, called the agents of this unlawfulness and disorder “very special” people and “patriots.” In fact, he loves them.
Republican rank and file registered disapproval of the insurrection, but showed little interest in holding to account the man on whose account the riot occurred. Without Trump there simply would have been no insurrection. Nobody put this better than the third-highest-ranking House Republican, Liz Cheney, who, breaking ranks, said:
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President …There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” Of course. And yet all but 10 of the Republican representatives in the House voted to give Trump a pass on the riot that would never have happened without him.
They relied on various rationales. Some didn’t see the point of punishing a coup attempted during the last 10 days of an administration, missing the point that often it’s just when autocrats are about to lose power that they attempt coups.
Others, true to form, blamed the Democrats merely for doing what the opposition party does, which is to oppose. Just imagine: Impeaching Trump the first time when he got caught leaning hard on an ally to produce dirt on a political opponent. Read the transcript.
But the most disingenuous rationale is the notion that holding Trump accountable would be divisive. A number of representatives said that the country needs “unity” and “healing.” They appear to be willing to accept nearly any abuse of the Constitution in order to “bring us together.”
This rings a bit hollow coming from politicians who support a man whose stock-in-trade is division. But it also misunderstands two important tenets of democracy:
First, unity and healing are wonderful aspirations, but they are not essential to democracy. No, democracy’s essential prerequisite is faith. Democracy works only if citizens believe in it.
Most important, they must have faith that their elections are legitimate. And this is Donald Trump’s greatest transgression against the nation, convincing millions, with no evidence, that the 2020 election was “rigged.”
Second, our democracy has endured for decades when it was far from unified and healed, and its continuation does not depend on unifying all of its citizens or healing all of their wounds.
In fact, the videos of the insurrection indicate that many of the citizens who attacked the Capitol are beyond unification and healing. They smashed windows and doors; they paraded Confederate flags through the rotunda; they vandalized and stole; five people died. All in the effort to overturn a legitimate election.
In short, they’ve lost their faith in democracy; they are likely beyond unity and healing.
But what about the 74 million Americans who didn’t raid the Capital, but voted for Trump? Polls indicate that a majority of them still believe that the election was stolen. Can they be unified and healed?
Of the election skeptics, discount the white supremacists, the anti-Semites, the irrational anti-government zealots and all QAnon disciples. These people are just plain wrong, and they’re unlikely to be convinced otherwise. Their guiding principles are disunity and chaos.
And the rest? Let’s face it: They’re wrong, too. They’ve lost their faith in democracy by surrendering their reason to a man who has a long history of lying to serve his own interests. They’ve accepted his rigged-election narrative despite the lack of evidence and in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Can they be healed? Can they be reunified with the rational body politic? Let’s hope so. That’s up to them. But the only thing that really matters in a democracy — the essential thing— is that they be outvoted.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.