It is both fascinating and infuriating to watch members of the GOP, long self-identified as the party of “law and order,” “personal responsibility,” and more recently the leading actors in the “Blue Lives Matter” playacting exercise, suddenly calling for “healing” and “unity.” If the mob that descended on the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday had actually been made up of leftist thugs, these same sensitive souls would be calling for putting the culprits in the same cages they’ve used for children on the Mexican border.
The law is clear about what seditious conspiracy is and how it should be punished. The Constitution – from which the ability to enact laws is derived – similarly includes specific punishments for persons holding state or federal offices who participate in an insurrection. Why don’t these “law and order,” “personal responsibility” Republicans want to follow those laws and punish the criminals who broke them? Why, after a generation of pious bullshit, are they suddenly leading a chorus of “Kum Ba Yah?”
There are two reasons, one more immediate and one the result of long-term trends and choices made by the leadership of the Republican Party.
In the immediate timeframe, there are credible reports that members of Congress themselves may have been involved in the planning and execution of the “rally” on January 6th, including providing information to leaders of the Capitol riot on where key members of Congress would be located and possibly how to move through the labyrinthine corridors and tunnels that make up the Capitol complex. If true, any member of Congress who was involved must be removed from office per Article III of the 14th Amendment. Beyond the individual humiliation of being removed from office, the loss of multiple GOP representatives and even senators would also affect the balance of power between the parties. While the Democrats currently hold both houses of Congress, the margin is slim in the House and as close as it could be in the Senate, where each caucus (including independents who vote with the Democrats) has 50 seats, making Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote if needed.
The long-term issue for Republicans has been how demographic change in the U.S. has been eroding their influence and voting numbers. This isn’t new. It’s been discussed for half a century, ever since the GOP developed its “Southern Strategy” in the wake of the civil rights movement in the sixties and particularly after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discrimination based on race in voting and had the potential of adding millions of largely Democratic votes to the rolls.
Republicans could have changed their strategy and tried to reach out to the growing numbers of Hispanics and other immigrant populations. They even commissioned a report in 2012 after Barack Obama’s re-election that called for “an extensive outreach to women, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and gay voters [and] backing “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Sally Bradshaw, a Florida GOP strategist and one of the project’s co-chairs, said the party has been “continually marginalizing itself and unless changes are made it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.”
“Public perception of our party is at record lows,” Bradshaw said. “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the party represents and many minorities think Republicans don’t like them or don’t want them in our country. When someone rolls their eyes at us they aren’t likely to open their ears to us.”
Bradshaw added that the GOP “needs to stop talking to itself” and needs to open the tent in order to win presidential elections in the future.
“We have become expert at how to provide ideological information to like-minded people but, devastatingly, we have lost the ability to be persuasive with or welcoming to those who don’t agree with us on every issue,” Bradshaw said, noting they need to be “inviting and inspiring.”
Sound advice, right? But GOP leaders instead decided to double-down on their appeals to white, mostly male, and mostly less-educated, voters with a combination of fear-mongering, racism, white nationalism, xenophobia, voter suppression (including successful efforts to weaken the Voting Rights Act) and even religious fanaticism, both through conventional Christian groups and the rise of the QAnon mythos in the past few years.
This is how people who knew they were losing control of the country they’d always dominated behave. It’s a desperate defensive action by conservative Republicans (who are, incidentally, neither conservative nor small-r republicans) to hold on to power. Under other circumstances, appeals to healing and unity would have been welcomed. But where were those appeals for the past four years (and even during the Obama presidency)?
There can be no healing, there can be no unity, until those who created the environment that made it possible for a fraud like Donald Trump to be president of the United States recognize their culpability and accept the reality of the situation. That includes, first, acknowledging – with no hesitation or caveats – that the 2020 election was held fairly and Joe Biden will be president beginning at noon on January 20. Those responsible for the outrage of 1/6 then must be held accountable, through arrests, fair trials, and appropriate punishment; expulsion from Congress where required by the Constitution; and even the impeachment and conviction of the president for his support of the actions of last week.
Only then will we truly be able to move beyond this dark time in American history and attempt to heal and find common ground. It will not be easy and there are no guarantees, but our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.