Are the January 6 Hearings a “Witch Hunt”? Does it Matter

Over the past week we have witnessed the first three televised sessions regarding the January 6th, 2021 storming of the Capitol building in an attempt to block the certification of the election of President Biden. The congressional committee has mounted a large number of witnesses (all staunch Republicans up to this point) who have generally placed the blame for the insurrection on former president Trump.

Some of my friends (and many who support Trump) refuse to watch the hearings and claim that the evidence should be rejected because it is a “Witch Hunt”. They accuse the committee of being “never Trumpers” and, therefore, too prejudiced to be listened to.  There are seven Democrats and two Republicans on the committee. I hope that the committee members are trying to be fair, but I am realistic enough to recognize they are human and come to their task with subjective biases. Nevertheless, to dismiss the hearings as a “Witch Hunt” is a misguided cop-out. It is cowardly (and ethically wrong) to reject evidence without looking at it by alleging that it comes from prejudiced people. The issue is not who the information comes from, but whether it is accurate and true… or not. It takes great courage to examine information that we might not like and evaluate it with an open mind. I invite all people in our country to sift through the evidence and answer the following questions:

  1. Attorney General William Barr as well as Trump’s own campaign manager told him that he had lost the election, fair and square. Is Trump guilty of spreading the false message that the election had been stolen which was the principal motivation for the January 6th protest?
  2. After the election, Trump and his team 250 million dollars for an election defense fund. The problem is that this “fund” does not exist. It is a sham. Is Trump guilty of fraud?
  3. It is obvious that Trump pressured Vice President Pence to not certify the results of the Electoral College on January 6, 2021. Thursday’s hearing affirmed this was a violation of the Constitution. Was the pressure applied by Trump against Pence a criminal action?

If we want the truth, we must sift through the allegations. It is worth the effort. It will set us free and help restore our democracy.

The Courage to Stop Believing a Lie

Most of us have told an occasional lie during our lives. Most of us have also been lied to on occasion. When we have been told a lie by a person that we trust (a parent, a good friend, a coach or teacher), we feel crushed, disappointed, and disillusioned. If we are repeatedly lied to by that person, we rightfully become skeptical and suspicious. We begin to change our relationship with him or her. We take what they say with a large “grain of salt”. In Reagan’s words, we “trust” but we also must “verify”. We strive to get “a second opinion” from reputable experts who have greater trustworthiness.

We are in a national dilemma regarding the presidential election results. On the one hand, we can celebrate the vitality of our democracy. Over 150 million citizens went to the polls.  On the other hand, we are also a divided country with approximately 51% of our population who voted for Biden and 47% that voted for Trump. Our Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) is even more divided with almost an equal number of Democrats and Republicans being elected.

According to the results in each state, Biden is the president elect and will receive 306 votes in the Electoral College later this month (the exact same number as Trump received in 2016). Nevertheless, Trump has not admitted that he lost the election. He claims that there has been massive fraud. His lawyers have challenged the results in several contested states (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, etc.) but none of these challenges have been successful in the courts. But here is our dilemma: Over 20% of those who voted believe that Biden only won the election because of fraud. If it were only Democrats who claimed that the results were not fraudulent, then the result might be suspect. But there are dedicated Republicans who have been responsible for overseeing the election process and have called them as they see them: accurate and without fraud. These public servants have demonstrated  their loyalty to our country, our constitution, and our democracy. They have decided not to enable Trump and his ridiculous claims any longer. Here is a small sample.

Christopher Krebs, a life-long Republican, was appointed by President Trump himself to be the administration´s most senior cybersecurity official responsible to secure the presidential election from foreign or domestic interference. To refute Trump´s claims that the election was stolen through fraud, Krebs announced that the 2020 election was ¨the most secure in American history¨. In retaliation, the Trump fired Krebs for daring to contradict the president.

