Trump’s lies have taken over the GOP. Now what?

On Friday, the Republican National Committee officially declared the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which left at least five people dead and around 140 injured, to be “legitimate political speech.”

In a two-page no-confidence resolution condemning Republican Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their participation in the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, the RNC wrote that “Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger participate to a Democratic-led persecution of ordinary citizens. engaged in legitimate political discourse, and they both use their past professed political affiliation to mask Democrats’ abuse of prosecutorial power for partisan gain.

In a later tweet, RNC President Ronna McDaniel extended on the language of censorship to clarify that it was referring to “everyday citizens who engaged in legitimate political speech that had nothing to do with the violence on Capitol Hill.”

The original text of the resolution, however — which, the New York Times notes, was “carefully negotiated privately among party members” prior to its release — is an appropriate cap on a week that has seen the GOP, led by the former President Donald Trump, drawing closer than ever to explicitly supporting the attack on the Capitol and his goal of nullifying the 2020 election.

In addition to censorship, Trump told supporters at a rally in Conroe, Texas last Saturday that he would consider pardoning those charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, and Politico reported Wednesday. that he was also planning to do so before leaving office in January. Last year.

“If I run and if I win [in 2024], we will treat these people fairly from January 6th. We will treat them fairly,” Trump said at the rally, without addressing any specific concerns about the treatment of rioters. “And if graces are needed, we will grant them graces. Because they are treated so unfairly.

Trump also said in a statement last week that former Vice President Mike Pence “could have canceled the election!” — a claim that, while incorrect, is among Trump’s most overt remarks about the intent behind Jan. 6 and his actions leading up to it.

Trump has yet to announce a formal 2024 presidential bid, but signs point to a likely White House bid as he retains a grip on the GOP ranks.

Meanwhile, large swaths of the Republican Party, still seemingly in Trump’s grip, changed their stance on the Capitol insurrection, distancing themselves from the disturbing reality of these events and positioning the insurgents as innocent protesters, even patriotic guardians of the Constitution.

This reversal — from the horror of the lie-fueled spectacle that unfolded on Capitol Hill last January to the condemnation of Republicans who defy Trump’s narrative — has coalesced perhaps even more clearly in the last week and a half, but it’s been building almost since the attack, led by members of Congress like Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

While some establishment Republicans, including Senator Mitt Romney, have spoken out against censorship and praised the moral compasses of Cheney and Kinzinger, while others have expressed dismay that a future President Trump pardons Jan. 6 rioters, many wholeheartedly bought Trump’s policies. account that they attacked Pence for specifically challenging Trump’s claim on Thursday that he could have overturned the election results.

What Trump Means When He Says He Wants Jan. 6 Prisoners To Be Treated ‘Fairly’

Trump’s claim that he wants fair treatment for the Jan. 6 defendants may be superficially benign, but in reality, it’s just one front in the GOP’s attempt to mythologize the attack as less serious than she wasn’t.

Trump, along with members of Congress like Gaetz and Greene and would-be members like Ohio Senate candidate JD Vance, have made misleading claims about just over 700 people arrested for their role in the attack, including describing them as “political prisoners”. and claiming that they weren’t charged with crimes (they were).

The subtext of Trump’s fairness argument is particularly alarming, given the shocking violence directed at police defending the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump is right and will be rewarded for his loyalty, while those who oppose his claims to power are not only wrong, but unprincipled.

“There is no place for dissenters from Donald Trump’s views in the Republican Party,” Alex Keyssar, professor of history and social policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told Vox in an interview. Sunday.

Gaetz and Greene — both ardent Trump supporters — are the main proponents of the narrative that Jan. 6 attendees are being mistreated (they aren’t). Last summer, along with Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), they visited a DC jail where Jan. 6 defendants were being held, demanding access as members of Congress and falsely claiming that they had overseen the budget. for prison, according to the Washington Post.

The group, joined by Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Bob Good (R-VA), also stormed the Justice Department last summer, with Gosar calling the Jan. 6 defendants “political prisoners” and attempting to ask if any of the defendants were being held in solitary confinement, Meagan Flynn of The Washington Post reported at the time.

The Jan. 6 defendants face a variety of charges, ranging from obstruction of official government process to seditious conspiracy. Some have already been convicted and sentenced; on the first anniversary of the attack, the longest sentence was just over five years in prison.

As Keyssar told Politico in a December 2021 retrospective, the Jan. 6 insurrection accelerated “the downward spiral of American political life” and sparked an “intensified and spiteful struggle for the preservation of values ​​and institutions.” democratic”.

Trump’s insistence on continuing his self-serving narrative of victimhood — and dragging the Republican Party along with it — doesn’t just affect the GOP, as Keyssar points out; it ultimately affects the functioning of democracy and people’s ability to participate in it. “It’s not just about telling different stories,” Keyssar told Vox on Sunday.

Specifically, he said, Trump’s rhetoric around the insurgency is “narrative to justify a particular social order.” According to Keyssar, the narratives that form around the insurrection echo the end of the period of reconstruction in the South after the Civil War. The Reconstruction era gave black Americans unprecedented rights, power, and political representation for a brief period, until the end of the 19th century; in the decades following Reconstruction, the dominant narrative among white Southerners was that the Civil War was an attack on Southern ways of life, and that the Reconstruction period was the result of “carpet-baggers” and ” corrupt northern scalawags taking over the remnants of this society.

At the time, Keyssar said, the Southern white narrative argued that the disenfranchisement of black Southerners and the strengthening of white supremacy “must be restored in order to have a ‘good society’ again.” In the same vein now, Trump’s fiction – that he was the real winner of the 2020 election and widespread fraud deprived him of a second term; that members of his own party who do not support his lies are unpatriotic; and that the people who protested and stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 are not criminals — aims to restore him to power.

Just because Trump’s talking points around the 2020 election and their endorsement by the Republican Party aren’t exactly unprecedented doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous, Keyssar said.

The polarization of the two parties and their dominance in state legislatures has encouraged some places to propose laws targeting voter fraud – although there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections – which may have real effect of making it harder. for disenfranchised communities, including black people and people experiencing poverty, to vote.

Furthermore, Keyssar said, the ongoing effort to delegitimize the election serves to deny peaceful means to change power, which could portend further violence in one form or another. “If you discredit the mechanism of elections,” he said, “then what are you left with? To obligate.”

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