January 15, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Can Republicans continue to be trusted?
A Republican caving to terrorists is a Republican working for terrorists.
I don’t hear it said enough. The 201 Republicans in the US House of Representatives who voted against impeaching Donald Trump might have done so out of fear. Ditto for the 142 Republicans who voted to overturn the election to install a tyrant. I don’t mean they feared being primaried. That would be understandable. I mean they feared for their lives. I mean they were afraid Republican voters would find them and kill them.
If this is true, and the material evidence is mounting, then we must come to a grim conclusion. Domestic terrorists who sacked the US Capitol last week, intending to “capture and assassinate” lawmakers, according to federal prosecutors, have strong incentive to keep terrorizing elected Republicans, because in terrorizing them, they get elected Republicans to do whatever they want them to do—even commit treason. If this is true, then the question of whether some Republicans were involved in planning, organizing and executing the magattack, as seems the case, might be of secondary concern. Of primary concern may be the Republicans caving to terrorist demands.
The old presumption is you can trust them not to kill you. They’re members of Congress! But given how the Republicans do as they’re told, that presumption may be outdated.
Consider the impact on a republican democracy when the prime directive of one of the two major parties is fear—when fear overcomes even the bonds of family. Mike Pence was singled out for assassination. Insurgents raised a gallows. As they breached the building, they chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” About a minute after the vice president was hustled out of the Senate, “the pro-Trump mob arrived at the top of a nearby landing,” per the Post. “The proximity of the Jan. 6 attackers to the vice president underscores the jeopardy that top government leaders faced during the siege.”
The guerrillas singled out Pence, because Trump did. Yet Rep. Greg Pence of Indiana, the vice president’s own brother, refused to hold Trump accountable. “The president has made it clear he will support a peaceful transfer of power to President-Elect Joe Biden,” Greg Pence said on Twitter. “It’s time to move on and focus on what truly helps the American people: recovering from COVID-19 and restoring our economy.” On the one hand, you could accuse Pence and the Republicans of being hypocritically more concerned about political division than political assassination. (He was among the 142 Republicans who voted to object to Joe Biden’s victory.) On the other hand, however, you could say the Republicans are only concerned about assassination—and by accusing the Democrats of disunity, they’re merely covering up fear of their own.
That 60 percent of the Republicans thought treason was easier than telling the truth—Trump lost—is the proper context for discussing a new question coming to the fore. Can the Democrats trust their GOP colleagues not to kill them? Some, especially the party’s women of color, expressed doubts about three Republicans who carry guns openly or believe openly in the lie that the Democrats are comprised of pedophiles in league with the “Deep State.” The old presumption is that, of course, you can trust them not to kill you. They’re members of the United States Congress, for God’s sake! But that presumption, given how the Republicans do as they’re told, seems outdated.
Greg Pence and other Republicans say they stand against all political violence before putting special emphasis on the looting and rioting associated with last summer’s Black Lives Matters demonstrations in protest of George Floyd’s murder. While some are correct in saying that they are blurring moral distinctions, few have pointed out something important: that the Democrats never give in to the demands of those who act violently if only because the appearance of caving would inflame the Republicans, who are never accused of caving. It’s probably time for the Democrats to change that.
It’s true that many Americans have lost faith in democracy, because the elites of this country betrayed them and their values (the rewards of hard work, equal justice, equal opportunity, etc.). But it’s also true that many Americans have lost faith in democracy because democracy gave freedom and power to people whom these Americans believe are unworthy of freedom and power. Many “real Americans” looked at the election of Barack Obama and thought the end had come, or was coming, and put everything they had into a candidate promising to punish so-called Americans who had it coming.
Months before last week’s mutiny, it was clear that Donald Trump was the head of a loose network of vigilantes inside and outside law enforcement, I wrote last summer, that is prepared to use violence when democratic politics fails to yield the right result. This, I said, is an expression of confederate (i.e., fascist) elements in this country that are always already at work and prepared to burn down the status quo if it gets in the way. The status quo called for accepting the results of a free, fair and lawful election. But the status quo was unacceptable. The status quo was now the enemy. The result has been terrorized Republicans trying to overturn the election out of fear for their lives before refusing to punish a president who is poised to lead a paramilitary insurgency.
The onus, therefore, shouldn’t be on the Democrats to show why they can’t trust their colleagues. It’s on the Republicans to show why they can continue to be trusted.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.