“What doesn’t Donald Trump want us to know about him?” As news of his attempts to keep White House documents out of the hands of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol dominate our newsfeeds, that’s the question on the minds of many.
It’s the wrong question to focus on, but it’s easy to see why that would be at the forefront of the public’s mind. On Thursday, Trump tried yet again to stop the National Archives from releasing the documents just one day before they were scheduled to be handed over. This time lawyers for the former president asked a federal appeals court to temporarily block the move.
More focus should be on the members of Congress.
After a string of earlier attempts to keep the documents out of the committee’s hands were denied, this was a last-ditch effort that worked out in his favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted Trump “an administrative injunction,” setting arguments for the case on Nov. 30.
Many Americans already believe that Trump and his administration were somehow responsible for the events of Jan 6. Now his efforts to keep his White House documents from the committee are only adding to the growing suspicion among others that goes a bit further: Trump and his team knew something about his supporters’ plan to storm the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election. After all, they were amped up by Trump’s baseless claim of election fraud.
But, there might be something much more significant in those documents. One of the most important, and thus far unanswered, questions about the insurrection is not what role Trump and those around him played. We all saw Trump encourage the marchers to go to the Capitol, and subpoenas have been issued for several people in his circle. The more important question that the public should be hoping gets answered, and where the political stakes are much higher, is the extent to which the other members of the GOP were involved in the insurrection.
If indeed the GOP was more broadly complicit in the attack, then the political crisis in the U.S. is much deeper and dangerous. A president supporting a violent movement as part of a last and unsuccessful effort to undermine an election is not good, but if any leaders of a major political party were committed to violently disrupting the democratic process, that is an existential problem from which the U.S. will not easily recover.
Although we don’t know the answer, the fact that many Republicans supported Trump’s dishonest effort to persuade the American people that he was the real winner of the 2020 election (and voted to overturn the results, even right after the insurrection) doesn’t exactly bode well for GOP members of Congress.
This complicity should, at the very least, lead to questions about what the Republican leadership knew about planning and preparation of what became the final stanza in their effort to keep Joe Biden out of the White House.
It is possible that the rest of the Republican leadership was oblivious to the rumblings of a planned insurrection on the far-right, but we have little reason to believe that without an investigation. The energy that powerful Republicans, notably House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have brought to trying to stifle the investigation suggests that the relationship between the insurrectionists and the Republican Party leadership more broadly, at the very least, merits further examination.
We are not going to magically get beyond Jan. 6 simply by discussing it less, as the GOP (and at times, the media) seems to want us to do.
The American public should be more focused on this, but since the Jan. 6 riot, there have been ebbs and flows in the amount of attention that has been paid to the most dramatic threat to America’s democratic institutions in decades, perhaps in over a century. While Democrats have taken the position that this event merits a deep investigation, convictions and jail sentences, most of the Republican Party has adopted a position that can best be summed up as “nothing to see here, move along.”
Too frequently, the media has taken a similar position, urging Democratic candidates and politicians to talk about something besides Trump — especially if they care about winning future elections at the state and federal level. While this may sound like decent political advice, it is an implicit attempt to move the political discourse beyond relitigating the events of Jan. 6.
The public needs to know to what extent, if any, the people who have been elected and swore to uphold the Constitution knew of a threat to breach the Capitol.
Getting to the bottom of this should be a major focus of any investigation, because we are not going to magically get beyond Jan. 6 simply by discussing it less, as the GOP (and at times, the media) seems to want us to do. The legacies of barely failed insurrections are not the kind of thing that go away if you ignore it.
But I get why, when it comes to Trump, it feels like we might as well. The last five years have repeatedly demonstrated — from Trump’s vulgar campaign statements to the findings in the Mueller Report to the disastrous way the Covid-19 pandemic was handled and two impeachment processes — that his support is solid. And every revelation, report and event simply pushes most Americans further into their corners.
That’s why the question of what he’s hiding is short-sighted. More focus should be on the members of Congress. If America is lucky, a full investigation may determine that there was no contact between the White House and congressional leadership, key Republican governors or state Republican parties about planning and coordinating the events of Jan. 6. No American — regardless of party affiliation — who cares about the future of our democracy should want anything less than that finding.