Column: The Jan. 6 committee has fixed the blame not just on Trump, but his GOP enablers for betraying democracy

Kevin McCarthy gesturing and speaking in front of American flags
The complicity and foreknowledge of Republican leaders such as Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) are showing.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

America’s democracy still has one big thing going for it: When it comes to coup attempts, past and perhaps prospective, the nation’s military brass wants no part of them.

If only the same could be said for our civilian leaders in one of the two major political parties.

Reflecting the U.S. military’s time-tested respect for two pillars of our democracy — the peaceful transfer of power and civilian control of the military — seven retired four-star generals and admirals published an op-ed Thursday in the New York Times condemning former President Trump for threatening those precepts “as never before” by his actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021.


Trump “abdicated his duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” as the presidential oath prescribes, the former officers wrote — not least by considering an illegal order that the military “seize voting machines and supervise a do-over of the election” he’d plainly lost.

“Our democracy is not a given. To preserve it, Americans must demand nothing less from their leaders than an unassailable commitment to country over party — and to their oaths above all.”

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

Country over party. Oaths of office. The brass’ admonition was to Trump, but it applies more broadly to his Republican Party: Trump wouldn’t be the threat he was — and is — but for his accomplices in the states and especially in Congress, from Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy through much of the party rank-and-file, politicians who by their actions or inactions have enabled his unprecedented abuses.

Recall that just hours after Trump’s insurrectionists ransacked the Capitol, nearly two-thirds of congressional Republicans did just what the rioters wanted: They voted against certifying Joe Biden’s election. And now, thanks to the work of journalists and of the Jan. 6 House select committee, we have evidence strongly suggesting that some of those Republicans participated in the coup plotting. Many of the rest knew Team Trump was up to no good even before the election and yet said nothing publicly.

One of the few Republican heroes of this sorry saga, Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling, angrily spat in the direction of those quislings as he and others who stood up to Trump faced death threats: “If you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some!”

They didn’t and haven’t, with few exceptions, notably Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. For putting country over party, their party is running both of them out of Congress. (Separately, this week the Arizona Republican Party censured state House Speaker Rusty Bowers for his resistance to Trump’s coup and called for Bowers’ defeat in next month’s party primary.)

An overwhelming number of congressional Republicans opposed Trump’s impeachment in the House and secured his acquittal in the Senate trial that followed, despite the more-than-overwhelming evidence, even then, that he’d violated his oath as no president had before.

Just two House Republicans agreed to the creation of the Jan. 6 committee, and even now — as the gripping hearings, through Thursday’s prime-time finale, have suggested treasonous criminality by Trump and others — McCarthy and his ilk continue to vie for prime time on Fox News to slam the proceedings as fake news.


They know better, as the Jan. 6 committee’s evidence of their complicity and foreknowledge is showing.

History will not be kind. That will be so even if voters reward Republicans in November by giving them control of the House and perhaps the Senate.

Before the previous midterm elections in 2018, conservative George Will wrote a column urging voters to reject congressional Republicans as a message to them and then-President Trump. As he subsequently explained to an interviewer, “When there’s no penalty for failure, failure proliferates. And, when there’s no penalty for recklessness, recklessness proliferates.”

And so it has. Republicans suffered defeats in 2018, losing their House majority, but it wasn’t comeuppance enough to change their Trumpian ways. Trump, as usual conjuring his own false reality, went so far as to declare victory.

Little wonder that he did it again in 2020, when it was his own power on the line.

For months before the election, he said he could only lose if the vote were rigged. On election night, he claimed victory based on early votes favoring Republicans, having been told by his own campaign managers that later mail-in returns would favor Democrats; those votes were fraudulent, he lied. He then pressured Republican officials in swing states that Biden won to not certify the Democrats’ electoral college votes, but support alternative slates of Trump electors instead. For Congress’ final certification of the result in January, he demanded that his vice president throw out Biden votes.

When all that failed, Trump summoned his MAGA army for a “wild” march on the Capitol.

We saw reports the week after the riot that Trump watched the violence on television in the White House for three hours — 187 minutes — enjoying the show and doing nothing to fulfill his oath as commander in chief. Now the Jan. 6 committee has provided primary source evidence, including eyewitness testimony from Trump’s own advisors.

It’s hard to imagine anyone, let alone a president, relishing that mayhem. It’s just as hard to fathom that members of Congress who were directly threatened by that violence — provoked by a president against their coequal branch of government — would not exact justice against the would-be usurper. And that some of those lawmakers were lieutenants in his coup plot.

In other countries, the military leads coups. In ours, perhaps the military could lead a class in avoiding them, and defending democracy. Sign up Kevin McCarthy and the rest of Trump’s Republican toadies.