Two days, two gut-wrenching congressional hearings, two occasions for despair over how far this country falls short of who we are supposed to be.
On Wednesday, too many heartbroken Americans heaved themselves before lawmakers in Washington to describe the horror of mass shootings that had just killed their loved ones in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, in the hopes that seeing their pain in person would finally force Republicans to do something about the weaponry in which this ailing country is awash.
Then, on Thursday night, the House Jan. 6 committee presented a devastating account of one of the darkest days in American history. It was hard to watch at times, and shocking, even for those long-immersed in the details of that day. The attempted coup, clearly instigated by former president Donald Trump, was better coordinated than most of us knew, with the white supremacists he’d summoned leading the assault.
Lawmakers, including two courageous Republicans, presented clear evidence that Trump’s inner circle knew his claims of election fraud were false and told him so. And that he was indifferent to the dangers faced by those on the ground, including by his own vice president, for whose hanging the crowd was baying after he refused to overturn the will of the voters. Mike Pence “deserves it,” said the man who was president of the United States, and must never be again.
We saw harrowing video of attacks on police officers trying to hold back the immense crowd, including bodycam footage that captured up close the brutality of rioters for whom blue lives matter only when it means Black lives don’t. US Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards — attacked multiple times and suffering a brain injury — painted a sickeningly vivid picture of the barbarous scene.
The hearings on Wednesday and Thursday were of a piece. Republicans’ inaction over mass shootings and their support for an attempted coup are parts of the same sorry story. We have arrived at this diminished state because many of those who cling to a ludicrously outdated reading of the Constitution when it comes to the Second Amendment are willing to shred it when it comes to the very heart of the document.
Overwhelmingly, Americans support the common sense gun safety measures that would save lives. But Republicans — beholden to the gun industry — keep defying the voters.
With very few exceptions, one of our political parties has chosen power over democracy. So many Republicans have embraced Trump’s Big Lie of a stolen election that Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney has become one of this nation’s great heroes, for doing something that would be utterly basic in a healthy democracy: speaking out against an attempted coup, even though her own party has ostracized her for it.
But Jan. 6 was merely the most extreme manifestation of a decades-long assault on our democracy, an assault that began long before Donald Trump became president. In Washington and in GOP-controlled state legislatures across the country, we have seen a flood of voter-suppression efforts designed to dilute the power of those who reject the narrow vision of America for which Republicans have come to stand. They’ve been aided by an anti-democratic Supreme Court majority decades in the making.
This undermining of our democracy, like the dead in Uvalde and Buffalo, is the price we pay for GOP power. Last week’s hearings gave us a gutting sense of just how steep the cost has been so far.
If Republicans gain more power in November, it will only get steeper. Despair or no, we have to use what is left of our democracy to make sure that doesn’t happen. No one else is coming to save us.
If you live in a blue state like Massachusetts, find a close congressional race nearby (hello, New Hampshire) and help out. If you are blessed with largely sensible state legislators, track down a contest in another state to head off yet more measures to gut voting and other rights. Use your wallet to hold responsible the companies that donate to Jan. 6 apologists. Speak up when the Trump cultists hold forth on social media and at family get-togethers.
The alternative is more of the horror we saw last week. America can’t survive it.