New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries delivered a message Monday about the posture of House Democrats’ leadership team regarding Donald Trump’s relentless attempts to engineer a fascist takeover of the American republic.
“We’re not looking backward,” Jeffries told reporters during a press conference. “We’re looking forward to the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20th.”
That forward-looking vision came less than 24 hours after the Washington Post posted smoking-gun audio of an hour-long phone call in which Trump (aka Mafia Don) attempted to threaten and cajole Georgia’s top election officials to “find” enough votes to overturn the state’s election results.
Nonetheless, Kate Bedingfield, an adviser to President-elect Joe Biden offered a similar take to Jeffries, saying, “The country is ready to move forward.”
But the problem with simply rushing past Mafia Don’s political grave is that ignoring his seditious acts is as much a threat to the future of American democracy as Trump’s failed efforts were in the first place. In short—seditious, traitorous acts left unchecked beget seditious, traitorous acts. In fact, Senate Republicans with the twinkle of 2024 presidential bids in their eyes are already lining up in support of Trump’s effort to tear down democracy in order to maintain his grip on power. Trump’s final gambit is all but certain to fail on Wednesday during a joint session of Congress to certify the election results, but the major takeaway is that plenty of future GOP Trumps are waiting in the wings to trash representative democracy on the way to meeting their own political ends unless a price is exacted for doing so. And the lesson those Republicans have learned so far—just as Trump learned from his acquittal—is that there’s no serious price to pay, political or otherwise, for betraying the country.
Both the incoming Biden administration and Congress have a role to play in safeguarding our democracy for generations to come. One is criminal and the other is a matter of governance. Biden must appoint smart, resolute leaders to the Justice Department and then simply get out of the way and let them do their jobs. Hamstringing justice in any way with regard to Trump’s endless assault on the law and the Constitution would be disastrous for the country’s future. But Biden can easily make those appointments to the Department of Justice and then rightfully send the message that his administration is focused on the task of righting the ship in regard to the pandemic and the faltering economy.
House Democrats, however, cannot afford to simply move along, as if the threat to our democracy ends once Trump is summarily booted from the White House residence. That is a patently false contention given the upheaval we are already witnessing in the Republican party. Trump must be held to account. That can be done in several ways, a couple of which are already in process.
One way is by making a criminal referral to the FBI over Trump’s attempted election crimes, an investigation that Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York are already urging FBI Director Chris Wray to undertake.
Another possibility is censuring Trump over his call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson introduced a censure motion on Monday with the support of 90 of his colleagues. That number will likely grow in the coming days and weeks as Congress gets back to work—or at least, it should grow, since there are presently 222 Democratic members of the House.
Impeachment is another potential option, but to what end at this point? Trump is just over two weeks away from removal and, as we have already seen, the effort would surely be blocked by the GOP-controlled Senate. Heck, more than a quarter of the Senate Republican caucus has jumped aboard Team coup at this point.
What does seem a worthy effort, however, is continued investigations of Trump and his minions. Not only do the facts need to come out, but if Democrats are to draft legislation to safeguard our democracy against future Trumps, they will need to know exactly what actions he and his enablers took in their extensive efforts to kneecap America’s institutions and systems of governance.
But none of those three options—a criminal referral, censure, and ongoing investigations—amount to simply “looking forward.” What is past will haunt the nation and Democrats, in particular, if it is buried before an autopsy can be conducted and people held to account for their roles in assaulting and undermining America’s democracy.