The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
As 2022 starts, two very different visions of American government are locked in competition. One is a harmful, paranoid view. The other is focused on solving problems through accountability and concrete fixes.
Conspiratorial takes aren’t anything new but they’ve accelerated and spread. COVID conspiracy theories are damaging to people’s health. Political ones threaten the body politic.
Before his 2020 loss, Donald Trump laid the groundwork for claiming fraud. He then engaged in a dangerous quest to thwart the peaceful transfer of power.
Accountability is arriving in 2022. High drama is coming, too.
The investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection is entering a major public stage. It’s like Watergate, which was investigated by elected officials as prosecutors convicted White House and campaign officials. This time radical right activists and other citizens are also facing justice.
As Rep. Liz Cheney revealed, the committee “will be conducting multiple weeks of public hearings, setting out for the American people in vivid color exactly what happened every minute of the day on Jan. 6 at the Capitol and at the White House, and what led to that violent attack.”
By early December, the House committee had already interviewed 250 people and obtained reams of documents. The committee is also following the money and will consider whether to send criminal referrals involving Trump and others to the Department of Justice.
A federal judge has already ruled that obstructing an official proceeding — the electoral vote count — is illegal, even when no violence was involved.
Given limits on what’s known, it’s unclear how far criminal charges would extend. But during Watergate, a grand jury named President Richard Nixon an unindicted co-conspirator; later he was preemptively pardoned by President Gerald Ford.
Yet now Trump still lies about the election and his conspiracy theories keep creating harm. Local election officials are under siege.
As Rep. Adam Kinzinger observed with concern, “there’s a lot of areas where you can learn from, if your goal is to overthrow a legitimate election and potentially do it successfully next time.” Indeed, in some states, Republicans passed laws letting legislators select presidential electors that aren’t for who voters wanted.
After Watergate, many reforms were made to increase transparency and try to limit the impact of money in politics.
Yet Republicans, including Kinzinger and Sen. Susan Collins, oppose proposed voting rights legislation. Collins, who in February 2021 pointed to Trump “summoning and inciting a mob to threaten other officials in the discharge of their constitutional obligations” recently claimed it was “harmful alarmism” to acknowledge how our republic is at risk.
In contrast, President Joe Biden has spoken eloquently about threats to our election system and voting rights and backs limiting the filibuster to allow congressional majorities to pass voting rights. He also said that, for the insurrection, “accountability is necessary” “no matter where it goes,” while reiterating that the Justice Department must make decisions independently.
And more generally, Biden operates with a view of government focused on delivering for all Americans. After tornadoes devastated Kentucky, he visited and talked to local people. Promoting national unity, Biden proclaimed there are “no red tornadoes and blue tornadoes” and received respect for showing up to see the damage and directing federal resources to the area.
Recognizing how Americans interact with government in many circumstances, Biden issued an executive order in December to cut red tape and streamline services, with 36 specific improvements across 17 agencies. The White House plans to make it easier to do such things as access Social Security, renew a passport, and manage health benefits and student loans and envisions these buttressing political legitimacy. In announcing these changes, the White House stated, “We will rebuild trust in our government, ensure no one is left behind, and inspire others to join us in serving future generations of Americans.”
Pushing back on paranoia is hard when people live in divergent media bubbles.
But in a competition with this suspicious vision, most Americans can get behind another view of government — one that embraces accountability, makes the little tasks easier and focuses on solving problems.