Much is still unknown about what the House select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection will roll out Thursday night in the first of a series of summer hearings. Apparently the “no spoilers” culture that dominates Hollywood has made the leap to Capitol Hill. But the basic conclusion of the committee’s findings is coming into focus: What happened in that first week of 2021 was the product of a widespread criminal conspiracy that appears to have tendrils throughout the Republican Party and among thousands of Trump supporters.
“We’ll demonstrate the multipronged effort to overturn a presidential election, how one strategy to subvert the election led to another, culminating in a violent attack on our democracy,” Rep. Adam Schiff of California, one of the Democrats on the committee, told the New York Times.
While the new evidence introduced in these hearings — or its compressed and dramatic presentation — will hopefully serve as a shock to the national system, reminding the public of the dangers of Donald Trump’s anti-democratic machinations, none of this will exactly be surprising. Trump has never taken great pains to hide his criminal intentions. He seems annoyed that his lawyers won’t let him brag more loudly about what he did, and what he continues to do in his ongoing effort to undermine democracy. Nor is it surprising to find out that the twice-impeached ex-president had a lot of help, and not just from shady characters like Rudy Giuliani and the Proud Boys. Nearly all elected Republicans swung into action in the days after the insurrection in order to prevent Trump from facing any legal accountability for inciting the riot, first by voting against impeachment and then by trying to obstruct the formation of the Jan. 6 committee.
The committee has already produced evidence of the more traditional kind of conspiracy, and likely will produce more. That involves a lot of secret plotting by Trump and his allies to illegally overturn Joe Biden’s presidential win. But perhaps even more chilling is the much more widespread effort of the GOP to shield Trump from consequences and pave the way for him to steal the 2024 election. It turns out that most Republicans didn’t even need to be explicitly recruited to the insurrectionist plot. Not only are they fine with criminal and fascist conspiracies, they instinctively swing into action to do whatever they can to help, without even being asked.
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Yet somehow Republicans still benefit from a media environment that paints them as the “law and order” party. In response to a couple of anomalous election results in California this week, we’ve seen the mainstream media running like terrified sheep toward the right-wing narrative that pits Republicans, supposedly the “law and order” party, against Democrats, who supposedly want to “defund the police” and allow violent criminals to walk free. Every bit of this is a lie, of course. For one thing, Democratic-run cities actually tend to spend more on policing than do Republican-run cities. For another, murder rates are higher in red states than blue states. Oh yeah, and in response to mass shootings, it’s Democrats who push to make it harder for killers to arm themselves, while Republicans fight to make sure that gun sales remain completely unrestricted.
But this narrative gets even dumber in the shadow of Jan. 6, when thousands of Republicans, at the behest of the party’s figurehead, stormed the seat of our federal government in a violent assault aimed at overturning an election. Thursday night, the nation will be exposed to another round of photos and videos of the Republican mob beating up cops, storming the halls of Congress and demanding the blood of elected representatives who wouldn’t submit to the election-stealing scheme.
If those folks were genuinely outliers in an otherwise non-seditious conservative party, that would be one thing. But nearly all Republican leaders and the entire right-wing media apparatus have collaborated to try to prevent an accounting of what happened, much less any effort to stop it from happening again. They aren’t even ashamed of their efforts to aid and abet this ongoing conspiracy against democracy. They brag to reporters about how they intend to run “counterprogramming” to the committee hearings, in an attempt to muddy the waters. Most Republican voters are fully on board, viewing the Jan. 6 rioters not as criminal insurrectionists but as “patriots.” From the very top of GOP leadership to the everyday Republican Joe, these people are not about “law and order.” Instead, they believe almost any level of crime is justified to get what they want.
Even after a full-on violent insurrection, Republicans somehow benefit from the idiotic media narrative that they’re the “law and order” party
This attitude isn’t limited to the insurrection, of course. Trump is a loud-and-proud sexual predator and a shameless fraud. His “crime is good when I do it” attitude only makes his followers love him more. The criminality and corruption is chronic in the GOP. Just this week we’ve had reports that Rep. Lauren Boebert is under investigation for potential fraud, more evidence of Trump’s corruption and graft in the White House, and multiple reports about Michigan Republicans attempting to hack voting machines. Indeed, one of the biggest obstacles to holding Republicans accountable for criminal and corrupt activity is that their awful behavior is so relentless that it starts to feel inevitable, like the weather. That’s how Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is getting away with taking what looks very much like taking a $2 billion bribe from Saudi royals to help cover up a murder. The response to that outrage has largely been a “What do you expect?” shrug. Asking Republicans to avoid corrupt conspiracies feels like asking them not to breathe.
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On Tuesday, a biomedical researcher and self-identified “former Republican who is now a consistent Democratic voter” named Ethan Gray posted a perceptive Twitter thread that went viral. As he argued, Republicans aren’t hypocrites on the issue of “freedom.” “When Republicans talk about valuing ‘freedom’, they’re speaking of it in the sense that only people like them should ultimately possess it,” Gray wrote. All other people — people of color, women, LGBTQ people — are viewed as subjects who exist to be controlled by the privileged class. That’s how, as he pointed out, the same people who claim the “freedom” to reject basic pandemic mitigation measures also think it’s acceptable to force childbirth on others. The organizing belief of Republicanism, as Gray explained, is that they “can tell people what to do” but “can’t be told what to do.”
It’s a variation of a 2018 comment by Frank Wilhoit at the blog Crooked Timber, which also went viral: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”
This attitude is most clearly visible when it comes to crime and corruption. For Republicans, “crime” is only something that other people do. When they do it, it’s legal. They become completely unhinged at a relatively small amount of vandalism committed by Black Lives Matter protesters. But an overt and violent attempt to overthrow democracy, to them, is a valid and even honorable action. A few accidental and irrelevant violations of email protocols by Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was a five-alarm scandal. But for Republicans, “executive privilege” became a blank check allowing Trump to commit any crime he desired.
None of this is really new. Like Trump, Richard Nixon was elected on a “law and order” message amid the chaotic political violence of 1968. He was forced to resign in disgrace six years later, after the criminal operation he was running out of the White House was exposed during the Watergate hearings. Yet the media, then and now and for all the years in between, has continued to let Republicans brand themselves as a straitlaced anti-crime party. This presumption that “crime” is only crime when other people do it — mostly meaning people of color, but also leftists and liberals — led directly to Trump’s election. The Jan. 6 committee hearings offer the media a great chance to right the ship and start portraying Republicans as the criminal gang they actually are. Failing to get this right, however, could allow that criminal gang to recapture the White House in 2024.