Friday, May 21, 2021

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Turn Your Back on the Republic

This week, the House of Representatives voted in favor of creating a commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Every Democrat backed the idea, but only 35 Republicans did the same. That means that 178 Republicans don't want to learn any more about how and why hundreds of people broke into the building that houses the core values of our democratic republic, stole documents and other items, smeared feces on the walls, injured dozens of police officers, threatened to hang our then-Vice President, and hunted down senators after erecting a noose outside.

But why? 

If some members actually believe that the insurrectionists were members of Antifa and/or Black Lives Matter who changed into Trump shirts and waved Trump flags as a clever disguise, you would think they would want to learn more. Let's hold the correct people responsible and bring to light their crimes against our country! But the truth is, the Republicans who voted against the commission, at least most of them, know that the Antifa conspiracy theory is not a true one. Keeping some shred of credibility to the theory, however, benefits many of these House members in their home districts. So they don't challenge it.

Perhaps there a few members of Congress who worry about being implicated themselves in the day's events. What exactly was said in the phone call between former President Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy once the Capitol had been invaded? How did some of the insurrectionists know the exact location of Speaker Pelosi's office? Why did Rep. Paul Gosar tell Trump supporters that it actually was the Democrats who were planning a coup and they needed to "be ready to defend the Constitution and the White House." (Which is ironic, as the insurrectionists themselves were a violent affront to the principles of the Constitution.)

Sadly, though, it seems the primary reason that so many Republicans have abandoned their country and the search for answers is self-preservation and their fear that one man could destroy them. Trump does not want any more time spent studying the mob that was comprised of "very special people" who he "loves very much." He does not want people to keep making connections between the MONTHS he spent telling supporters that the only way he could lose is if the other side stole the election. He does not want people to think about how he spent every day in the weeks leading up to January 6 telling crowds how disappointed he would be if Pence didn't have the courage to "do the right thing" and that those who listened then cried out to "Hang Mike Pence!" Trump is deeply embedded in a tunnel of disinformation that has him convinced he was cheated out of reelection and anyone who disagrees is a traitor.

And Republicans cannot afford to have Trump think they are traitors. His name and his endorsement, sadly, still matter. This is why Cruz still grovels for his acceptance even though Trump called his wife ugly and claimed his father was involved in Kennedy's murder. It's why Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA)  said, "You know, if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit." It's why Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) said, "I didn't see any violence." It's why Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said that the Justice Department is now "harassing peaceful patriots" in its attempt to hold the insurrectionists accountable. They cannot risk contradicting Trump's delusions. The political stakes are too high.

In their attempts to whitewash history, to insist that the country needs to move on and forget about what happened in and around the US Capitol on January 6, the 178 Republicans in the House who voted against the commission (including my Rep. John Rose and every other Republican congressperson from Tennessee) have turned their backs on our republic. They have stated with their votes that winning a primary in 2022 is more important than the truth and more important than understanding how some of our elected officials came within minutes or even seconds of violence at the hands of a mob. It's more important than admitting that this very real threat to our country still exists and we need to know how to stop it from happening again.

Next week, we will learn if the Republicans in the Senate have the same priorities. Spoiler alert - they do. There will not be enough Republican senators who will be willing to back this commission and we never will get the bipartisan commission that our republic, our Capitol police, our freedoms, and our elected officials who were threatened that day deserve. 

In November 2002, Congress created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States in order to investigate how the horrific events of 9/11 were able to happen on our soil. The commission was comprised of five Republicans and five Democrats, just as the January 6 commission proposes to do. There was not an overwhelming number of members from one party who opposed learning more about 9/11. In fact, pretty much everyone thought it was a good idea. Our country had been attacked and we demanded answers. While the death toll and the psychological toll on our nation certainly was greater on that awful day in 2001 than what we experienced at the Capitol earlier this year, the attack on our country was just as real and the threat to the vitality of our republic is greater now than it was nearly two decades ago. And the problem should not be ignored just to pacify one man who couldn't care less if the whole place burns. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Pro-Life or Pro-Death? It's So Hard to Tell!

