By The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson
The House Select Committee investigating the sacking of the Capitol on January 6 last week began the first of its primetime, public hearings. The committee has done an exhaustive investigation, interviewing a thousand witnesses, looking at tens of thousands of documents. The hearings revealed new information about what was an apparent multi-layered effort to overturn the results of a presidential election, driven by the White House and involving Republican legislators, operatives, state officials, and donors. The hearings asked every American to understand how vulnerable our democracy is, and how close we came to losing it.
The question, of course, is whether it is too late to save our democracy. Donald Trump has persisted in propagating his Big Lie about the election, despite the fact that court after court (many judges appointed by Trump), his own attorney general and Justice Department, and partisan audits of votes in several states universally found no evidence of fraud that could have come close to making a difference in the election result.
No matter. Trump has persisted, the right-wing media led by Fox News has echoed his claims, and today, two-thirds of Republican voters say Joe Biden is not the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election, and that the election was stolen from Trump. Many Republicans join Trump in praising as patriots those who sacked the Capitol.
The Big Lie goes even further than this. Across the country, in the Congress and in the states, Republican officials have systematically blocked efforts to strengthen our electoral system, and instead, in states where they have power, have passed a range of measures to make voting more difficult. Driven by Trump, they have also supported extremists for what used to be nonpartisan posts in charge of the administration of elections. In some states, they have given the Republican legislatures greater power to overturn the results of the elections. By 2024, Republicans in about 20 states will be primed and eager to ensure that their candidate wins – no matter what the voters say.
In the Congress, Republicans have filibustered attempts to reform our electoral laws to make clear how the electoral college works – and how it must reflect the votes of the people. They have filibustered against attempts to set federal standards for voting that would make registration and voting far easier. They have even blocked efforts to revive the Voting Rights Act, the keystone of the civil rights movement that was gutted by five right-wing Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices. The last time the Voting Rights Act re-authorized, it received nearly universal bipartisan support in the House and Senate. No more. Now ensuring the right of Blacks to vote meets with partisan opposition.
There’s the rub. Republicans in polls say that they believe that votes are counted honestly in states that vote Republican, in rural and suburban areas where Republicans congregate. They say that fraud takes place in urban areas – areas where Blacks and Hispanics live. Mail-in ballots, which Trump objects to, are fine in Republican areas, but somehow illegitimate in urban areas. When senior citizens used mail-in ballots, there was no problem. Now that more African Americans and Hispanics use them, they are viewed as suspect.
These fears are compounded by the so-called “replacement theory,” a favorite of the right-wing media. The replacement theory essentially argues that Black, Hispanic and Asian American votes are tainted because Democrats allegedly are plotting to use immigrants to “replace” white majorities.
America, in this view, must remain a white, Christian, male-dominated country. And if that takes subverting the democracy to ensure that the minority can rule, so be it.
The Jan. 6 Committee hearings are, in many ways, a plea for Americans to defend their democracy. This should be as popular as apple pie – but it won’t be. The committee will face a right-wing media complex – Fox News, Newsmax, the QAnon network and legions of poisonous talk radio hosts – that will no doubt ignore its evidence and savage its conclusions. More than eight in 10 Republicans who get their news from Fox News believe the election was stolen.
America has experienced brutal battles over its democracy before. The Civil War was fought over whether the Union would remain united and free. The civil rights movement had to overcome entrenched resistance to end apartheid in the South. Now democracy is at stake once more. Will Americans again rally to defend our democracy or will they succumb to a Big Lie grounded in racial animus that will drive our country apart? The Jan. 6 Committee is yet another chapter in that ongoing battle.
The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures.