Letters From an American

QAnon Goes to Washington

QAnon Goes to Washington

Photo by Anthony Crider/ flickr CC 2.0)

January 27, 2021

The contours of politics today look much like they did yesterday. President Biden is forging ahead through executive actions — today pausing oil and gas leases while switching the government to electric vehicles — while the two factions in the Republican Party claw for supremacy.

Dead center of both of these political fights is the future of this country. Will Trump and his supporters seize control of the government — by means legal or illegal — or will the country steer itself back to the norms and values of democracy?

The dangers of Trumpism are becoming clearer each day. Today, for the first time, the Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism bulletin that warned of violence from domestic extremists angry over “perceived grievances fueled by false narratives” and emboldened by the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The bulletin expires at the end of April.

Law enforcement has moved National Guard troops to Washington, D.C., in part to guard against violence on March 4, a day that QAnon supporters who still believe Trump is part of an elaborate trick to reclaim the nation from the Democrats think will be the day on which the former president is finally sworn in for his second term. (March 4 was the nation’s original inauguration date; it changed under Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937.)

In testimony yesterday, the acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington told the House Appropriations Committee that at least 65 officers filed reports of injury after the January 6 attack. The chair of the Capitol Police officers’ union, Gus Papathanasiou, put the number closer to 140. “I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake,” he said. One officer died of injuries sustained on January 6. Two officers have since taken their own lives.

Meanwhile, a video emerged today of the new Republican representative from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, harassing David Hogg, who survived the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day 2018. Greene followed Hogg down the street in Washington, D.C., in March 2019, with an accomplice filming as she badgered him, called him a crisis actor paid by George Soros, told him she was armed, demanded he talk to her, and called him a coward. He walked on, without engaging her.

The video emerged the day after reporters discovered old Facebook activity on Greene’s page in which she responded positively to a commenter talking of hanging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama and another talking of killing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

While Representative Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) has called for Greene’s expulsion from Congress, leading Republicans in the House responded to the Facebook news simply by saying they condemned violent rhetoric on both sides. Today, Republican House leadership assigned her to the Education and Labor Committee.

Republican lawmakers seem to be siding with Trump’s supporters, turning against the 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment. In the House, Trump supporters are trying to throw Liz Cheney (R-WY) out of her spot in the party’s leadership, and the former president’s new political action committee is ginning up anger against her as it urges primary challengers to jump into the race in 2022.

Increasingly, Republican lawmakers are pushing to let Trump off the hook on impeachment. In the Senate yesterday, Rand Paul (R-KY) insisted that a former president could not be tried on an impeachment charge, and 45 Republicans agreed with him. This is not necessarily a signal of how the eventual Senate vote will go, but Paul said it was: he insisted this was a sign that Trump would not be convicted. Republican lawmakers seem to be coming down on Trump’s side as polls show that while most Americans are horrified by the attack on the Capitol and blame Trump for it, most Republicans — 78% — don’t blame him. Republican lawmakers are accusing Democrats of divisiveness in their move to hold the president accountable.

Some Republicans are, though, alarmed at the idea that a president might get away with inciting an insurrection that endangered our elected representatives and our government itself — remember the next three people in line for the presidency were in the Capitol when the rioters stormed it — and which came perilously close to making good on threats against individuals, including then-vice president Mike Pence.

Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) dismissed the idea that the country could have unity without addressing the causes of the current anger. “I say, first of all, have you gone out publicly and said that there was not widespread voter fraud and that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States? If you said that, then I’m happy to listen to you talk about other things that might inflame anger and divisiveness,” he explained to Dennis Romboy of Deseret News. “But if you haven’t said that, that’s really what’s at the source of the anger right now.”

Also notable is the firm stance of Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who has bucked his party to speak out against the former president’s attacks on the election and incitement of the rioters. “I’ve felt very isolated in my party,” Kinzinger told Ellen McCarthy of the Washington Post.

While the Republican Party’s apparent embrace of Trump and all he now stands for is grabbing headlines, Biden and his administration officials are taking on the radicalization of his opponents in a new and promising way. They are demonstrating an approach to sidelining Trumpism by shifting the focus off the exhausting drama of the former president and his supporters and onto a functioning government that is working for ordinary Americans.

When a reporter today asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki if the administration had any comment on Greene, Psaki made it clear the administration was not going to give any oxygen to her or those like her. “We don’t, and I am not going to speak further about her, I think, in this briefing room,” Psaki said.

While Biden is starving the Republicans of oxygen, he is also working to address the conditions that have fed desperate conspiracy theories and divisions. In America, such societal breakdown is associated with periods in which ordinary people face economic hardship. Biden is moving quickly on a range of issues that are popular among ordinary voters of both parties, including addressing the country’s extreme inequality. After all, one of the complaints that drew voters to an outsider in 2016 was the belief that government no longer worked for the people and needed to be shaken up.

Today’s executive order on addressing climate change talks at length about creating “good-paying union jobs” and “tapping into the talent, grit, and innovation of American workers.” It calls for the government to buy zero-emission vehicles made in the U.S., and to rebuild federal infrastructure, creating construction, manufacturing, engineering, and skilled-trades jobs. Job creation and infrastructure development were both promises the previous president made in 2016 that boosted his support but which never really came to pass. If Biden can actually deliver on them, he could reclaim those Trump voters for the Democrats, as well as addressing climate change and our failing infrastructure.

Biden’s people are also making sure we see a White House that is addressing issues that created concern in the past administration. They are upholding old norms — holding daily press briefings, for example — honoring science, restoring government websites, and treating members of the media with respect.

They seem to be trying to remind us how our democracy is supposed to work.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.