Partisanship, the Big Lie, and January 6th

Jeff claims that Jeff Isaac’s essay rebuts my arguments regarding Biden’s speech. It seems to me that his essay actually illustrates, rather than rebuts, my claims. Both Jeffs seem to appreciate and admire the speech. Jeff Isaac calls it “terrific” in that it “renew[ed] the fight to defend democracy.” As I said in my previous post, I too want to defend democracy. The question is, however, how we go about doing that. Isaac wants to fight for the Constitution, but, for him, continuing that fight apparently means fighting the entire Republican party. He writes: “The most important of aspect of this challenge is rather direct: the danger that the Republican Party will retake the House and perhaps even the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, and retake the presidency in 2024.” Whereas Biden implicitly connected his argument to Democratic partisanship, Isaac does so explicitly. So far from looking for an alliance of constitutional patriots, he wants to tie an entire party to the big lie and, in so doing, suggest that they should be barred them from political power.

This isn’t to say that people like Ted Cruz and Kevin McCarthy shouldn’t be blamed for failing to distance themselves from the lie and for failing unequivocally to condemn the January 6th attack. But Jeff Isaac includes in his list of bad Republicans Mitch McConnell who did condemn both the big lie and January 6th. To wrap McConnell into the other Republicans is to suggest, it seems to me, that the mere fact of being a Republican proves one’s support for both. So too does the claim that Republicans retaking the House and the Senate indicates support for Trump’s behavior. As I said in my last post, Youngkin won the gubernatorial race in Virginia on issues other than the big lie and intentionally distanced himself from Trump along the way. In fact, I would suggest, contra Isaac, that if the Republicans run in 2022 on the basis of the big lie, they won’t retake either the House or the Senate. Instead, their campaigns are likely to focus on the Biden presidency itself and, so far from returning to Trump’s ill-fated demise, they’re likely, as did Youngkin, to distance themselves from it. For that reason, I’d be very surprised if, as Isaac “guarantees,” they “use their power to hold hearings based on the Big Lie.”

There is further evidence that Isaac has explicitly connected January 6th to more prosaic politics. He suggests that part of the fight for the soul of democracy and the Constitution involves “the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Enhancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.” These acts may be important to Democrats, but I simply can’t see how they’re connected to the persistence of democracy itself. Are we supposed to believe that all those who oppose them also oppose democracy?

I worry instead that this attempt to connect more prosaic politics to fundamental democratic questions buries us even deeper in the morass we have found ourselves. Already, we tend to think every election represents an existential crisis. Hence some Republicans compared the 2016 election to Flight 93. Isaac seems to do a similar thing in his essay. The 2022 and 2024 elections represent, he suggests, “the fight for constitutional democracy.” Apparently, if the Republicans win, constitutional democracy itself is in trouble.

All that being said, perhaps Isaac’s hyperbole is justified if the Republicans win in 2022 primarily on the basis of the big lie and if Trump wins in 2024 on the same basis. I suspect, however, that neither will occur. To the extent that we might say that it did happen, it would only be by claiming there is an intrinsic and inextricable connection between the Republican party and support for the big lie and January 6th.

I want to reiterate that I agree with George and the two Jeffs that January 6th represents an extreme peril to constitutional democracy. Rescuing ourselves, however, means distinguishing it from merely partisan politics. If this danger to constitutional democracy itself is being used in a merely partisan way to ensure that Democrats win regardless of the Republicans’ position, then it actually normalizes the threat. Republicans, who don’t share some of their colleagues’ lunacy on the big lie and January 6th, will still resent an opposition that consistently associates them with their colleagues. By equating the Republican party with fundamental opposition to democracy itself, Isaac runs the risk of institutionalizing them as outsiders who by definition represent a threat. And I worry a lot if we place half of the nation into that outsider position.

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