July 23, 2022: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

As I read the news this morning about yesterday’s events at the US Capitol, the literature teacher in me could not help but recall the famous opening passage to Charles Dicken’s classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the Fother way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

For that was exactly how I was feeling this morning, ping-ponging between light and dark, hope and despair, and some amount of incredulity towards the news from both ends of the best-worst Congressional news spectrum.

I’m the kind of person who likes to get the bad news handled first so that I can savor the good, so let’s start with the darker side of events at the US Capitol yesterday. In the House of Representatives, the major activity was the public hearings from the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. To my mind, that attack on US government by US citizens is one of the darkest days in our national history. But yesterday’s testimonies by former staff of the US Department of Justice during that time were equally horrifying. Staff reported on behavior by the former President or those working under him that was shockingly illegal, unconstitutional, inappropriate, or downright delusional. Which action was the worst? The Christmas eve 2021 call from Donald Trump to the acting deputy attorney general in which the President told him “Just say the election was corrupt and leave it to me and the Republican Congressmen?” Or after the Justice Department told the President multiple times that they lacked the authority to “seize the voting machines” as he had directed them because there was no evidence of fraud, Donald Trump turned around and called the Department of Homeland Security and claimed the Justice Department had said that it was Homeland Security’s responsibility to seize voting machines and that “you’re not doing your job.”? Perhaps it was the President’s ongoing pressure to investigate any crackpot claim of fraud he found on the internet, such as the one arguing that an Italian defense contractor had used a satellite to flip votes from Trump to Biden? Or was it that when the DOJ leaders he had appointed continued to refuse to ignore the law and invalidate a legitimate election, President Trump was prepared to promote a mid-level DOJ staffer with no experience in prosecution or federal crimes (he was an environmental lawyer) to the attorney general job simply because the man made it clear he would do whatever Donald Trump wanted him to do in that role?

As distressing as the testimony was about the many and agregious efforts by the former President to force the top government agency charged with upholding our legal system to ignore the Constitution and numerous federal, state, and local election laws and to do what he wanted because it would benefit him personally, it is perhaps even worse that so few people are shocked and demand repercussions for Donald Trump’s actions, especially among the Republicans. Yesterday’s hearing was run by Representative Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, who is one of only two Republicans on the committee and who has chosen to retire at the end of this year rather than face the wrath of voters for refusing to support the so-called “Big Lie” theories of election fraud being continually pushed by Donald Trump.

I was in high school and living in the Washington DC area during the Watergate investagations into wrongdoing by former President Nixon, and I remember how riveted we were as his misdeeds were revealed. But Richard Nixon never tried anything nearly as outrageous as what Donald Trump has done and continues to do. In the end, it was Republicans of conscience who convinced Nixon that he had to resign for his crimes. How sad it is to see what has become of the Republican party these days.

However, that same evening, there was a ray of hope shining from the Senate side of the US Capitol. For the first time in decades, the Senate passed a significant piece of legislation on improving federal gun control. This came as a result of a bipartisan group of 20 Senators, half Democrats and half Republicans, who somehow were able to patch together a bill that both sides could live with and that would take a broad federal approach to reducing gun violence.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I’ve been wanting the federal government to expand gun control laws for years, particularly after watching too many videos after mass shooting, most sadly those involving school or places of worship. The bill doesn’t go far enough for me, but it does something at least, and I’ll take whatever progress we can get.

Plus, it makes me hopeful that perhaps our federal legislature isn’t completely broken. It has been increasingly hard to get bipartisan agreement about anything in Congress lately. The fact that there was a group of centralists that were able to work together and develop something that attracted enough people on both sides to vote down the filibuster blocking the bill (ending the filibuster takes 60 votes versus a simple majority to pass the bill)…well, that’s a hopeful sign. Perhaps we will see more of that in the days to come.

Finally, I’m proud to say the bipartisan group included BOTH of North Carolina’s Republican Senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr. I would love to see North Carolina continue to be a state that is a leader in building concensus among the Senate. I’ve written both men plenty of times disagreeing with their positions on different issues, so it was a pleasure to write them and thank them for taking a stand on doing SOMETHING on gun safety legislation. If you also live in North Carolina and support this legislation, I encourage you to write them and thank them for their votes. I’m sure they are hearing plenty of negative feedback from the NRA.

NOTE: I wrote this early this morning before I got wrapped up in my usual work, and haven’t been able to get back to it until the end of a busy day. News from the Supreme Court has diminished some of my optimism about the federal government. But I’m still going to publish ths post of a reminder of at least a few hours when possibilities for better governing looked brighter.

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