Despite the best efforts of President Donald Trump and his enablers, including their abortive Jan. 6 coup attempt, Joe Biden was sworn in as our nation’s 46th president on Jan. 20. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris face the Herculean task of trying to unite a nation riven by four years of lies and fanaticism. And they must do this in the midst of a global pandemic, no less.
Trump remained difficult right up until the end. In the waning days of his administration, he went so far as to call Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and urge him to “find” nearly 12,000 votes so that Trump could be declared the winner of the state. He even implied that Raffensperger might find himself behind bars if he failed to comply. (It is perhaps a sign of Trump’s declining mental state that he didn’t seem to realize or care that adding Georgia to his column would not have made him president again. Biden bested him in the Electoral College by 74 votes, and only 16 of those came from Georgia.) Threatening an election official in this manner is illegal.
On Jan. 6, when Congress met to certify Biden’s win, Trump incited a mob of supporters to assault the U.S. Capitol. Whipped into a frenzy by his words, the crowd overwhelmed police, broke windows and stormed into the building. A police officer was killed.
Will Trump be held accountable for these actions? He was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives Jan. 13, but as of this writing, it was unclear if the Senate would follow suit.
We must also ask what should happen to the people who enabled Trump’s attack on democracy, including those whose rhetoric helped spur the assault on the U.S. Capitol.
The thugs who vandalized the Capitol should be arrested and charged. And Trump’s lawyers who filed baseless lawsuits may be open to sanctions. But what about those people outside the reach of the law? What about the Christian nationalist leaders and far-right members of the clergy who lied and spread false information?
We’re not suggesting that these people have engaged in any criminal actions. While lying in court is a crime, putting out bad information on a blog, through a tweet or on a website is not illegal – although it is certainly immoral.
Groups such as the American Family Association, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, Liberty Counsel, the Family Research Council and a host of right-wing TV preachers and megachurch pastors sided with Trump’s attacks on free elections and constitutional principles. They led people to believe that the 2020 presidential election was not fair, when Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the election was secure. They peddled falsehoods. They attacked the integrity of decent people. They spawned chaos and gave aid and comfort to extremist elements in American society.
What is to be done in light of this? Since legal options are limited, it’s up to us to take another route: Christian nationalists must be exposed as the moral hypocrites that they are.
A few months from now, it’s likely that these organizations and the men and women who lead them will be back to conducting their normal work. They probably won’t be eager to talk about the two and a half months they spent helping Trump as he sought to overturn the results of a democratic election – an effort that reached a horrible, violent climax Jan. 6.
Yet the fact remains that these groups, through their assault on our very democracy, tried to tear down our nation, our freedoms and our values.
Our job is challenging but important: to ensure that the American people never forget that.