In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger oversaw the election and announced that Biden defeated Trump fair and square, by more than 12,000 votes. Since the race was close, the president challenged the results and demanded a hand recount. The recount again showed that Trump lost the election and Biden won. Another recount was demanded, this time by machine, and again the results were the same: a Biden victory. Raffensperger and his staff have received death threats due to their objectivity. As a result, the Secretary of State has repeatedly urged the president to admit the results and to stop fueling these death threats. On Tuesday, President Trump told Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to ¨do something¨ to overturn the election results. Kemp, a staunch Republican, rebuked the president and told him that Georgia law prohibits him from ¨interfering in the election¨.

In Wisconsin, Biden won the election by some 20,000 votes. Trump´s lawyers challenged the results and took their case to Wisconsin´s Supreme Court. The court threw out the case due to lack of evidence.

Something similar took place in Pennsylvania where the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected the case brought by Trump´s allies. Their ruling denounced it as an ¨extraordinary proposition that the court disenfranchise 6.9 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the general election.¨ Pennsylvania´s Republican senator, Pat Toomey, called on the president to concede, ¨President Trump has exhausted all plausible legal options to the challenge the result of the presidential race in Pennsylvania.¨

The most telling verdict comes from Attorney General William Barr. In my opinion, Barr has been overly subservient to President Trump, doing his bidding at every turn, but even Barr could not stomach Trump´s wild claims. On Tuesday, the Attorney General told the Associated Press that FBI agents and U.S. attorneys have followed up the specific complaints they have received, but ¨to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale the could have effected a different outcome in the election.¨ Many think that Barr will be fired for his honesty.

It is sad to see one’s friends and neighbors when they believe a blatant and obvious lie. It takes great courage to recognize when we have been duped by falsehoods. I believe that most of our neighbors can rise to the occasion and admit that there was no massive fraud. The future of our democracy depends on us recognizing and walking in the truth.

My advice for Biden and Trump… and for the people of the United States

The dust is settling on our election. Mr. Biden has won 290 electors in the Electoral College to 217 for Mr. Trump, with Georgia and North Carolina still too close to call. The president’s legal suits have not been successful in the courts and the end result of Biden’s victory is certain.

Mr. Trump

  • Republican and Democrat state leaders have uniformly affirmed that there has been no evidence of massive voter fraud. It is past time to put on your big boy britches and give a gracious concession speech. For the good of the country, let the Biden team have access to important information from the national security agencies, the Covid/19 advisory board, etc. so that the transition can be as seamless as possible.
  • Most Republican Senate and House candidates did slightly better than you did, meaning a significant slice of voters split their ballot, voting for Biden for president and then for Republicans down ballot. Therefore, take a serious look at what aspects of your character have turned Republicans off, your lies, your bullying, your arrogance, and your American machismo (your lack of respect for John McCain cost you Arizona). Even in the later years of our lives, we can be honestly repentant and make important changes.
  • Given the dire situation of the Covid/19 virus, be honest with the U.S. people about the true depths of the problems. Wear a mask. Do not undercut Dr. Fauci. Work with the Biden people to facilitate a quick delivery of vaccines once they are safely available. In light of the negative consequences for the economy, urge Republicans in Congress to reach a compromise with the Democrats for a Covid relief bill. Many of our neighbors are in great financial need and a relief bill is necessary and urgent.

Mr. Biden

  • Even before your inauguration, there are significant steps you can take. Urge the Democrats to reach a compromise Covid/19 relief bill now with their Republican counterparts. A lame duck session of Congress does not have to be a do-nothing session.
  • Continue to meet with expert epidemiologists and economists so that we can fight and win against our common enemy: the Covid pandemic. Move full speed ahead on a national plan of greater testing and an urgent, safe development of a vaccine that can be distributed quickly and without cost to all who want it.
  • In your first days in office, use your presidential executive power in areas where the majority of citizens agree.
    • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
    • Rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO)
    • Sign again an executive order protecting the Dreamers from deportation. They did nothing wrong and many are serving our country as “first responders”.
  • Find common ground with Republicans on necessary legislation such as an infrastructure bill that fixes our roads and bridges and that stimulates the economy.