This morning, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a measure that would make abortion illegal in the state after six weeks and also allow for civil lawsuits to be brought against anyone who assists in the abortion process (those who drive a woman to a clinic, doctors, anyone who contributes to Planned Parenthood, and so on). Abbott was very pleased with the passage of this law and offered up the hashtag "#prolife" on social media to celebrate.

This evening, Texas will execute Quintin Jones.

You may be thinking what I've been thinking all afternoon - Texas is having a very confusing day. Pro-life at sunrise, pro-death by sundown.

Governor Abbott's crusade against abortion is founded in his Christian faith. He believes that all life is precious. He has declared a "Sanctity of Human Life Day" in Texas. He has said, "I will always fight for life as your governor." Just today at the bill signing, Abbott declared, "Our Creator endowed us with the right to life." 

With Governor Abbott's theological pro-life stance in mind, let me tell you a little about condemned prisoner Quintin Jones. He admits to killing his great aunt in 1999 in an effort to get money from her, when he was nineteen years old and under the influence of drugs and alcohol. For the past two decades, he has been the model prisoner without a single disciplinary infraction. He has gotten clean. His family, and therefore also his great-aunt's family, is appealing to Governor Abbott for clemency. The actual surviving victims of this crime do not want the ultimate punishment to be carried out. But clemency will not come. despite the fact that extending grace and the notion of being made new again are both pretty important parts of the faith that led the same governor to sign the abortion bill this morning.

Today's bipolar activity in Texas is just another piece in a bizarre week for any consistent message regarding sanctity of life in our country. On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a Mississippi law that outlaws abortions after fifteen weeks. (Texas responded, "Fifteen weeks? Please. That's nothing. Hold my beer. No, really, hold it because I don't want anyone around me to know I drink alcohol.") It has been the goal of conservative state legislatures to pass extreme laws that climb all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade and one of them finally succeeded.

But on that same day, "pro-life" Governor Henry McMaster of South Carolina signed a bill forcing death row inmates to choose a firing squad or the electric chair for their executions. Firing squad or electric chair. In a supposedly advanced country. In 2021. I'm not sure how the push for burning at the stake or stoning didn't make the cut as well. Did anyone see this news story this week and wonder if perhaps they didn't take a trip in a DeLorean and somehow forgot?

It's grotesque that the death penalty finds some of its most ardent supporters in the same states where the pro-life abortion agenda is fought the most fiercely. One in nine prisoners on death row is eventually exonerated, sometimes after spending decades behind bars or even already killed by the state. The notion of one person being put to death for a crime he did not commit is horrifying. It is one sentence that is irreversible. 

These days, I'm struggling to figure out what someone means when they claim to be pro-life. Did he pray outside abortion clinics all through this past year but then also attend a packed worship service without a mask every Sunday? That's not consistently pro-life. Did she applaud the previous president's Supreme Court nominations because justices who will restrict abortions are important to her but then also cheer when Oklahoma and Florida passed laws granting immunity for people who drive over protestors and perhaps kill them? That's not consistently pro-life. (And in Florida, "rioters" who you can run over with your motor vehicle are defined as a gathering of three of more people. Seriously.)

Put aside the other important and true arguments against the death penalty - it's more expensive than keeping someone in prison, it's not an effective deterrent, the sentencing is hugely skewed to the poor and the non-white. If you are pro-life, if you are a Christian and therefore have read past the vengeful justice of the Old Testament, if you do not believe it is a human's place to serve as final executioner of another man who was made in the image of God, then I think what is happening in Texas tonight and what was decided in South Carolina this week should be troubling to you. 

"With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory, I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe that any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don't think it's human to become an agent of the angel of death." - Elie Wiesel, writer, speaker, Holocaust survivor

"Perhaps the bleakest fact of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent." - former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan

"Capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God." - Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.