“The inescapable property of Time,” wrote English philosopher Francis Bacon, “is ever more and more to reveal the Truth.” While this inescapably is true, America cannot wait for Time to serve up Truth. For the sake of our badly battered democracy, we need Truth now.
Senate Republicans voting down an independent bipartisan commission to seek the Truth of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was not unexpected: A party that stood by its nefarious leader (Donald Trump) through two impeachments would not likely turn to examining his role in inciting this assault on American democracy.
But there’s more than one way to get at Truth: An independent bipartisan commission isn’t the only avenue. While a Congressional investigation would not be (by definition) independent, it would be (theoretically) bipartisan. Moreover, if conducted with the sobriety this charge demands — an insurrection was attempted at our seat of government — then the partisan spectacle Republicans so fear from Democrats could be avoided. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell may speak for other Republicans when he says such commission would be “extraneous” (also here and here). But, truly: How do we “move on” without investigating an insurrection?
Ready to launch such investigation in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has issued four options to her Democratic caucus. One): Give the Senate another chance to vote on an independent bipartisan commission. Two): Create a select committee in the House. Three): Allow existing House committees to continue investigating Jan. 6. Four): Assign an existing committee, such as Homeland Security, the lead in the investigation. A select committee is the likely option, Pelosi has hinted: It would have the power to issue subpoenas, schedule hearings, and, crucially, be charged specifically to investigate the causes of the attack and Trump’s role. The Speaker rules out a presidential commission, as it would not have subpoena powers unless empowered by Congress.
Whatever the make-up of the investigating body, the objective — Truth — is vital for these three democracy-saving reasons:
TO DETER FURTHER INSURRECTIONIST VIOLENCE
It says something about American democracy — are we “late-stage”? — that a chief reason for launching an investigation of this historic act of violence at the U.S. Capitol, the insurrection on Jan. 6, is to deter further insurrections in the states, but that is where we are. Domestic terrorism now rates as an “elevated” threat to national security, according to intelligence agencies (also here and here). That bears repeating: Domestic terrorism is now an “elevated” threat to our own national security. It also bears repeating what insurrection is: “a violent uprising against an authority or government.” It is imperative to keep in mind that the Jan. 6 insurrection, incited by the loser, aimed to overturn — violently — the count of electoral votes certifying his successor, Joe Biden. In other words, it aimed to disrupt the normal operation of government and the peaceful transfer of power.
This threat of domestic terrorism now focuses around efforts of Republican state lawmakers in 14 states with GOP-controlled bodies to enact laws protecting the voting rights of “real” Americans (themselves) and curtailing those of usurpers — the gist of current GOP “thinking” (also here). In a total of 48 states, some kind of restrictive legislation has been proposed, per the Brennan Center for Justice. The flashpoint for right-wing violence? If these enacted laws or proposed bills protecting “real” Americans, or if dubious “audits” of completed votes, are stalled or overturned by courts or otherwise “go the wrong way.” In the “emerging Republican consensus,” Democrats can prevail only by fraud. Thus action, even violent action, is condoned to counter “the steal” of the franchise. Thus a former Army three-star general (Michael Flynn) could endorse a military coup here(!), like the one occurring in the fledgling democracy of Myanmar. (Flynn was for 22 days Trump’s national security advisor, a role key to protecting the nation.)
This greater disposition to violence emanates from the GOP grassroots. An alarming percentage of Republicans — 40% — are agreeable to political violence, according to recent polling: “[I]f elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.” And just over a majority (56%) of Republicans polled agreed with the statement: “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” This poll was conducted by a conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, which calls the results “pretty scary” and notes white evangelicals “stand out in…their belief in conspiracy theories and the idea that violence can be necessary.”
How a deterrence?: A nationally televised and open-ended (into the 2022 midterm elections) select committee investigation featuring, over and over, the images and soundtrack of “Hang Mike” (Pence) and “Kill Nancy” (Pelosi) of the Jan. 6 insurrection can remind all of that event’s peril, that it was not a “normal tourist outing,” as one GOP Congressman now claims. It would be instructive to hear testimony from historians to tutor us that Rome began its fall when internal violence — political killings and civil wars — became the norm. Further, we need tutoring on the perils of “late-stage” democracy: Political violence, characteristic of national decline, has, historically, led to a final fall (see: Greece). We need to get crystal-clear on our present peril.
TO TUTOR OURSELVES ON THE VALUE OF DEMOCRACY
In addition to Americans getting crystal-clear about the peril that political violence poses, and even more important (I submit) than establishing the tick-tock of what Trump said at his Jan. 6 “Save America Rally” and how it was interpreted by his troops (I use “troops” advisedly), is this:
We Americans need to understand better what a precious thing we have in democracy — a form of government of, by and for the people, whose aim is self-governance, whose motive force is the individual, not a king or dictator. We need to understand how unique democracy is in human history, compared to the general run of misery. We need to understand America’s investment in democracy: We are the world’s oldest. We need to learn how we repair it — big question: Can it be repaired? — and better maintain it. And we need to learn how self-governance depends for its life on the individual, that is: each of us. Somehow over time, since an earlier generation fought a world war against a fascist power bent on world domination and secured for us the blessings of liberty and freedom, we have come to feel this great machine called American Democracy works of itself. But: It doesn’t. And we saw, during the horrors of four long years under the proto-autocrat Trump, how exactly democracy can be abused, frayed, worn thin, begin to collapse. No wonder citizens suddenly were reading classic cautionary tales like “1984” and “It Can’t Happen Here.”
Why a tutorial? A select committee that carefully selects its expert witnesses — historians, political scientists, other practitioners of the humanities — could provide this invaluable tutorial for the nation, especially if it addresses the big question: Can we repair a democracy? Can “late-stage” democracy renew itself to vibrancy; if so, America would be unique in History. A great roster to start with would be the 100 democracy scholars who signed the “Statement of Concern,” released by the think tank New America. Beamed into classrooms, from elementary to college, or serving for the rest of us as an adult extension course, this tutorial could enable a nation-wide Grand Mission Review — which review we absolutely must do if we are to repair.
TO LIVE AND BE IN TRUTH
It may sound high-flown to declare an allegiance to Truth. But with so many Republicans jumping down the rabbit-hole of Untruth, still clinging to lies of the “stolen election” of seven months ago and now saluting Trump’s imminent “reinstatement” to the White House by August, plus their beating the canard that Democrats are frauds, one wants (at least this Democrat wants) to lift up into the empyrean. Once upon a time, Americans had the ability to say “Nuts!” to charlatans, crazies, and fear-mongers, but no more. We need to recover that ability.
With a focused investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection conducted by a House select committee — and with tutorials on the perils of political violence and the value of democracy — we can both stay in the realm of Truth and instruct ourselves on democracy’s repair. Not least because witnesses must swear to tell the truth, but, contrasted with the acceleration of Untruth on the right (see: the looniness of QAnon), this committee’s proceedings may serve as moral oasis. Sen. McConnell may insist the country “move on” from Jan. 6, and Sen. John Thune may declare his party has no interest in relitigating that event, but Sen. Angus King, Independent from Maine, has it right: “When people are moving heaven and earth to block an investigation, you’ve got to ask, what is it they’re afraid will be revealed?” Truth maybe? (Or their own complicity for Jan. 6?). Notably, both co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission (Lee Hamilton, Tom Kean) cite the need to get to the truth.
Why Truth? Because: Democracy, a form of government premised as self-governing, cannot function if it stokes its constituent parts — its people and its institutions — with lies, loony conspiracy theories, Untruth. As the old adage goes, the Truth will make us free — and it will make us better small-d democrats.