Unless these ongoing insurrection attempts are crushed, future historians may look at the January 6, 2021 Trump Capitol insurrection as a dividing line beginning a new era of American history, and, even then, this may still happen
SILVER SPRING—In part before (especially in the run-up to and weeks after the 2020 U.S. presidential election) but undeniably now, American politics is divided between two major factions: pro-democracy, pro-Constitution led by Democrats and anti-Democracy, anti-Constitution led by Republicans; it has been this way since the January 6, 2021 insurrection. It is a divide between the first faction that stands for preserving democracy and the rule of law while acting to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and the second that is against democracy and the rule of law and seeks to destroy our longstanding constitutional order.
There are many other differences—just to name one more recent development, Trump mainstreamed white supremacy: some people will hate this term applied here but even in its most genially presented forms, Trumpism most definitely stands for exclusivist white ethno-nationalism, i.e., the primacy of Americans embodying “traditional” (code: white, suburban, and rural) American values while working to avoid the “diluting” and “replacement” of those people and values with hordes (“caravans”) of (brown) migrants while also working to minimize the political representation through voter suppression of “urban” “non-traditional” communities (code: black and other non-white minorities)—but the January 6th fault line transcends, should in weight and principle and occasionally does in practice, the more typical right-left divides between liberal and conservative, statist and libertarian, mandates and choice, vaccines and pseudoscience, diversity and homogeneity, social justice and racism, welcoming and nativist, young and old, urban and rural, religious and atheist, gun-controllers and gun-owners.
The historically and morally horrific Trump Capitol January 6 terrorist insurrection should actually be something that unites nearly all Americans in disgust, a clear understanding of who is to blame, and the need to purge them from public political life and see them prosecuted, yet instead, is sadly in many ways a political Rorschach test. Rather than the insurrection responsible for the first non-peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history since 1797 (Washington to Adams), and the first non-peaceful one between different parties since 1801 (Adams’s Federalists to Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans), for far too many millions of radicalized Americans, it has become just another partisan political issue in which fidelity and fealty to their adopted faction trump reality and morality, muddling what should be crystal clear beyond any doubt for any rational person. But clarity is what is needed, not this partisan delusion and gaslighting.
Patriots and Traitors à la General U.S. Grant
One of the primary defenders of the country and the Constitution during the worst domestic crisis in the history of the United States—Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln’s right-hand man in winning the Civil War against traitorous insurrectionists rebels in another era—wrote just after the beginning of that Civil War on April 21, 1861:
We are now in the midst of trying times when every one must be for or against his country, and show his colors too, by his every act…
Whatever may have been my political opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is, we have a Government, and laws and a flag, and they must all be sustained. There are but two parties now, traitors and patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter, and I trust, the stronger party….I would never stultify my opinion for the sake of a little security.
I have argued in detail how exceedingly simple what happened on January 6 was and the role of Donald Trump in it, on how his culpability and how close his coup attempt came to being far worse was revealed especially by his second impeachment trial. Now, it is clear that former President and General Grant’s dichotomy is the fundamental, basic divide that matters before any other and has been so since January 6, 2021: Patriots—regardless of their “normal” politics (thank you, Never Trump Republicans!)—and Traitors redefining our current understanding of putting party over country.
On the Patriot side against Trump and his insurrection are people like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), stripped of her leadership role in the Republican party for standing up to Trump’s insurrection, and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who stood at her side in Congress today as the terrible assault on our democracy was commemorated; Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a veteran now disowned by some in his family for standing up to Trump’s insurrection, sadly retiring; Georgia’s Secretary of State, Republican Brad Raffensperger, who spurned Trump’s mafia-like pressure to overturn Georgia’s election results and faces death threats and a formidable primary challenger as a result; former Republican President George W. Bush; former Republican Speakers of the House John Boehner and Paul Ryan; the recently departed Colin Powell, a former top general and secretary of state; former Republican Governor of California, none other than the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who likened the January 6 insurrection to the Nazi’s deadly 1938 Kristallnacht, when anti-Jewish violence erupted throughout the Nazi Reich, including Schwarzenegger’s Austria; the entire body of Democrats in Congress and top Biden-Harris Administration officials; all Americans who know and are unafraid to acknowledge that Trump tried to overturn a legitimate election and destroy the Constitutional order through intimidation and violence; and, certainly not least among these, those security officers who died or were injured or traumatized defending the U.S. Capitol from the first organized mass attack since 1814, when the British military burned the Capitol, the White House, and other targets in Washington.
On the Traitor side: Donald Trump and his top advisors who stood by him during and after January 6; the vast majority of Republicans in Congress, especially those (on the Senate-side, especially Texan Ted Cruz and Missourian Josh Hawley; in the House, 139 out of 211 Republicans, virtually two-thirds) who, even in the hours immediately after the insurrection, voted to overturn a legitimate presidential election based on lies and lust for power or, at best, out of fear for what the mob and/or other pitchforker types would do to them and their families; new candidates seeking to replace state and local election officials; the extremist activists and protesters siding with the insurrectionists; and their domestic allies in the right-wing media—including most of Fox News and talk radio—and social media worlds (Russians aiding and abetting are not traitors, they are the anti-Americans we know and expect).
