The Capitol Investigation - Bold Action is American Democracy’s Last Hope
BY ZAC HILLS
Protecting the Capitol: Security perimeter at the Capitol extends to 2nd Street on the east side, after the 1/6 insurrection and in preparation for security for the Inauguration.
Since July, a House select committee has been investigating the Capitol insurrection and the preceding events. Despite strong discoveries, the committee has hit a roadblock. Reports suggest some members are cautious of being too tough on the conspirators for fear of Republican backlash after this year’s midterms. These fears seem to enable senior Republicans like House minority leader Kevin McCarthy to avoid questioning.
This overcautiousness is emblematic of the Democrats’ overarching problem. Biden lost a year of his presidency to failed bipartisan negotiations, which stalled most legislative progress and produced a significant but watered-down infrastructure bill, only to recently come out against the noxious filibuster. His party is routinely harassed by the right for wanting to defund the police, despite him calling for “more investment, not less” into law enforcement after BLM protests, and being too soft on immigration. This is despite his vice president Kamala Harris telling Guatemalan migrants to “not come” and threatening to turn them away at the border. No matter what, Democrats seemingly always concede to Republican narratives and gain nothing from it.
This one-sided bipartisanship is salient to the Capitol investigations. In an anniversary statement last month, Speaker Pelosi reiterated President George W. Bush’s words on 9/11: “these terrorists may shake the foundation of our buildings, but they will not shake the foundations of our democracy”. In her speech, she seemingly mistakes the symptom for the disease.
The attackers are not like Al-Qaeda. They are not an unrepresented coterie of outsiders seeking to dismantle America, rather they are a powerful social class that America was founded upon. Studies show the baying horde included shop owners, doctors, lawyers and a real-estate broker who flew to the city aboard a private jet. They are older-than-usual dissidents and few are unemployed; they belong to the white suburbanite bourgeoisie, those who have traditionally benefited from American institutions but saw Biden’s victory as evidence of the system no longer working for them.
Luckily, this white bourgeois backlash was uncoordinated. The committee found evidence of division among the Trump camp amidst the plotting, including Trump’s media cheerleader Sean Hannity expressing how he was “very worried” in private texts the night before the attack. Disorder between conspirators meant machinations were unfruitful – but this is not guaranteed for 2024.
Worryingly, 147 national Republican lawmakers in the preceding weeks promoted Trump’s ‘big lie’ and obfuscated Biden’s clear victory. Without them, enough doubt would not have been generated to allow 6th January to happen. Hence, they must be prioritised by the Democrats as the chief foes of democracy over the vandalising mob.
Republican politicians are, intentionally or otherwise, the besuited and supposedly more respectable manifestations of the chest-beating rioters in horned fur headdresses. Their direct political authority needs to be challenged quickly. Democrats must no longer interpret the committee’s investigatory power as a means of restoring bipartisan order, which Biden has consistently echoed with his “America needs the Republican Party” argument, but as an advantageous propaganda machine. All information uncovered must be intended for use as campaign fodder in the upcoming midterms, which Democrats can – with enough message discipline – turn into a referendum on public trust in the Republican Party.
To do this, Democrats must ask awkward questions of Republican leadership. Why did the likes of Senator Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham criticise the insurrectionists but now defend their cause? Do conservative lawmakers still doubt the election outcome and, most importantly, will they support a Trump candidacy in 2024? Polling shows the public blame Trump for encouraging the mob and believe the attack presented a serious threat to liberal democracy. By subpoenaing and questioning senior conspirators including Trump and then waging a merciless media offensive, Democrats can force Republican leaders to choose between courting the pro-democracy majority of voters or appeasing their radicalised natural base of support. Whichever group they choose will spark an internecine factional war, which the Democrats can only gain from.
However, this cannot solve America’s deep institutional rot. Government structures and processes, founded upon the antediluvian Constitution, enabled undemocratic agents to thrive with impunity. Since the Three-Fifths Compromise in 1787, through which slave states were given additional electoral representation, America has existed to serve the interests of a particular social elite — the kind who stormed the Capitol. To preserve democracy is to undo their power, which Biden should encompass into constitutional overhaul.
By outlawing gerrymandering, abolishing the Electoral College and the filibuster, reforming campaign finance legislation and introducing judicial term limits or age restrictions, among a plethora of other progressive proposals, the minority of reactionaries and their influence can be restrained. Felony disenfranchisement means millions, including over 6.2% of the Black voting-age population, cannot democratically participate. Reorganising the criminal justice system will also enrich democracy.
Admittedly Biden’s strength is undermined by Republican state legislatures, conservative-packed courts and the complexities of Congress – but his office provides a bully pulpit by which he can agitate for change and utilise national fears over America’s future to assemble a transformative electoral coalition. Moderates are pessimistic and insist boldness will propel Republicans back into office. That may be so, but if they return to power with things unchanged, they will deal the final blow to America’s wounded body politic. The time to be radical is now.
Image source - Flickr (Victoria Pickering)