I grew up near the Delaware River, a few miles from Washington's Crossing, named after—you guessed it—the spot where George Washington's Continental Army crossed the icy river in small boats. Upon arriving in Trenton, N.J., they launched a surprise attack on the Hessians: German mercenaries the Brits had hired to help quell the Revolution.
The nation's first president was a serious and principled man. In his 1789 Inaugural Address to Congress, Washington hoped the "rights of freemen, and a regard for the public harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be more impregnably fortified, or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted." He refused any pay for his efforts.
I also lived near the Manassas, Va., battlefield where Southern victories ended hope for a quick Civil War. The Confederates, of course, primarily were fighting to defend an evil institution. "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery," explained Mississippi's declaration for secession. Nevertheless, they were serious men and principled in a misbegotten way.
Sorry for the history lesson, but the House committee's proceedings into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack by Donald Trump's supporters often draw historical parallels. It's indeed hard to wrap our heads around what happened, given our belief in the solidity of our nation's institutions. But this much is certain: The perpetrators were not serious people. It might have been an attempted coup—of the sort attempted by idiots.
That's not to say our nation never faced any danger. The truth is so hard to bear that Trump's most-devoted acolytes still refuse to grapple with it, lest they must (perhaps) face their own complicity. I had never been a fan of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, (R–Wyo.), but she nailed it in her address to the committee, referencing a legal decision by Orange County federal Judge David O. Carter:
"President Trump's efforts to pressure Vice President Pence to act illegally by refusing to count electoral votes likely violated two federal criminal statutes," Cheney said. "(I)f Dr. (John) Eastman and President Trump's plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution."
A president refused to concede power after dozens of courts examined and rejected his fanciful election theories. His aides and GOP lawmakers were so terrified of him that they allowed him to push our democracy to the breaking point, something that left our republic rather brittle. Aides championed a blueprint that would have destroyed our democracy. No one seems the slightest bit sorry.
No adults were in charge, even as our nation came within a whisker of becoming like any garden-variety tin-pot regime. Even the wife of a Supreme Court justice lobbied to overturn the election—an almost inconceivable breach of democratic norms that has received a collective shrug among conservatives.
The same Republicans who denied the obvious now say that it's old news. Nothing to see here. The attempted coup, or hissy fit or whatever it was, really was the work of left-wing Antifa, or was an FBI false flag operation. It's hard to keep track of the evolving claims. It was "legitimate political discourse," as the Republican Party put it last February. We've known these details for months, but my main takeaway is not just that Trump incited a riot and did so for base purposes (his ego), but that the entire effort was an eye-rolling farce.
The most recognizable Capitol intruder is a bare-chested, spear-carrying man wearing a fuzzy, horned hat seemingly lifted from Fred Flintstone's Loyal Order of the Water Buffaloes. The intruders weren't able to "Hang Mike Pence," but they managed to create plenty of mayhem. But to what end remains unclear.
"The problem I have with the coverage of January 6 is that nobody is capturing the comedic value of the events leading up to that day and the pathetic half-assed, angry-boomer insurrection," Tweeted attorney Doug McCullough. Yep. Americans should be mocking the snowflakes who stormed the Capitol, some who portray their resulting wrist-slaps as gulag-like injustices.
They're like spoiled teen-agers screaming about some inchoate unfairness. This is from conservative filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza: "While many politicians bewail the plight of political prisoners abroad, like Navalny in Russia, they ignore the startling reality that America now has its own political prisoners." At least the Right is finally embracing the cause of justice reform, albeit on an ad-hoc basis.
The latest news, per the Washington Post: "Trump and his allies wielded the stolen election lie to raise up to $250 million"—yet the defense fund doesn't appear to exist and the committee thinks "much of that money" went "to political outfits run by top Trump allies." Too funny, but no one would accuse Trump nor his Capitol-invading minions of being serious people.
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.