Mississippi’s Republican congressional delegation generally isn’t saying how much it has been paying attention to the Jan. 6 hearings.
Four of them — Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Reps. Michael Guest and Steven Palazzo — have dodged the question. The fifth, Rep. Trent Kelly, said in a radio interview that he has watched the televised hearings “very little,” parroting Donald Trump’s words that the proceedings are a “witch hunt.”
If only out of professional courtesy, you would think they would watch the hearings, since they are chaired by fellow Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson. The Democrat has become a prominent national figure as a result of the exhaustive year-long investigation into the Trump-inspired assault on the Capitol and the hearings that have laid out the evidence against the former president.
Even if Thompson’s politics and that of the five Republicans are rarely in sync, there should be at least some curiosity on their part to see how a fellow Mississippian performs in such a high-profile role.
Kelly made the familiar argument that the hearings are one-sided. Of course they are. This is not a trial. It is more like a grand jury proceeding, in which the prosecution puts on the evidence to determine whether there is probable cause to charge anyone with a crime.
The Jan. 6 committee has more than made its case. It has irrefutably established that Trump:
nWas told in no uncertain terms by his own inner circle that Joe Biden had fairly won the election, a conclusion affirmed by dozens of court decisions.
nRefused to accept that fact and instead embarked on a calculated campaign, aided by a few GOP zealots, to peddle the lie that the election had been stolen and try to overturn the result by pressuring election officials in battleground states to commit fraud.
nSummoned his supporters, some of whom he knew to be armed, to Washington in a final desperate attempt to hold onto the job, ginned them up at a rally a short walk from the Capitol, then turned them loose on Congress in hopes of stopping the final formality of certifying Biden’s victory.
nWatched approvingly on TV for three hours as the mob breached the Capitol, assaulted the Capitol police and tried to hunt down then-Vice President Mike Pence and others fingered by Trump. All the while he ignored the pleas of his children and close advisers to call off the riot that produced several deaths and scores of injuries.
No matter the party affiliation, any objective member of Congress when presented with this huge pile of evidence would have to conclude that Trump not only ignored the American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power but tried to undermine our most fundamental democratic institutions. He betrayed his office, should have been found guilty when impeached and has forfeited any right to ever hold the presidency again.
Whether it would be worth the distraction and divisions of prosecuting him is debatable.
But to ignore what Trump did, or to try to gloss it over as no big deal, or — most damnably — to support the former president’s actions is a shameful dereliction of duty.
Members of Congress are sworn to uphold the Constitution, to pledge fealty not to any president but to the people, and to respect the democratic institutions and traditions that distinguish this nation from dictatorships.
What Trump did was treasonous. He tried to orchestrate a coup, not a military one but a coup nonetheless. For the members of Mississippi’s Republican delegation to countenance it either by helping to peddle Trump’s lies or to remain silent to them is cowardly. They are more worried about not alienating their conservative base, which still embraces Trump, than they are about trying to inform that base of how dangerous Trump’s actions were to our nation’s stability.
The riot at the Capitol was scary enough. Just think what the upheaval would have looked like, not only in Washington but around the country, if the election had truly been stolen by giving it to Trump.
Granted, Thompson and Democrats in Congress are trying to make political hay out of the Jan. 6 hearings. They would like the detailed examination of Trump’s misconduct in office to distract voters from inflation and other pocketbook issues that could produce a GOP rout in the November midterm elections.
But when historians look back on this troubled period in American government, Thompson will come off favorably. Those who stand on the other side of the political aisle in Mississippi, not so much.