Scared of the Truth — and Democracy

[H]ere we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it. — Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

No one ever accused House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his botched handling of the run up to the vote Wednesday in the House to create an independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack on Capitol Hill rose (plummeted?) to a new level of stupidity. McCarthy committed political malpractice by revealing that today’s Republicans have absolutely no interest in pursuing truth for fear of “wherever it may lead.” Nor, as the California Republican made crystal clear, do Republicans care one whit about preserving democracy.

McCarthy, no doubt, thought he was being clever when he made demands of the Democrats that he evidently expected them to turn down. But, as former president Donald Trump can attest, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a seasoned and cagey politician, and her team is equally adept. When Democrats agreed to McCarthy’s demands, his subsequent objections to the commission revealed that his only goal was to cover for Trump — whose role in fomenting the insurrection is obvious — and himself. The last thing, after all, that McCarthy wants is to be hauled up before the commission to testify about what he saw on January 6 and what he said to Trump on the day of the insurrection.

Mr. Minority Leader, be careful what you ask for. Also, know your adversary.

Pelosi hit the nail on the head when she said after the vote, “You’ll have to ask [the Republicans] what they are afraid of. But it sounds like they are afraid of the truth, and that is most unfortunate.” An irate Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, was blunter: “We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol Police with lead pipes across the head, and we can’t get bipartisanship. What else has to happen in this country?” Apparently, when a party is in the thrall of a would-be autocrat, there is no limit to the outrages it is willing to commit and tolerate. 

The bipartisan commission probably will not happen. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has mastered the art of talking out of both sides of his mouth — has come out against it. But, Republicans may be making a huge mistake. They would have had equal representation on the commission, and both sides would have had equal subpoena power (both part of McCarthy’s demands to which Democrats agreed), giving Republicans the ability to influence the final report. Now, however, existing committees in the House and Senate — all under the control of Democrats — are free to launch their own investigations. A number of Republican legislators ought to be very frightened of what those investigations might uncover. Representatives Mo Brooks of Alabama and Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, both of Arizona, have been accused of helping to plan the attack. 

Thomas Jefferson — quoted in the headnote above — knew that a commitment to the truth was necessary in a democratic society. The author of the Declaration of Independence, no doubt, would have recognized that the modern Republican Party is committed to neither a truthful nor a free society. Evidence of this comes in the absurd machinations in the ongoing sham recount of the November presidential election returns in Maricopa County, Arizona; the numerous voter suppression laws being passed in Republican-controlled states; and the demands around the country for recounts in both presidential and down-ballot races.

Rank-and-file Republicans across the country apparently are ready to ditch this whole two-century plus experiment with democracy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of Republicans who responded said it was important to be loyal to Trump, a frightening sign of how Trump turned the party into a cult of personality (“Hail, Caesar!” “Heil Hitler!”). Two-thirds of Republicans believe Trump won the election, despite the appalling lack of evidence to support such a claim (another indication that truth no longer matters). And, scariest of all, nearly half of all Republicans said that pushing for changes in state voting rules is more important than appealing to voters with policies and ideas. In other words, half of all Republicans are fine with cheating to win; as for ideas, who cares? Winning is everything. As is power. 

Of course, none of this is surprising. Last summer, Republican party leaders let the cat out of the bag when they decided not to adopt a platform in the presidential election. Instead, the Republican National Committee released a groveling resolution pledging to “continue to enthusiastically support” Trump. The no-ideas GOP made personal loyalty to “Il Duce” the only criterion for voting Republican. 

The Republican lack of commitment to policies has been evident throughout the Trump years. Or, more accurately, the Republican Party’s only policy is fealty to Leader Trump. Republicans do not need a platform, and they certainly do not want an independent commission to reveal the leader’s complicity in a treasonous assault on the nation’s Capitol in an effort to derail the democratic process. Republicans are thinking only in the short run, believing they have a good chance to reclaim control of Congress in 2022 and perhaps the White House two years later. Republican control of key state legislatures insures redistricting following the 2020 census will benefit the GOP. Gerrymandering and voter restriction laws increase the party’s future chances of controlling all the levers of government in Washington. Why rock the boat with all this talk about truth and democracy?

Besides, what the character played by Jack Nicholson emphatically says to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men applies to Republicans, “You can’t handle the truth!” 

Posted May 21, 2021

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