Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In that horrific attack, a mob loyal to then-President Donald Trump threatened to do bodily harm to then-Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as to other members of Congress. Some 140 officers of the Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police were assaulted; they included Brian Sicknick, who died the next day after suffering two strokes. According to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, more than 725 defendants — including three from Lancaster County — have been arrested and charged by federal prosecutors for their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 attack. He said the Justice Department “remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”
The first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection is behind us.
Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County seem to want Americans to put the subject in a drawer for another year (preferably forever).
But we cannot.
As patriotic Americans, we cannot forget that the heart of our democracy was viciously attacked 368 days ago. As patriotic Americans, we must insist that all those responsible — the enablers of the crime, as well as the actual perpetrators — be held to account.
And, as voters, we must have higher standards for those who claim to represent us in Washington, D.C.
Thursday, Smucker and his fellow Republican U.S. House members refused even to take part in a moment of silence in the chamber that was so appallingly desecrated on Jan. 6, 2021.
Those Republicans demonstrated in their absence the kind of win-at-all-costs partisanship that inspired the siege on the Capitol. The moment of silence honored the memory of the law enforcement officers who died in the aftermath of the insurrection; Smucker and company couldn’t even muster the grace, or the spine, to show up for that.
Are we really OK with such craven disdain? Is this how we, as Lancaster County residents, would treat the law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line to protect those carrying out their constitutional duties?
Only two Republicans were present: U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
In remarks later tweeted out by his daughter, Dick Cheney said he was “deeply disappointed at the failure of many members of my party to recognize the grave nature of the January 6 attacks and the ongoing threat to our nation.”
Liz Cheney told reporters that the “future of the country is at stake, and there are moments when we all have to come together in order to defend the Constitution.”
She is vice chair of the U.S. House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. (The other Republican on that committee, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, tweeted later that he was absent only because he and his wife were expecting the imminent arrival of their first child.)
As former Lancaster County Republican official Ann S. Womble writes in today’s Perspective section, Liz Cheney has placed her political career on the line to do the “serious and important work of saving American democracy from the malign forces within her own party who are bent on destroying it.”
Isn’t this what we should expect from those we send to Washington to work in the hallowed chambers where once the likes of Thaddeus Stevens and Abraham Lincoln tenaciously and courageously fought for what was right?
Shouldn’t we insist that, at minimum, our elected member of Congress not give aid and comfort to the malign forces bent on destroying American democracy?
Question of complicity
In his statement, Smucker wrote that the “narrative being perpetrated by the media is that anyone who harbors concerns about the integrity of our elections is someone who condoned or participated in committing the atrocious acts of violence last year.”
He asserted: “The overwhelming majority of Republicans, I among them, were not complicit in violent actions taken on January 6th, despite the narrative the left and the media (peddle).”
The media are Smucker’s go-to scapegoat when his own failures are thrown into the pitiless light of public scrutiny.
There are a couple of things that we ask you to consider:
1. Being concerned about election integrity is one thing. Hyping baseless concerns to undermine faith in a particular election’s results is quite another.
As Eliza Sweren-Becker, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, told LNP | LancasterOnline last year, Republicans have created a certain “false circular logic,” in which they spread the Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election — suggesting that it was stolen from former President Donald Trump — and then point “to the concern that they created” as the reason that partisan audits and voting restrictions are needed.
We must not fall into the trap set for us by Republican leaders who were unhappy with the results of one election.
2. As to Smucker’s assertion that he was not complicit in the violence perpetrated by those seeking to halt the Electoral College vote count, we must remember this: Mere hours after insurrectionists stormed the Capitol — while there still was blood in the halls, as The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tamari noted, and broken windows in the House chamber — Smucker advanced the insurrectionists’ aim by arguing without basis in law or fact that Congress should reject Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.
Smucker may not have wielded a gun or flagpole or bear spray, but he and 146 other Republicans (including Scott Perry of York County) struck at the heart of the Constitution by seeking to overturn the legitimately cast votes of millions of Americans, including 115,847 Lancaster County residents.
This should continue to horrify us. We should be horrified, too, by attempts to whitewash the events of last January, to diminish the trauma suffered by all those harmed by the rampaging insurrectionists, to change the subject when the subject is the well-being of our democracy.
Even those who voted against President Joe Biden should admit he was right when he said Thursday that you “can’t love your country only when you win. You can’t obey the law only when it’s convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.”
In Thursday’s statement, Smucker goes on to claim that Speaker Pelosi “prevented the appointment of Republican members” to the select committee investigating Jan. 6 so she could “use this committee as a political tool.”
This is yet another lie. As caretakers of American democracy, we need to be scrupulous about the stories told in the aftermath of last January. And here’s the truth: Pelosi and most other Democrats wanted to create a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the insurrection, but Republicans including Smucker voted against that proposal; it died in the Senate.
As for the House select committee, it was Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy who rescinded his five choices for that committee after Pelosi rejected two of them — Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana — because of their blind loyalty to Trump and the Big Lie.
The truth matters. Indeed, the truth is imperative to the survival of our worryingly beleaguered democracy. We all should agree on that.
On ‘quisling politicians’
In a powerful column published in last Sunday's LNP | LancasterOnline, Millersville University emeritus professor of history Dennis B. Downey asked: “What words adequately convey the betrayal of quisling politicians who cooperated with the ‘stop the steal’ campaign, and the president who badgered his own vice president to violate his constitutional duties? What do we say of media personalities and fringe agitators who gave license and cover to the lies and deceits that continue to jeopardize popular faith in democratic institutions and the rule of law?”
Downey accurately noted that “QAnon conspirators, paramilitary Three Percenters, pro-Trump Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, as well as devotees of other extremist hate groups and nonaligned fellow travelers all joined ranks to thwart the constitutional process” on Jan. 6, 2021.
We should be alarmed that at least one such extremist was in Lancaster County before participating in the insurrection, and that there are others here who share such extremist beliefs.
We also should consider another of Downey’s points: that lawmakers including Smucker and Perry played their own roles in seeking to undermine the Constitution and so ought to be “held accountable to the electorate they have sullied.”
Will we hold them accountable?
Toxicity in the body politic
One final thing.
In an emotional farewell speech Wednesday, Lancaster County’s lone Democratic commissioner, Craig Lehman, resigned after 14 years of honorable service.
We ought to seriously consider the message he delivered.
“When I first started my public service, all politics was local, which meant folks of all political stripes were expected to work together for the betterment of the community,” Lehman said. “But today, all politics is national, and partisan extremists have drowned out other voices and turned public debate into a battle of red-meat politics to curry favor from the faithful and to deflect responsibility from their own failure.”
He continued: “Some seem to think there is no price to pay for the toxicity that currently exists throughout our nation. However, as with any poison, sooner or later, if the level rises too high, the body will get sick and may eventually die.”
The best remedy would be an honest and courageous reckoning of the harms being done to our democracy; without such a reckoning, there can be no prescription for healing. It’s up to us to insist that it occur.