Insurrection Not Over, Just in a Different Phase
Among the most dangerous of the classes outlined above are the Congressional Republicans and the state and local Republican lawmakers, officials, and candidates who, based on the totally false ideas that the election was stolen from Trump, are seeking new powers to empower partisan election officials that could steal the election for Trump or to replace those who, even as Republicans, put country before Party and acted to respect the legitimate votes checked and audited repeatedly. Simply put, next time around, Brad Raffensperger may be gone and partisan state legislatures may disregard the will of the voters and certify sets of electors based not on actual votes but partisan lies and machinations.
As James Madison—who, as president in 1814, had to flee the British troops who would end up burning his White House and the Capitol—wrote in 1788 in Federalist “No. 51,” arguing for the then-newly proposed Constitution, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” Here, he was arguing particularly of the virtues of the divided, separated-of-power natures of the proposed government.
And it was these checks and balances—secretaries of state over state legislatures, election auditors over partisan advocates, courts over campaign lawyers, Democrats over Republicans, the Constitution over election-loser Trump, good-faith presentation of facts and context over propaganda and disinformation, police against insurrectionists, Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) over Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (then the number-three Republican in the GOP House leadership) over McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) (then-and-still the number-one-and-two House Republicans, respectively), the Legislative Branch over the sitting President, elements of Trump’s own executive branch over himself and his own White House, and (at least at the final moments of the final hours) then-Vice President Pence over then-President Trump—that saved the nation and the Constitution throughout the term of Trump and from insurrection incited by that renegade outgoing president.
Yet, as many have correctly sounded the alarm, the majority of sitting Republican officeholders are working to change rules and to Yet, as many have correctly sounded the alarm, the majority of sitting Republican officeholders are working to change rules and to combine with enough victorious candidates or appointee replacements of their ilk to negate that ambition counteracting ambition within their own party that saved our republic in 2020-2021, to demolish the checks and balances that held the line against lies and insurrection and for the Constitution and the rule of law. The Cheneys and Raffenspergers within the GOP are being put on notice or pushed out—most of the Republican senators who stood up regularly to Trump retired or, in the case of John McCain, died; in the House, of the measly ten Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for the insurrection, two have already announced retirement, four are already facing serious Trump-endorsed primary challengers, and four others are laying as low as they can.
As a result, the terrifying reality is that we may very well (perhaps even likely??) not have enough Patriots to stop one or more crucial swing states from being stolen by partisan state and local election officials in 2024, even in the House and Senate races in 2022. As opposed to the hastily assembled forces of the January 6 coup attempt (and apart from the related-but-more-general “slow-moving coup” Trump and the Republican Party have tried enacting against the rule of law I have warned about for years), we are now, then, seeing another blatant “slow moving coup” attempt moving forward years before it might come to completion. Upon closer look, one could even argue Trump’s original insurrection is still ongoing.
Benjamin Franklin, exiting the hall of the 1787 Constitutional Convention after it voted in favor of our Constitution, is supposed to have replied to an inquirer as to what we were getting, “A republic, if you can keep it.” More than any time since the Civil War, today, we have reason to worry we may not. This is not idle speculation: most Republican/Republican-leaning citizens believe Donald Trump’s Big Lies about the election and the Republican Party and its base are still in Trump’s pocket, the Big Lies becoming clear litmus tests for most of those who want to win Republican primaries or want to have a future in what is still even now, clearly, Trump’s party. “While some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against it, trying to uphold the principle of that party,” noted President Biden today, “too many others are transforming that party into something else. They seem no longer to want to be the party, the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes.” “Some” is, pathetically, generous, and we must recognize the dire, immediate, and growing threat the Traitor faction presents to us and our republic and how it has hijacked the Republican Party as an overall whole beyond any ability or effort to restore sanity to that Party anytime soon.
Necessary First Steps to Save the Republic
One of the best ways to maximize our chances of keeping this republic is to firmly remember and vehemently proclaim our current Patriot and Traitor divide, framing everything in our politics first and foremost through this prism, with anyone hemming and hawing and not firmly in the pro-democracy, pro-Constitution Patriot side correctly identified as de facto aiding and abetting and giving cover and comfort to the anti-democracy, anti-Constitution Traitor side. The other key ingredients are to fight gaslighting lies about what really happened on January 6 and to hold those responsible—including, obviously, President Trump, his top advisors, and members of both the House and Senate who worked with them to put in motion the terrible events of one year ago to this day—accountable. As President Biden himself said today in his most forceful remarks on the continuing efforts related to Trump’s January 6 Capitol insurrection, “This isn’t about being bogged down in the past. This is about making sure the past isn’t buried. That’s the only way forward. That’s what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth. They face up to it. It sounds like hyperbole, but that’s the truth. They face up to it.”
Echoing Grant’s sentiment, there can be no middle ground here (as with, say, Republican Virginia Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin); we either stand with the Patriots against the Traitors and keep our republic, or we do not and we do not deserve it. But one thing is certain: in terms of politics, since January 6, 2021, all Americans and all candidates for political office being evaluated up-and-down all ballots from president to county dog catcher are, first and foremost, either Patriots or Traitors; this is the defining shift in American politics post-insurrection and the most important frame for anything political in this current dangerous era.
© 2021 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome
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