Note to readers: Many years ago, I “kissed blogging goodbye” and I am not looking to turn this website into a blog. I remain generally committed to engaging a writing process that utilizes the advantages of eyes beyond my own. Nevertheless, this site is also something of a time capsule, and I did not want any future historians (not likely) or children (slightly more likely) to be wondering why I was silent in the face of one of the top 500 events in our nation’s history. (The Capitol riot and subsequent snap impeachment were not on par with Pearl Harbor, but these events were quite significant.) The piece below was submitted to one of my regular outlets. I wish it had been run, but the dearth of Capitol commentary on that fundamental site once know for hosting a variety of religious voices suggests that the problem was not necessarily in the piece itself.
To her credit, Speaker Nancy Pelosi regularly quotes St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Nevertheless, only one week before President Trump’s term comes to an end, it is difficult to see how insisting on an impeachment vote without the customary committee process makes peace in our land more likely. Emotions still run hot and investigations are incomplete. Rather than giving Republicans a vehicle through which they could rightly chastise Trump’s reckless decision to rally the most devoted and delusional of his followers on January 6th, Pelosi ceded the procedural and moral high ground by insisting on the most extreme option.
Congressman Tom McClintock, who delivered one of the better of the many speeches made from the House floor Wednesday, appropriately quoted Ben Franklin: “Passion governs and she never governs wisely.” As if to undercut his best points, though, the California congressman delivered his words through a custom-made face covering bearing the words “This mask is as useless as our governor.” Few can now resist the temptation to indignation.
The attack on the Capitol could have been an inflection point towards national reflection, repentance, and reconciliation. Perhaps, it will yet be, but today too many of our elected leaders are failing the moment. In the face of hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness, and sadness, too few are sowing love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy.
There were some more noble examples on display Wednesday. Freshman Congressman Blake Moore of Utah used his first minute speaking on the House floor admirably. A visibly shaken Moore abandoned his very fair prepared remarks, which decried both attempts to block presidential electors and snap impeachments, and lamented, “As I listened to this debate, it’s no wonder that our nation is divided. We are on an absolute race to the bottom and I was hoping that last week we could have hit rock bottom. I commit to doing better and I hope that we all can dig in and find a way.”
Sadly, such conscientious voices were rare in the flurry of posturing remarks—often only 30 seconds in length—that passed for “debate.” Republicans highlighted Trump’s words at the “Save America Rally” that those gathered at the President’s urging “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” Democrats, conversely, were drawn to Trump’s exhortation that the protestors march to Capitol Hill and “fight like hell.”
Those who watch Trump’s entire remarks will see a rambling self-centered speech rehashing accomplishments and old grievances with everyone from Mitt Romney to Oprah Winfrey. Mixed in was more than enough inflammatory “stolen” and “rigged” rhetoric to enflame what McClintock later called “the lunatic fringe.”
Trump regularly substituted adjectives for evidence. He lied about many things, including the crowd size. He did not join the protestors at the Capitol as he promised. He hectored Vice President Mike Pence to do what Pence rightly said could not be done. Trump closed, though, not with a call to arms but with a much milder call for “sweeping election reforms” like voter identification laws. Trump opined that Democrats would not vote for that day’s objections but he urged the crowd to encourage the “weak Republicans.” He sounded more like a man who wanted to keep his hold on a party rather than start a revolution. In short, if Trump’s immediate intent was to foment a violent insurrection, this was an odd way to do it.
Congressman Moore was among those co-sponsoring a firmly worded censure measure that could have sent the President packing with a bi-partisan boot in his rump. Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy offered a speech in which he and said, “The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.” McCarthy also shot down conspiracy theories by saying that there was “absolutely no evidence” that the riots were caused by Antifa, and he expressed support for a censure resolution and a fact-finding commission. He acknowledged that “Joe Biden will be sworn in as President of the United States because he won the election.” Perhaps, McCarthy should have said such things on the night of January 6th when he continued to support electoral objections post-riot, but his conciliatory tone and call for “durable bi-partisan justice” demonstrated more maturity on January 13th.
This could have been an overwhelmingly unified rebuke to the President’s irresponsible post-election efforts which have weakened too many Americans’ faith in elections and provided many links in the chain that led to death and mayhem at the Capitol. Instead, Wednesday turned into a largely party line vote with only ten Republicans joining all the Democrats. Most Republicans could, with good reason, bemoan the rushed process and laud free speech cases that have protected words far more extreme than those uttered by Trump. Nevertheless, Speaker Pelosi achieved her goal of having Trump doubly impeached, a badge of dishonor she seemed determined to bestow.
In her floor speech, Pelosi invoked St. Paul’s exhortation to “think on these things.” She awkwardly tried to link that piece of scripture to words Abraham Lincoln uttered centuries later. To be sure, Lincoln deserves serious consideration in such times, but here is what Paul was actually urging the Philippians to ponder:
[W]hatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline: think on these things.
The final speech for which President Trump will be remembered was not a beacon of truth, modesty, justice, or holiness. His words were not lovely or virtuous but instead placed the exclamation point on an infamous legacy. Pelosi, though, lacked the discipline to respond in a manner that would calm rather than escalate tensions. The final week of President Trump’s term thus becomes more perilous and Biden begins his presidency with Americans even more divided.
Yet, there are still people from these United States that meet much of St. Paul’s criteria. We are a nation whose political system has produced, in addition to Lincoln, the likes of John Adams, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Mark Hatfield—all imperfect people but not without virtues worth emulating. Doubtless, there are better angels among us still. Think on these things.
John Murdock is an attorney who writes from Boise.