Commentary

Susan J. Demas: Every day since the Jan. 6 insurrection has been gaslighting

July 31, 2021 9:12 am

Crowds arrive for the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation’s capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day. And in doing so, betray their oath of office.

– Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone testifying to the 1/6 Commission this week

If you spend enough time reading how empires fall, as I did during my younger days studying obscure accounts of European history (and being lectured that it would never be useful in the real world), it becomes clear that we are living in the jittery, pivitol period between coup attempts.

And the next one is far more likely to succeed.

But because we are Americans, raised on a steady diet of hubris and exceptionalism, the conventional wisdom is that the violent insurrectionists who terrorized and desecrated the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — openly seeking to overthrow the government at the behest of the now twice-impeached former President Trump — were just a few bad apples. They were merely “deadbeat dads, YouPorn enthusiasts, slow students, and MMA fans” as conservative writer Caitlin Flanagan sniffed in the elitist bible, the Atlantic.

The mob that set about hunting down Vice President Mike Pence and leaders of Congress to stop the lawful and (once dully performative) Electoral College vote count by any means necessary, of course, wasn’t the great unwashed — it included a tech CEO, an Olympic gold medalist, a son of a prominent judge, GOP politicians, a businesswoman who later got permission from a judge to vacation in Mexico and many who served in the military.

But this myth helps well-heeled conservatives pretend that the insurrectionists are a small minority within the GOP. You know, those who run business lobbying outfits and claimed to be very offended by Donald Trump’s crassness (not his racist policies or naked corruption) but remained loyal Republicans because they believe in small government and the sanctity of life (even though they pushed pro-death policies during the pandemic, but that’s a story for another time).

In reality, the insurrectionists are the heart and soul of the GOP.

A protester holds a Trump flag inside the US Capitol Building near the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

That’s why no Michigan Republicans — including U.S. Reps. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) and Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids), who made quite a show in condemning rioters after Jan. 6 — ultimately voted for the 1/6 Commission to get to the truth of what happened. Hell, even Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.) decided that a panel dedicated to discovering who plotted to murder his brother was unnecessary (please spare us any lectures about family values in the future, thanks).

That’s why bumbling U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who initially condemned Trump after Jan. 6, made two trips to kiss the ex-president’s ring at his gaudy clubs and yanked GOP nominees from the panel.

That’s why in Michigan, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) refuse to convene a commission examining the links between state Republicans and the insurrection, even as several Michiganders have been charged with crimes, state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) was in D.C. for the pro-Trump protest, and his spouse, Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, helped organize busloads of activists.

That’s why several far-right Republicans, including Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), this week attempted to visit insurrectionists in jail, gallingly calling them “political prisoners.” Protesters broke up the circus by yelling out “pedophile” at Gaetz, who’s under investigation for possibly sex trafficking a minor, but the fact that openly embracing traitors of the Republic is a mainstream Republican position certainly doesn’t bode well for our country’s future.

Keep in mind that this was scummy counter-programming to the 1/6 Commission’s first hearing featuring police officers’ harrowing accounts of almost being brutally murdered while trying to defend our Capitol under assault.

“This is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance,” Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell told lawmakers this week.

Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a heart attack, testified that he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.”

How was Fanone’s testimony received by Republicans? Trump reportedly called the officers “pussies,” establishing that yet another right-wing slogan, “Blue Lives Matter,” is meaningless. A Fox News contributor dismissed him as a “crisis actor,” eagerly adding to the right-wing conspiracy trash pile that it was really Antifa behind 1/6.

But we’ve heard this argument before. As much as conservative pundits and politicos keep insisting that Trump diehards are some new aberration, they’re not. After 20 first-graders and six educators were blown away at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, right-wing host Alex Jones routinely claimed on his “Infowars” show that their parents — who were dealing with the deepest loss imaginable — were “crisis actors,” thus inspiring unstable fans to stalk and harass them for years. Jones is now being sued, but the damage can never be undone.

So what were GOP leaders doing during that time? Just mocking then-President Obama for crying over the tragic loss of these children and having the nerve to call for modest gun control.

It’s a straight line to embracing Trump’s bigoted braggadocio act in 2016 and the party’s full-throated endorsement of Jones-like conspiracies regarding the 2020 election, which Trump lost fair and square.

Most Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature know this, of course. After House and Senate leaders spent months inviting a motley assortment of kooks, including hair-malfunctioning Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, to testify that Detroit done did the election fraud — they just know it — the Senate Oversight Committee issued a damning report in June declaring that there wasn’t any proof and blasting conspiracy-mongers for making bank off widely debunked claims.

President Donald Trump at a Battle Creek rally, Dec. 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

But these same Republicans are still happy to exploit the widespread paranoia of their base to clamp down on the sacred right to vote and give local leaders the power to discard election results they don’t like. Lawmakers in 48 states, including Michigan, are on a mission to destroy the very foundation of our nation, because they’ve calculated that it’s easier to ensure that fewer people who vote for Democrats — namely BIPOC and young people — can, instead of changing their policy platform to appeal to the majority.

One of our two major parties has openly discarded democracy because it no longer provides a viable way for them to hold onto power. By the next presidential election in 2024, our slide into authoritarianism could be complete. Can you honestly expect Republicans to ever accept a Democratic presidential win as legitimate again?

And yet, every day, we’re told all this is just politics as usual (“Shock of Jan. 6 insurrection devolves into political fight,” as a May AP headline put it). After all, Democrats play politics, too, and the left also has a super-radical agenda, like infrastructure that actually works and health care for everyone, especially during a pandemic that’s killed more than 600,000 Americans.

We can take comfort that we kept fascism at bay on Jan. 6, thanks in no small part to the bravery of police officers like Michael Fanone. But it’s up to all of us to remain ever-vigilant and fight the ongoing far-right assault on our country and our values.

Failure is not an option.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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