Letter to the Times: Benghazi, the Capitol riot and our democracy

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Our elected Republican senators and representatives have lost their way. There was a time when they would take seriously any attack on our government facilities. That no longer seems to be the case.

An example of their concern was evident after the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. That attack resulted in the deaths of four people, including the Ambassador to Libya. The deaths were tragic, and perhaps could have been prevented, but were not entirely unexpected. As the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence put it, “Diplomatic and intelligence personnel work in high-risk locations …”

Nevertheless, Congressional Republicans were hellbent about getting to the bottom of the Benghazi attack. It consumed them. That was about all you heard from them for four years. When one investigation did not deliver the result they were hoping for, they would initiate another investigation, and then another, and another. Their fixation ended with the release of the report by Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee in December 2016. In all, there were 10 investigations into the attack, six of them by House committees controlled by Republicans. In the end, they were unable to fault Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and came up with a few suggestions for improving security in these sorts of places.

In contrast is the Republican response to the attack on our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. That took place domestically, in what should be a low-risk or no-risk location, and resulted in five deaths at the time, more than 100 injured police officers, and in the months that followed, four more deaths of police officers by suicide. It was “the worst assault on the Capitol since 1814, when the British burned the building.” And a fortiori, much worse than the attack on the compound in Benghazi. Yet Republicans have not cared much at all about this horrific tragedy, and have overwhelmingly tried to cover up the insurrection of Jan. 6. 

After crawling out of their hiding places on the day of the insurrection, they initially reacted with some fury and seemed to believe President Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Republicans, “I’ve had it with this guy,” and the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said, “If this isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is.”

But soon thereafter, Republicans began to downplay the attack, claiming that “By and large, it was peaceful protest,” and looked very much like a “normal tourist visit.” The Republican Party made it official, declaring the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as “legitimate political discourse.”

More importantly, Republicans voted almost unanimously against investigating the insurrection. In contrast to holding 10 investigations into the attack on the compound in Libya, they did not want a single investigation into the riot in our nation’s Capitol. They did not want to participate in the House hearings that have been underway since June 9, and censured the two Republican members of the House who had the courage to serve on the Investigating Committee. The Hearings so far suggest why they wanted to cover it up. Some of them were actively involved in fostering the Big Lie that incited the insurrection, knowing that it was a big lie. It seem that every one in Washington D.C. knew it was a lie. Trump was told repeatedly that he lost the 2020 election and was also informed there was no significant voter fraud; “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.” Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, knew it was a Big Lie. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, knew it was a Big Lie. Trump’s lawyers knew it was a Big Lie, too. Although some Republicans did not actively push the Big Lie, almost all of them condoned it, and some are still pushing the lie. 

In other words, almost all of our congressional Republicans have shirked their duty. They failed to uphold their oath of office “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” And they have continued their efforts to cover up the insurrection by denigrating the serious work of the Jan. 6 Hearings Committee. 

This coming election is about the survival of our democratic system. Normally we would decide how to vote based on the different policy positions of the candidates, but this year is different. Let me paraphrase a common view of the election: “It’s [not] about the economy, stupid.” Rather than check on the latest statistics on inflation or unemployment, voters would do well to read or watch videos about the Jan. 6 hearings, and follow the hearings when they resume in September.

Many of us may agree with the Republican positions on some social and economic issues, but this is of little consequence if our democracy does not survive and function as it should. Candidates should be judged this year on their position regarding the defense of our democracy. Did they condone the Big Lie about voter fraud, or worse, help spread the lie? Did they downplay the seriousness of the Capitol riot? Did they vote to cover up the investigation into the insurrection? We need representatives and senators who will do the right thing when confronted with the single most important issue of preserving our democracy. 

— Thomas Weiss (he/him), Lawrence

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