It began with one attempted coup d’etat and ended with another.
With Donald Trump’s presidency, American democracy entered a dark tunnel. The hearings conducted by a committee of the House of Representatives might have provided a catharsis and an exit from the darkness but they will not.
The committee’s findings are shocking and undeniable. It would be wrong to call them a revelation, because the facts were largely known beforehand, but the committee has placed them in context and in order. But the committee is too partisan for its arguments to be accepted by a broad enough spectrum of the American public, and its protagonists and media boosters have been too resolute in ignoring the other attempted coup, the one initiated by America’s deep state against a sitting president.
For that reason the public airing of the facts regarding former US president Donald Trump’s attempted coup is unlikely to bring about national reconciliation, or a common resolve that all these events should never be repeated. America will continue to travel its dark tunnel, and it is not clear that there is light at the end of it.
A congressional committee to investigate the facts of January 6th, 2021, was necessary, but the manner in which the business has been conducted constitutes a dereliction of duty whose consequences may be no less severe than the previous two, the one the committee investigated and the one that Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives chose to ignore.
Actually, it is hard to call Trump’s behavior in office after the election of 2020 an actual coup d’etat. It is more that he wished for one than actually engaged in actions that a jury would find constituted sedition.
This is less a reflection on his lack of intent than his lack of ability. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that before the old state is overthrown the new state must first be built within it, and that is what he did, creating a private army of millions of storm troopers to back him up. Lenin and Fidel Castro were hard-boiled revolutionaries who commanded their armed troops to overthrow a regime.
Trump had no disciplined hold on the motley crew of weekend militia and demonstrators in clown suits whom he nudged on Twitter to overthrow Congress. Throughout his presidency he achieved whatever he achieved by using the administrative tools placed at his service by the American constitution and laws. Without them he was nothing more than a third-rate businessman. This is not to minimize or excuse what he did: The president of the United States intended to undermine the democratic process and did his incompetent, pathetic best to bring it about.
The coup attempt that opened Trump’s presidency was far more formidable. In an attempt to distract attention from her own crimes and misdemeanors – the unlawful use of a private email account to conduct business when she was secretary of state – Hillary Clinton and her campaign invented a tissue of lies that her opponent was a Russian agent.
It would be far too lenient to say that her minions foisted these lies upon the FBI and the CIA. What began as a failed media attempt to tilt the election in Clinton’s favor metamorphosed, in the hands of America’s security agencies, into an attempt to undermine a sitting president and entrap him.
The head of the FBI met with the president and, under the pretense of briefing him as a loyal public servant should, tried to elicit from him incriminating statements. This at a time when he had to know that the allegations against Trump which supposedly justified his actions had long been debunked by America’s own security agencies. Some of America’s leading civil servants prostituted their agencies in an attempted partisan coup.
Each of these attempted coups has been investigated, as they ought to have been. The great flaw of both investigations is that each investigation is perceived as a partisan attempt to score points against political opponents. Democrats wish to portray Republicans as evil; Republicans wish to portray Democrats as evil. Each side hopes to derive political profit by ascribing to all their political adversaries the worst motives of the worst of their adversaries.
Nowhere, it seems, is there the wisdom to understand that democracy depends, first and foremost, upon being fair to people you disagree with, and that healing requires one to do one’s best to engage them, not pillory them. It is this failure of moral imagination more than any coup attempt or investigation that is the real threat to America’s democracy, which a previous president – who called for “malice towards none, sympathy for all” – once described as “the last, best hope on earth.”
The writer is director of policy research at Kohelet Policy Forum.