By Mark S. Singel
News coverage of the debate on the proposed Jan. 6 Commission was full of head-scratching moments. There was Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy opposing the commission even though his own negotiators had included every one of his demands to assure bipartisanship. There was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaling his opposition to reviewing the events of Jan. 6 even though he loudly condemned the unruly mob just four and a half months earlier.
Some House members dug deeply into delusion and claimed that the insurrection was no big deal. It was just a bunch of tourists – who happened to be carrying weapons and nooses with the shouted intent of lynching the vice president. Those “tourists” interrupted the transition of power – a sacred tenet of our democracy. Still, McCarthy, McConnell and the majority of the once proud Republican party are telling us: “Nothing to see here. Let’s just move on.”
This kind of willful blindness is beyond pathetic. It is irrational. Failure to come to grips with the cause of the insurrection and giving its leaders a pass guarantees that similar violence will happen again.
Already, the same sentiments that launched the Capitol riot are taking hold in states throughout the country. In Arizona, “Big Lie” believers are pursuing a sham audit of the 2020 election results. They have concocted inane conspiracy theories and, evidently, will not stop until they get a result that justifies their delusion that the election was stolen. The election board chairman, Republican Jack Sellers, called the recount — which is being used to raise money for Trump supporters – “a grift disguised as an audit.”
State legislatures are seizing upon this same false narrative to pass bills restricting the right to vote. The idea is to allow your team full access to the ballot box but to keep others away.
This kind of toxicity was completely avoidable.
There are winners and losers in politics and both parties have weathered highs and lows. Until election night, 2020, the tradition of graceful concession was not only a mark of good sportsmanship, it was vital to reassuring both parties that they would live to fight another day – with mutual respect intact. By shattering that norm, the former guy lit a fuse that resulted in chaos at the U.S. Capitol and on-going madness on the part of his base.
I spoke with a cleared-eyed Republican recently who had this to say: “If I say the sky is blue and you say the sky is red, that does not make it a fifty-fifty chance that the sky has suddenly changed colors. It just means that you are delusional.”
After Jan. 6, leaders had a choice. They could dust themselves off and return to the comity of spirited debates or they could double down on a disgruntled, disgraced purveyor of “red-sky” delusions. In his pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago, Kevin McCarthy chose the latter. To those, like Liz Cheney, who point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes, he and the cult threaten their careers. It takes courage to withstand the onslaught of the emperor’s minions.
Here in Pennsylvania, examples of that type of courage are few and far between.
In the early stages of the race for governor in 2022, the first two Republicans out of the blocks are boasting about their cultish bona fides. State Sen. Doug Mastriano Franklin County brags that he spent an hour and a half with Trump recently and came away with a commitment of support. Former Congressman Lou Barletta ran Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania and will be carrying that credential to every red county in the state.
These candidates and others like them are not just content to feed the beast, they are ready to release it into the china shop of our democracy – regardless of the damage that it has done and will continue to do.
Back in Washington, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) called out his Republican colleagues: “This (opposing the Jan. 6 Commission) is a slap in the face to every rank-and-file cop in the United States. We need two political parties in this country that are both living in reality — and you ain’t one of them.”
In a ray of hope for bipartisanship and a return to thoughtful discourse, 35 Republicans in the U.S. House defied their own leadership and voted to review the events of Jan. 6. It is unclear if there will be a similar percentage of senators who put their country ahead of their allegiance to Trump. That would require courage and a clear-headed commitment to extricate ourselves from willful delusion. It could signal a return to the blue skies of our great American experiment in representative democracy.
Mark S. Singel is a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor and Acting Governor of Pennsylvania.