I watched more C-SPAN into the wee hours Thursday than I’d watched ever before. My main purpose was to be “there” when Congress certified the election of Joe Biden, but along the way I was fascinated by the rhetoric.
The senators and representatives often quoted from Abraham Lincoln. I, for one, can never get enough Lincoln, but I was infuriated when Republicans trying to subvert the election twisted sacred words for their dark purposes. I didn’t hear anyone repeat, however, the words of Lincoln that came to my mind when watching the vandalism of the Capitol. Those words are these, from the Second Inaugural Address:
“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Lincoln was reminding the nation that the Civil War was the price they, both North and South, were paying for centuries of slavery.
The storming of the Capitol, the breaching of the portals of liberty, democracy, and law, was the price we all paid for a society and a culture and a politics that allowed, and that perhaps made inevitable, a criminal charlatan, a wannabe dictator, to become president. I have my views as to how our society, culture and politics became what they are, and who is to blame and in what degree, but that’s beside the point. As Lincoln also said in the Second Inaugural, “let us judge not that we be not judged.”
The issue is what to do. I see two necessary courses of action, one of which I’ll write about now, one I’ll write about in my next blog in a day or two.
The first necessary step is prosecuting the perpe-traitors, all of them who can be identified, to, and let’s mean it for once, the full extent of the law. That won’t be enough, however. We must continue to use the law to suppress political violence, which in this country has nearly always come from the Right. I am hopeful this will happen.
On Thursday, the day after the attack on our government, President-Elect Biden introduced Merrick Garland to be the next Attorney General. In his remarks, Biden reminded us of a historical fact that he and Garland had just been discussing, namely that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was only established in 1870, specifically because the federal government now needed prosecutors to protect the federal rights enshrined in the three post-Civil War constitutional amendments. This effort tragically ceased with the Compromise of 1877 and Supreme Court decisions that handed the fruits of the North’s victory in the war over to the South.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is not as well remembered as the stronger legislation of the ’60s, but it did create the Civil Rights Division in the DOJ. This was a return to the DOJ’s original purpose, and federal prosecutions were crucial in marginalizing and to great extent crushing the KKK and similar white terror groups, as well as protecting voting and civil rights. This effort faltered in recent years with more conservative Republican administrations and with their Federalist Society judges coming to dominate the courts. (The Supreme Court’s decision to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act was particularly damaging.) This path, of course, reached the nadir with Trump, who has positively encouraged right-wing vigilantes and militias.
While he is best known for his doomed nomination to the Supreme Court, as a federal prosecutor Merrick Garland supervised the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombers (remember, another attack on a federal building). We can be hopeful that he understands the crucial role the DOJ will play. As is often said these days, “elections have consequences.” Attacking elections must have consequences as well.
In the meantime, until Jan. 20, the FBI has vowed to track down and prosecute every criminal who invaded the Capitol on Wednesday. They need to do so, and to start at the top.
I hated the Trumpian cheer “lock her up,” and so I never liked the idea of prosecuting Trump once he was out of office. That was then, this is now. With this attack on democracy, I’ve changed my mind. When you look not only at Trump’s speech on Wednesday to the mob, but also at all the tweets he sent in December telling his followers to come to Washington on the very day that Congress would be certifying the election, the evidence indicates that he intended to incite the riot that took place for the purpose of disrupting the transfer of power.
A riot that resulted in the death of a police officer. Accessory to murder?
Prosecute the perpe-traitors.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe, and take care.