Commentary

Peter Berger: The Ides of March are come

“Poor Elijah’s Almanack” is written by Peter Berger of Mount Holly, who taught English and history for 30 years.

 A soothsayer warned Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March, the date of the new moon. Shortly after noon on the Ides, Caesar met him again. To demonstrate that his dire prediction hadn’t come true, Caesar chided him that “the Ides of March are come.”

 “Aye, Caesar, but not gone,” the soothsayer replied.

 Sixty senators murdered Caesar that afternoon.

 It’s been five months since Jan. 6. We call it the insurrection, but had it happened anywhere else in the world, we’d say that a sitting president had lost an election and tried to hold onto power by staging a coup against the lawful, newly elected president.

 Our 2020 election was certified as free and fair by judges and government officials from both political parties, including men and women the loser had appointed. The results were recounted, audited, challenged in court, and upheld every time.

 In a democratic republic, overturning the result of a lawful election amounts to overthrowing the government. Had it happened anywhere else — but it didn’t. Now for assorted reasons, most of us are ready to treat Jan. 6 as a 24-hour day, a 24-hour insurrection, and a 24-hour attempted coup.

 Progressive Democrats are pressing for their priorities, from immigration reform and a $15 minimum wage to climate change and Mideast policy, none of which are frivolous concerns, but all of which require a stable American government.

Moderate Democrats are clinging to the hope that common values and accommodations like the filibuster will engage moderate Republicans in a sanity-restoring partnership. Except common values rarely cross the aisle, and sanity is scarce.

 As for the filibuster, limits on debate, especially in the Senate, date back to the first Congress in 1789. Issues ranging from the Treaty of Versailles to civil rights have met with opponents’ attempts to talk legislation to death.

 Alexander Hamilton warned that enabling a minority to hijack and control debate, which is what a filibuster does, subjects “the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser.” The frequent result — in addition to “intrigue,” “delays,” and “contemptible compromises of the public good” — is to “destroy the energy of the government” and induce a “state of inaction” that’s especially dangerous in times of national emergency when the government’s “goodness” and “strength” are of the “greatest importance.”

 This is such a time.

 Across the aisle, conventional Republicans want Jan. 6 to just go away. They don’t want voters’ memories of what their eyes saw, what Trump did, and how Republicans were complicit in his “stop the steal” lie to extend to the next election. Many are afraid of Trump or believe they need him to win control of Congress, a consideration dear to aspiring Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ambitious heart.

 Former Vice President Pence concedes that he and Trump may never “see eye-to-eye” about Jan. 6, presumably including the part where Trump fueled the insurrectionists’ desire to hang Pence. But Pence is “proud” of their administration, and he won’t let Democrats use “one tragic day” to “divide the country” and “discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans.”

 After all, it was just one day.

 Except it’s Trump’s refusal to accept that he lost that divides the country. And Trump’s aspiration for power still besets us.

 Trumpists don’t want Jan. 6 to go away, at least not their version of events. According to their emperor’s big lie, and they’re sticking to it, the election was “rigged,” and Donald Trump is still the “true president.”

 We’re awash in deceit and crazy. Arizona’s “audit” farce is spreading to other states and polluting the 2020 election, and future elections, with the corruption and fraud Trump falsely accused Democrats of perpetrating.

 Republicans have mounted state-based legislative campaigns to suppress turnout and effectively disenfranchise likely Democratic voters.

 At a recent QAnon convention, an audience member asked Trump’s pardoned national security adviser, Michael Flynn, why we can’t have a Myanmar-style military coup. Flynn replied, “No reason, I mean, it should happen here. No reason. That’s right.” The next day, Flynn claimed he was the victim of “twisted reporting” and denied that he’d called for a coup, despite the fact that he’s on video saying it as the audience cheers both the question and Flynn’s response.

 This is the same Flynn who last year urged Trump to declare martial law to overturn the election, and who led the 2016 GOP convention in a chant to lock Hillary Clinton up, a chorus he punctuated with, “That’s right. Lock her up.”

 Also featured at the QAnon gathering was sometime Trump lawyer and Giuliani cohort Sidney Powell. Drawing on her fertile imagination and vast catalog of lies, she informed the crowd that Trump “can simply be reinstated” as president.

 No, he can’t.

 The process is apparently so secret that James Madison didn’t even tell himself about it. The first step is to set a new inauguration day. Then “Biden is told to move out of the White House,” following which Trump moves in again.

 Trump is reportedly spreading the word that he’ll be back by August. He also claims he’s saving “American democracy” from the “crime of the century.”

 Perhaps you’ve felt me smirking as you’ve read these last few paragraphs. I confess it’s hard to take seriously people who believe the world is run by pedophile cannibals.

 But I’m not smirking now.

 Because if Donald Trump is back by August or by any other date, it will mean the United States as we have known it is dead.

 Yes, the regular work of government must go on. Most politicians have career ambitions. Many have agendas that rest on their ideals. Partisan politics is a fact of American life.

 But there’s no point in gaining power if you lose your country in the process.

 I’m a moderate, but I’d rather live in a progressive democracy or a conservative democracy than in a moderate tyranny.

 You don’t take time to prune an orchard when it’s on fire.

 You put out the fire.

 The sixth of January is come.

 Yes, but not gone.


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