WASHINGTON—One year after the deadly Trump coup attempt, President Joe Biden stood at the U.S. Capitol last Thursday morning and indicted the former White House occupant and his supporters in the Republican Party as part of an ongoing conspiracy against democracy.
Biden condemned the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, and blasted Trump for his role in instigating it, but he went further—targeting all those in the GOP who continue to peddle what he called “a web of lies” and saying that passage of the voting rights bills stalled in the Senate is crucial to halting plots to subvert future elections.
The president asked the nation to look back to the day a year ago, with “rioters rampaging and waving, for the first time inside this Capitol, the Confederate flag that symbolizes the cause to destroy America.” He recalled many of the images that flashed on televisions across the nation, including the attacks on lawmakers and the erection of a gallows to hang Vice President Mike Pence.
Biden said he was bringing up the events of that day not just to be “bogged down in the past,” but rather to bring attention to the lies still being spread today—“lies conceived and spread for profit and power.”
Implicating Trump’s backers in the fascist wing of the Republican Party, Biden said they still hold a “dagger at the throat of America and American democracy” and remain determined to sabotage voting and democratic elections. “The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections,” Biden charged. He excoriated the laws being written in GOP-ruled states “not to protect the vote, but to deny it.”
Over 400 bills have been drafted or passed since Jan. 6 which attempt to kill voting rights, including more restrictive ID laws, limits on absentee voting, the slashing of early voting periods that working class people often rely on to vote outside of work hours, the establishment of Republican-dominated “election commissions” to scrutinize ballots, the empowerment of GOP “poll watchers” to intimidate voters, and outright purges of voters from the rolls—especially voters of color.
Previewing Biden’s broadside against voter suppression, Vice President Kamala Harris last Thursday encouraged broad unity to protect the ballot. “We cannot let our future be decided by those bent on silencing our voices, overturning our votes, and peddling lies and misinformation,” Harris said.
By reference, she also linked today’s anti-democratic assaults to the racist vote-rigging and violence of earlier eras, saying that the faction around Trump may be “newly resurgent,” but it has “roots that run old and deep.”
Harris compared the Jan. 6 Trump coup to other infamous dates in U.S. history—Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese militarists attacked Pearl Harbor, and Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. She said the Capitol attack showed what the U.S. would look like “if the forces who seek to dismantle democracy are successful.”
Information in the latest report from hate group watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center suggests that rather than retreating after Jan. 6th, violent and white supremacist extremist groups like the Proud Boys have received a boost. “Trends on the far right’s fringe have become mainstream,” SPLC says, with these shock troops of reaction “coordinating and organizing…in fluid and ambiguous ways” both online and offline. That means they’re getting harder to track, even as they grow in strength.
That meshes with what FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress last fall. He reported that “the domestic terrorism caseload has exploded” and pinpointed white supremacists and militias as the prime threat to the country.
The saboteurs of democracy inside Congress also continue to thrive, thanks to generous helpings of corporate campaign cash. Though the leading lights of America’s capitalist class loudly and publicly declared a halt to their political contributions in the days after the coup attempt, data just released by Accountable.US reveals that millions of dollars have continued to quietly flow to the same politicians who tried to overturn the 2020 election results.
Weapons makers Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin have combined with General Motors to funnel over $650,000 to a group of Republican election objectors in the past year. The American Bankers Association, meanwhile, has deposited $200,000 in the campaign accounts of GOP objectors, including that of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who’s seeking to replace Speaker Nancy Pelosi in this year’s elections.
“Major corporations were quick to condemn the insurrection and tout their support for democracy—and almost as quickly, many ditched those purported values by cutting big checks to the very politicians that helped instigate the failed coup attempt,” Accountablle.US President Kyle Herrig said in a statement along with the report.
But, he said, “the increasing volume of corporate donations to lawmakers who tried to overthrow the will of the people makes clear that these companies were never committed to standing up for democracy in the first place.”
Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and GM were all among those corporations who pledged a halt to campaign contributions. The Bankers group never made any such promise. In total, at least $8.1 million was donated to Republican election objectors between Jan. 6 and the end of November 2021. With the midterms approaching, those amounts are likely to soar.
As for the fight to protect democracy from this racist and corporate assault, Biden said the immediate task is to pass the voting rights bills that are now before the Senate.
The Freedom to Vote Act would expand access to the ballot box and reduce the influence of big money in politics. It would make automatic voter registration standard across the country, restore incarcerated people’s right to vote following completion of their sentences, expand early and absentee voting, and make Election Day a national holiday.
The bill has unified Democratic support, but Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell threatens to block it with a filibuster, just as his party did with every other voting rights measure proposed in 2021. A rule change may be needed to bypass the GOP blockade, but so-called “centrist” Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema say they would prevent that.
The other major piece of voting rights legislation, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, would strengthen the federal government’s ability to combat state-level voting discrimination. Many of the voter suppression efforts underway in state legislatures right now are possible thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2013 gutting of the original 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Previously, states and localities that had a history of racist voter suppression were closely monitored by the federal government. Any changes in election laws in those states had to be approved by the Justice Department. The Supreme Court removed that power and Republicans continue to take advantage of the lack of oversight.
As with the Freedom to Vote Act, Republicans march lock-step in their opposition to the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and a handful of so-called Democratic “moderates” effectively help them in their effort to halt reform.
Passage of the two bills is the first critical step to protecting the vote, both for this November’s midterms as well as future elections. Securing the ballot is also essential for winning a pro-people agenda and halting corporate attempts to take advantage of the pandemic to further squeeze workers and the poor. If passage does not come quickly, Republicans will be able to claim in state courts that they have had insufficient time to change the restrictive laws they have already passed.
Linking the assault on democracy with the general assault on working people and communities of color, Rev. William Barber, leader of the Poor People’s Campaign, said Thursday morning that “January 6th is still going on.” On Twitter, he wrote, “You can’t separate the extreme, mean, and politically violent policy agenda from the extreme, mean, physically violent action of the insurrection.”
Barber condemned Trump and his backers, but also set his sights on centrist Democrats who played a central role killing the social policies of the Build Back Better bill and now stand poised to help Republicans also kill voting rights.
“I pray that those like Manchin and Sinema understand that when you block votes on voting rights protections and BBB,” Barber said, “you are an accessory to the ongoing political insurrection going on in state houses across this nation, suppressing the vote, health care, living wages, and the truth.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders made similar points in his Jan. 6th anniversary statement. “If we are really going to save democracy and make it relevant to people’s lives, Congress must boldly address the long-neglected crises facing the working people of this country.”
Sanders condemned the Trump coup and anti-democratic forces behind it, but said it was also symptomatic of the greater crisis of social and economic inequality and the perception among millions that Washington doesn’t deliver when it comes to the things important in their lives.
“Over and over again, people in this country see the very rich become much richer while politicians and the corporate media ignore…low wages, dead-end jobs, debt, homelessness, lack of health care or educational opportunity, declining life expectancy, substance abuse, impoverished retirement,” Sanders said.
“Democrat or Republican. Who cares? Nothing changes, or if it does, it’s usually for the worse,” the independent socialist senator stated. In addition to protecting voting rights, Sanders said the ultimate choice is between “oligarchy, where our economic and political life is dominated by a handful of billionaires,” and a “vibrant democracy where the voices of the people are heard and where their needs are addressed.”
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.