The hearings being conducted by the U.S. House Select Committee on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack are really morality plays, in which the public and private morals of the key participants in the putsch attempt, and those who tried to stop them, are on display. Through the indelibility of communications technology, the public records act and the subpoena power of Congress, we know a lot about what went down.
The central fact revealed in the June 16 hearing was that many, many people told former President Donald Trump that his proposal to have Vice President Mike Pence unilaterally refuse to receive the slate of electors from certain states was illegal. And, not just illegal but unconstitutional. And not just unconstitutional in any particular, but the kind of thing opposed to the entire fabric of our democracy. If the idea that one person gets to decide who becomes president is not anathema to American democracy, nothing is.
This brings us to Pence. There is no doubt he acted admirably on January 6. “We are fortunate for Mr. Pence’s courage,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the committee, said at the hearing. “On Jan. 6, our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe. That courage put him in tremendous danger when Mike Pence made it clear that he wouldn’t give in to Donald Trump’s scheme.”
How, then, should we treat Pence? Was it too little too late? How to treat all the other former Trump staffers who finally said, “This is a bridge too far; I am getting off this ride” or some variation thereof? We need not go as far as the father of the prodigal and declare “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him!” (Luke 15:22). The fatted calf can stay where he is. In the best of our Catholic tradition, we do rejoice when someone converts, even if it is late, and even if they were complicit for a long time in the evil from which they finally turned. Once the danger of insurrection has passed, and it has not yet passed, we can examine the various historical precursors of Trumpism.
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Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.
With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.