The final hearing of the House select committee on the Jan. 6 insurrection concluded with the only acceptable ending after its nearly 18-month investigation — criminal referrals to the Justice Department accusing Donald Trump of federal crimes, including assisting or aiding an insurrection.
Even though the committee’s recommendation doesn’t mean DOJ has an obligation to indict Trump, what Attorney General Merrick Garland ultimately decides to do is our new national anxiety. But on Monday I felt relieved and satisfied that there were even small, symbolic steps toward accountability.
What I was not anticipating was an odd sense of sorrow.
Obviously I care nothing about the man who, for his own monstrous reasons, incited a deadly insurrection in an attempt to upend the outcome of the 2020 presidential election he lost. Unable to persuade a single judge — even those he nominated for their assumed fidelity to him — to consider his bogus election fraud claims, Trump incited thousands of his followers and tried to exact his will through violence.
Trump committed crimes against American democracy. He should be indicted. He should be convicted. He should be sent to prison.
But the weight of Jan. 6 remains deep and unforgiving. That’s what Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee’s chairman, noted when he said that “as a country, we remain in strange and uncharted waters.”
“We’ve never had a president of the United States stir up a violent attempt to block the transfer of power,” he said during his opening statement. “I believe nearly two years later, this is still a time of reflection and reckoning. If we are to survive as a nation of laws and democracy, this can never happen again.”
No one on that nine-member committee has spent more of their life witnessing what happens when democracy is threatened by white supremacist violence. Thompson was born in Mississippi, a flashpoint of racist barbarity when Jim Crow ruled the South. He was a child when white men kidnapped, tortured, and murdered Emmett Till. He was a teenager when Medgar Evers, an NAACP field secretary in that state, was assassinated in his driveway by a Klansman and when white supremacists killed Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, all civil rights workers, their bodies found buried in a shallow grave.
They and many others died because they were committed to ensuring that this nation lived up to its constitutional promises. Voting rights and fair elections, the backbone of American democracy, have been at the center of that fight. On Jan. 6, Thompson was at the Capitol when that spine was nearly severed by Trump and his rampaging minions. It should never have come to this.
Calling voting “an act of faith and hope” that candidates will honor the outcome even if they lose, Thompson said, “If that faith is broken, so is our democracy. Donald Trump broke that faith.”
Weeks shy of the insurrection’s second anniversary, a day Trump gleefully told his followers to remember “forever,” that faith remains broken. Election deniers sit in both houses of Congress and continue to spread absurd conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. And while the numbers have slipped in the past year, a majority of Republicans still claim as fact Trump’s Big Lie.
That America has never mustered a united front against the insurrection and the man who ignited it should always be a source of dismay. It’s also another example of a nation incapable of learning anything from this harshest lesson — white supremacy is anathema to a strong, inclusive democracy.
Like Pig-Pen, the hygiene-averse “Peanuts” character, Trump emanates an expanding cloud of dirt that clings to everything his presence sullies. He has dragged this country through hell — but millions decided they like the heat.
The Jan. 6 House committee also made criminal referrals to DOJ against Trump for obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to make false statements, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Yet instead of celebration, this should be a time of “reflection and reckoning,” as Thompson called it, to better understand how this nation landed in a place where a president turned against his own country. Sadly, we know how unfaithful this country is with reckonings.
Soon to disband, the Jan. 6 committee made its case and did its solemn job. Now, every American who claims to care about democracy must demand that Garland’s DOJ do the same, because this is bigger than Trump. Otherwise, this nation’s unhealed wounds, steeped in history’s sorrows, will continue to fester and weep.