Opinion: History won’t pardon the inciter-in-chief

On Jan. 19 and 20, the inciter-in-chief pardoned 74 people. Many were his clones: swindlers, crooks, grifters and liars. But America won’t pardon him. Not for inciting an insurrection to overturn the constitutional certification of the presidential election. And not for the destruction and loss of life during the insurrection while he watched and reveled and did nothing for three hours as his mob attempted the first coup of the U.S. government. One wonders whether his mob will pardon him for his lying cowardice. He chose to hole up in the White House despite crowing that he would march with them to the Capitol to “fight like hell.”

Hours after escaping the insurrectionist mob, 147 GOP representatives and six GOP senators continued the attempted coup, just more peacefully. Abasing themselves to the “big lie,” they voted not to certify the Electoral College results from Pennsylvania and Arizona. We won’t pardon their craven contempt for the democratic will of the American people.

The Senate’s impeachment trial was a defining moment for the GOP: Choose to be the party of democracy or the party of autocracy — to put it bluntly, the party of Lincoln or the party of white supremacists. We know how that turned out: no guts, no glory and no Lincoln, except for seven courageous, principled GOP senators. The other 43, including Kansas’ Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, acquitted the inciter-in-chief by cowering behind the cop-out that he was no longer in office. Make no mistake. In voting not guilty, they chose party over country, and shameless self-interest over principle. They think it will inoculate them against being “primaried.”

History lesson No. 1: Groveling before the inciter-in-chief won’t keep you from being tossed under the bus. Just ask former Vice President Mike Pence. But it’s Sen. Mitch McConnell who takes the Oscar for best performance in duplicity and hypocrisy. He orchestrated the impeachment trial to occur precisely when the inciter-in-chief would no longer be in office. He used that cover to acquit; then he did a magnetic reversal with his withering speech and verdict: guilty as charged; lock him up.

History lesson No. 2: The GOP failed democracy during the past four years. Their stunning silence made them complicit in the inciter-in-chief’s daily menu of lies, hate, mob rule and, ultimately, the “big lie” and the insurrection. In this silence, the GOP devolved into the Grand Ostrich Party, willfully keeping their heads in the sand while a narcissistic authoritarian bully and his bootlickers ran roughshod over the republic and the rule of law. Only a handful showed principled courage, unafraid to declare that they could be loyal to GOP policies without bending knee to a sociopathic despot.

In essence, the GOP and its liar-in-chief tossed the truth under the bus. The victims were the people, the rule of law and the rule of reason. It began with the “alternative truth” about the size of the inaugural crowd on Jan. 20, 2017. It continued for four years with 30,573 lies issued via tweetstorms and the presidential megaphone. And it culminated in sedition: the lie that the election had been stolen. His COVID-19 disinformation campaign exposed his inaction, his undermining of medical science and his shilling of “miracle” cures. The U.S. death toll is now 500,000 people. The Lancet Commission tells us that 40% of those deaths — 200,000 people — resulted from his negligence. Had he dealt with the pandemic with the immediacy and science of the other G-7 countries, those deaths could have been averted. There is no pardon for this.

From his bully pulpit, the demagogue-in-chief smeared the press as “the enemy of the people” for holding him accountable to America with the facts, pleasing or not. The “alternative truth” press — the Orwellian machines of Fox News, Newsmax and others — fawned at his feet. At best, they let the lies, the ludicrous and the lunacy flourish. At worst, they gave it gas. Still do. It’s good for business. No reason to expose the golden calf as a false idol.

The damage now is toxic and deep: More Americans than ever have rejected reason, evidence and empirical facts; more Americans than ever have descended into a netherworld of Medieval superstitions and dangerous, crazy-pants conspiracies. This tells us that democracy is as fragile as the human mind. Both can be duped into dysfunction. But only if we allow it by tossing the truth under the bus.

— Leonard Krishtalka is director emeritus of the Biodiversity Institute and professor emeritus at the University of Kansas.


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