The Senate sends an SOS
On Feb. 13, the United States Senate telegraphed an SOS that warned of clear and present danger.
Asked to convict a former Republican president of fomenting violent insurrection against the government after he lost an election, most Republican senators refused. Instead, they clung to him like barnacles on a sinking ship.
Don’t shrug off the fuss over a lost election as the Republicans’ problem. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who might be forgiven for dancing on the grave of political opponents, instead rightly cautioned: “We need a strong Republican Party.”
The Republican Party’s problem is everyone’s problem. Why?
Because the majority of today’s Congressional Republicans have proven that to remain in office, they will overlook incitement to insurrection by an unrepentant ex-president who owes his political power to people who not only embrace nutty conspiracy theories but are so far gone that some of them will attack the government on his behalf.
Such abject kowtowing by lawmakers in pursuit of power risks putting it into the hands of delusional, violence-prone citizens who do not, shall we say, see reality through the same lens as the majority of Americans.
Even in the wake of murder and mayhem at the Capitol, the ex-president’s “base” is a driving force in the Republican Party. Alarmingly, most Republican office holders believe they cannot stay in power without this base.
But who are these prized voters? Were they simply misled? Are they delusional, undemocratic extremists? Are they the kind of “conservatives” for whom Republican Party leaders should be sacrificing themselves, their party and nation?
“If Republicans do not disown him, he will continue to own them,” Republican commentator Peter Wehrner wisely warned, alluding to the former president. “Republicans must challenge those who want to make the Republican Party the nesting place of lunacy.”
Republicans know they’re on the wrong side of demographic history. That’s why they seek to limit voter participation rather than expand it. It’s why they let a president they admit is guilty of insurrection escape unpunished, free to foment further constitutional crisis. They’d rather appeal to his voters than find new ones.
In a riveting display, Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell showcased the dilemma Republicans have created for themselves. In a jaw-dropping performance, he turned himself into a human corkscrew. The president was indeed guilty of instigating the deadly mob attack on the Capitol, McConnell declared — moments after he voted not to convict him for doing it.
McConnell’s hands were tied, don’t you see? It was too late. The ex-president had exited office, McConnell argued, and so constitutionally he was beyond the Senate’s reach.
Still, the former commander-in-chief certainly deserved a good tongue-lashing, which McConnell glumly administered. This dressing-down was necessary because corporate donations to Republicans dried up after the Republican president’s murderous mob trashed the Capitol.
But why had it become too late for these long-compliant Republicans to finally salvage themselves by voting to convict?
Because McConnell himself deliberately ran out the clock. He shut down the Senate, ensuring — surprise! — that it couldn’t accept delivery of the House of Representatives’ impeachment bill, enacted while the president was in office, until he was safely out of office.
Too thin an ice floe, even for Mitch McConnell.
Don’t give up on Republicans. Seven senators met the moment, as did 10 House members. But as a party, Republicans failed to show American voters what they long to see in their elected representatives — a moral compass and spine.
McConnell sits gingerly astride his party’s awkward political divide. Today’s Republican Party chiefly exists to protect the interests of corporations and the wealthy, not workers and consumers.
But to win elections, Republicans must persuade voters of modest means to accept policies that strip them of protections in the labor and consumer marketplace and to sanction business practices that harm ordinary citizens.
Marketing itself with appeals to Christian piety and patriotism swells Republican Party voter rolls. But it remains suicidally preoccupied with enhancing private profit for the few at the expense of the many.
McConnell gave the rioting mobsters a pass because his party wants them. They were lied to by the former president, McConnell explained. They believed they were doing something patriotic: preventing election theft.
If so, we must ask: What is it about living in the United States of America that makes so many of its citizens require, and find such comfort in, utterly delusional conspiracy theories?
Conspiracy theories explain the inexplicable. They provide answers when frightened people face loss, social scientists say. People believe conspiracy theories because they need to believe them.
The former president recognized an opportunity. He propelled himself to power by harping on loss to the aggrieved. He told them that they’d been robbed and only he could fix it.
That someone had taken something from them wasn’t news to this crowd. Of 125 Capitol rioters facing charges, 60% had experienced financial troubles in the last two decades, the Washington Post reported, even though many were white collar professionals. Their bankruptcy rate was twice that of the national average; 20% had faced losing their homes; 25% had been sued by a creditor; 40% reportedly were business owners, 9% were unemployed.
So, say again? How did citizens of a nation that advertises itself as offering equal opportunity for everyone come to feel such a desperate sense of loss?
Solveig Torvik lives near Winthrop.