This is the year that will test American democracy in ways unseen since the Civil War.
On the first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, the man who ignited it remains intent on fanning the still smoldering flames and dismissing the sacking of the US Capitol as a peaceful “unarmed protest” by patriots protesting a “rigged election.”
Five people died while he sat back and watched the violence on television in the White House. He ignored frantic messages from his own children and leaders of his political party urging him to stop the violence. Not interested. He wanted the carnage to continue because he expected it to keep him in power.
His goal was to prevent the peaceful transfer of power that is a cornerstone of our democracy.
More than 700 of president Donald Trump’s January 6 storm troopers have been arrested, many have plead guilty and over 30 have gone to prison for their crimes on his behalf. But Trump and his chief instigators have yet to be held accountable for their coup attempt.
The intensely litigious former president believes he is above the law and with enough money, enough attorneys and enough judges he nominated, he can run out the clock until new GOP congress or GOP president can quash it all.
Trump and his followers see the insurrection and their lies about a rigged election as a launch pad for a nationwide assault of voting rights that President Joe Biden has called the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.”
For the disgraced Trump it is a personality flaw, an inability to admit failure or accept defeat. He aspires to be an autocrat like leaders he admire in Russia, Hungary, North Korea, China, Turkey and the Philippines, and democratic institutions are impediments to his voracious ambitions
But for his party it is something larger. Like the Civil War that gave birth to the Republican Party, it is about race. But this time the tables have been turned. Lincoln’s party went to war to preserve the Union and end slavery. Today its descendants are traveling a lower road.
The parties have shifted, but race is at the heart of today’s assault of democracy just as it was in 1861. In the days before the civil rights and voting rights laws of the 1960s, racial discrimination – then championed by southern Democrats who have since migrated to the GOP – was considered essential to retaining power.
The Census Bureau predicts that by 2045 the United States will become “minority white.” Today’s Republicans have become the white people’s party with token minority presence. To maintain its hold on power, it is rewriting voting laws across the country not out of any concern for election integrity but out of abject fear that blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, immigrants and others are coming to take over their good white Christian country.
That is also why Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are doing all in their power to prevent enactment of election reform legislation backed by the Biden administration and passed by the Democrat-controlled House.
Their tool of obstruction is the filibuster, the favorite device used so long and so effectively by the segregationists to block civil rights legislation. It is a rule that requires 60 votes just to proceed to debate, and Republicans have two Democratic allies, Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who apparently feel protecting the filibuster is more important than protecting the right to vote.
When he was majority leader, McConnell had no qualms about changing filibuster rules to accommodate Trump. But now, while he is leading the minority, his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, wants to carve out an exception to the filibuster rule. And the irate Kentucky senator, doing a dizzying 180, is accusing the opposition of a “rash, partisan power grab.”
Schumer served notice this week that he wants to bring up voting reform legislation no later than the Martin Luther King holiday on January 17. It is unclear whether Manchin and Sinema will vote with their party or the Republicans.
Biden has said “white supremacists” are the “most lethal terrorist threat” facing the nation. Trump rejects that, seeking to focus anger and resentment toward the Left, notably Black Lives Matter, because white nationalists are a core constituency of the GOP and his MAGA movement.
Schumer said Trump’s followers at the state level have used his big lie about non-existent voter fraud to “enact anti-democratic legislation and seize control of typically non-partisan election administration functions.”
The real voter fraud is the work of Republican governors and legislatures across the country erecting barriers with the aim of dictating election results, throwing out votes they don’t like, diluting minority representation and preventing the peaceful transfer of power. As recently as 2006 Senate Republicans voted unanimously to extend the Voting Rights Act that today they are trying to shred. Today it is just the opposite.
The violent insurrection sparked by the twice-impeached former president continues to poison the nation with division, lies and threats. Trump has planned a press conference and speeches for this week marking the anniversary of January 6 to amplify his big lie and spread his poison.
The choice facing today’s Republican Party is loyalty to the Constitution and American democracy or to a corrupt would-be dictator with a documented record as a pathological liar with an unquenchable thirst for power.
By January 17, we may have a clearer view of our nation’s future. Historian Michael Beschloss said this week, “If we lose our democracy this year we are unlikely to get it back during our lifetimes.”
When our nascent democracy was forming in December 1776, Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” They still are.