Alan Zendell, October 19, 2021
“We’re going after them!” That was what Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) told Stephen Colbert last night, referring to people who refuse to respond to subpoenas from the Special House Committee investigating the violent January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. He was specifically aiming at former Trump advisor Stephen K. Bannon, whose own published words on January 5th were a clear attempt to incite violence and revolution.
Schiff also had a lot to say about House Republicans’ hypocrisy. He noted that it was understandable that many of the rioters who attacked the Capitol may have been fooled into believing Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen. That’s not an excuse or a defense, but a commentary on the cult-like nature of groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. But the Republican members of Congress who were the targets of the attack all know better. They all know Trump is lying to the American people, but they’re not willing to risk their seats saying so out loud.
Schiff thinks that’s unconscionable, and so do I and the vast majority of Americans. He nearly teared up when he said he couldn’t understand why people would go through all it takes to be elected and then refuse to do their jobs. Schiff is a decent, competent man, a former Assistant Attorney General who cares deeply about the Constitution and the law. You can’t fake the sadness that showed on his face when he addressed his Republican colleagues.
That same sadness is being expressed by many Republicans. Schiff offered an interesting comparison between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He said McCarthy’s knee-jerk response, when he was under attack by the rioters, when he blamed Trump for causing the insurrection lasted about thirty seconds once order was restored and the threat eliminated. McConnell, on the other hand, clearly struggled, and still does, because he cares about the consequences of Trump’s actions for the country. But he too yielded when it was clear that the choice was to either get on board or be “swept overboard.”
Shining a light on today’s Republicans was especially poignant on the day Colin Powell died. Powell was generally one of the most respected Republicans in America. One of the few African Americans to reach the rank of 4-Star General, he served as National Security Advisor under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under President George H. W. Bush (41), and Secretary of State under President George W. Bush (43). Between 1987 and 2005, he was one of the principal faces of the Republican establishment.
I and many others criticized Powell for not taking a stronger stand as Secretary of State against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Whether or not he could have stopped the invasion, which was a key element in twenty years of pointless war in the region, he had to choose between supporting his boss, (Bush 43,) and blowing the whistle on shaky intelligence, an action which would likely have derailed his impressive career. The fact that he chose not to “fall on his sword” as he told Bob Woodward, exacerbated by the very serious costs of our blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan, do not, however, tarnish Powell’s reputation as a principled Republican statesman.
We all make mistakes, and Powell’s choice, given all he had to overcome as the first black officer to accomplish … the list is long … is understandable if regrettable. It’s painfully ironic that nearly twenty years ago, anger over the war combined with the trauma of nine-eleven caused Bush 43’s presidency to end in disgrace, with Powell as a chief goat, while today, most of us, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents look back at Bush and Powell as the model we wish other Republicans still followed. Reflecting on Powell’s life reminds us how the sociopathic, power-mad Trump systematically tried to force every true Conservative statesperson out of his party: former House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, the entire Bush family, the Cheneys.
Powell reminds us of the time when Democrats hated Republican policies and ideology but still respected their colleagues across the aisle. He reminds us that whether or not we agreed with them, Republicans once put the country and the Constitution first. Mostly, he reminds us that even integrity and responsible leadership sometimes fail, that even people who care very much about preserving our democracy sometimes get it wrong. How awful, then, when those people are replaced with self-serving hypocrites led by someone who would rather destroy everything than admit defeat in what may have been the cleanest election since Kennedy defeated Nixon.
I don’t worry much about Trump these days. I’m confident that our justice system will deal with him and neutralize his capacity to harm the country. It’s his Republican sycophants in Congress that bother me most.