Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) shot the footage on January 6 in the chamber
n 2008, Blue America endorsed first time candidate Jim Himes in a congressional campaign to reclaim the southwestern part of Connecticut from ten-term Republican Chris Shays. Jim ousted Shays 51-47, winning all three of the district’s cities, Bridgeport, Norwalk and Stamford. Today he’s concerned about the viability of democracy itself, something he he explained in the third of a series of guest posts leading up to Election Day by Congress’ heavy thinkers. Previously we’ve heard from Adam Schiff and Pramila Jayapal.
A Republican Party War Against Democracy
-by Jim Himes
The work of the January 6 Committee is all but done. The committee superbly told the story of that horrible day. But still, I am more worried for our republic now, as I watch the slow-motion extinguishment of our democracy in state legislatures, Republican congressional campaigns and the production rooms of right-wing media outlets.
As we now know, the January 6 coup hinged on the creation of enough uncertainty and chaos to stop the Congress from certifying the electoral vote count. Either Vice President Pence would simply end the process or Republican lawmakers would create enough opposition to throw the vote to the House of Representatives or to state legislatures to select new electors. Either way, Donald Trump, the clear loser of the election, would remain in power, and American democracy would be finished.
The plan didn’t fail because marauders were forced from the capitol. It failed because of the courage of a handful of largely Republican officials who refused to participate in the coup. Most notably, Mike Pence, after four years of fawning loyalty to Donald Trump, chose democracy over the orders of his boss. Equally crucially, ground-level functionaries like Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, did their jobs faithfully, even, in Raffensperger’s case, when asked directly by Trump to “find 11,780 votes”.
Here’s the problem. The Republican Party, minus a few remarkably courageous people like my colleagues Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, has learned from the failed coup, and is learning from its “mistakes.” This effort takes several forms, and it is important that we recognize each of them.
First, swing states with Republican legislatures are working to solve the Brad Raffensperger problem. In Georgia, the partisan legislature empowered the State Election Board, which it controls, to override vote counts in any jurisdiction. In other states, legislatures are seeking explicit authority to appoint presidential electors without reference to the actual vote count.
Second, Donald Trump and his enablers continue to promote the lie that the election was stolen. Roughly half the Republican candidates for House and Senate have cast doubt on the election of 2020. Polling consistently indicates that well more than half of Republicans believe that Trump is the legitimate President. The willingness of a great mass of people to believe the leader rather than the evidence is an authoritarian holy grail.
Third, the American right is now fetishizing violence. Christmas cards featuring heavily armed families, talk of “national divorce” and the constant use of the language of war diminishes the role of reason and compromise in national dialogue. It also guarantees that the violence I saw on January 6 at the Capitol will be more severe and widespread next time.
Finally, the American right continues to bludgeon our capacity for moral discernment.
Thus, a coordinated presidential attack on our democracy is equated with vandalism in Portland. Every criticism of Donald Trump’s coup is blunted in a fog of “what abouts?” All of this is about dulling our ability to discern mortal danger from the recurrent annoyances of a frothing democracy, to lull us into confused complacency.
Countering this ongoing attack on our democracy requires that we see these things for what they are and for where they lead. We must resist these efforts wherever they are made. We must demand that Republicans find the courage of the Kinzingers and Cheneys to put our democracy before their near-term political ambitions. They, and we all, must take comfort in the fact that attacks on our democracy like the Civil War or the depredations of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s are ultimately condemned in the court of American history.
As much as I am grateful to them, American democracy was not saved by the Capitol Police on January 6. It was saved by the courage of a handful of real patriots laboring in election offices. It was saved because our courts, much of the media and a majority of Americans could see the outlines of the coup through the fog of lies. It was saved because the violence was limited to the square mile in which I sat. Next time, depending on what happens this Election Day, none of those things may be true.