People of the United States

  • Now that the election is over, cool down the rhetoric. Let’s be more open to admitting the flaws of our preferred candidates.
  • Let’s seek common ground solutions to our local and national problems. This will require greater humility, creativity and integrity on our parts.
  • I repeat Lincoln’s wise words as good advice for us all, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Jesus and the Political Options of His Day

When Jesus walked upon this earth, Jerusalem and Palestine were under the control of the Roman Empire. In exchange for the payment of heavy tributes, the Jews had a small amount of religious freedom to practice their faith. There were four main political options for Palestinian Jews in the time of Jesus: the Zealots, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes.

The Zealots were a first century political movement that sought to overthrow Roman rule. They led a rebellion in 66 A.D. when Rome introduced imperial cult worship. Although initially successful, Rome sent in the troops and smashed the resistance in 70 A.D. and destroyed the temple. Although Jesus had a zealot among his disciples (Simon) and though he sympathized with the plight of the downtrodden Judeans, Jesus did not choose the Zealot path of violence.

On the other extreme were the Essenes. They originated about 100 B.C. and emphasized ritual purity. They also separated themselves from the rest of society and tended to form communities in the desert. The Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament although some scholars suggest that John the Baptist was an Essene. Others try to connect this group with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although he had some characteristics that were similar to the Essenes, Jesus definitely did not try to escape from society’s problems.

The two main religious/political groups that appear in Scripture were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Both groups had members in the Sanhedrin, but the Sadducees held the majority. The high priest was a Sadducee as were the chief priests. The Sadducees were generally wealthier and politically more powerful. They were doctrinally more conservative and applied a more literal interpretation of the Old Testament and gave preference to the Law of Moses. They did not believe in an afterlife. On the other hand, the Pharisees were more liberal in their interpretation of the Bible and gave importance to oral tradition. They were not as rich and therefore had more favor with the poorer people. The Apostle Paul had been a Pharisee before his encounter with the risen Christ. Jesus agreed with the Pharisees on the doctrine of the resurrection, but he criticized both the Pharisees and Sadducees for their hypocrisy and legalism. Jesus refused to align his teaching and his messianic cause totally with either the Sadducees or the Pharisees.

Jesus provides some helpful insights in how to navigate today’s complex and divisive politics.

  • Jesus was a realist and knew that humans tended to abuse their authority. He said, “The rulers of this world lord it over their subjects” (Luke 22:25a) and told us not to follow their example. Power whether wielded by Republicans or Democrats frequently leads to corruption. Power given to the ruling authorities should be used to serve humanity, especially the most vulnerable among us.
  • Jesus cut through the hypocrisy of his day.  He warned his followers to not believe candidates who exaggerate their own goodness and greatness: “they like to call themselves big Benefactors, those who do good” (Luke 22:25b). He told his disciples not to believe them. Today he would urge us to demand honesty in political advertising and to denounce lies wherever we find them. What is urgently needed in our country are citizens who demand honesty of the leaders of their own political party.
  • Although Jesus rejected the hypocrisy of the political groups in his culture, he welcomed those who were humble enough to seek the truth. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, but he came to Jesus seeking life. Jesus saw his humility and rewarded it and let him into greater truth.
  • The Bible teaches that God is the defender of the “the orphan, the widow, and the stranger” because they are more vulnerable to the injustices imposed by the powerful. Jesus demonstrated in word and deed that these “despised by the world” were his brothers and sisters and bore with them the image of God (Matthew 25:31-46).

During this election season, Jesus urges us to consider both policies and personal character. We need to favor those policies that serve the neediest among us. We also need to evaluate a candidate’s character (honesty, humility, integrity) as we make our election decisions. Choose well.

“Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” and the Election

When I was a child, I was occasionally tricked by an older kid (or at least a smarter one). We would have a coin toss and the kid would shout out, “Heads I win, tails you lose”. No matter which side of the coin turned up, the other kid would always win. It is because the coin toss was rigged. It was framed in such a way that eliminated fairness and justice.

Something similar is happening now in the presidential election. Trump has predicted that he will win when the votes are counted OR if the tally shows him losing, it will be because of vote fraud. He has also affirmed that he would take the election to the Supreme Court if he loses. This is dangerous for our country. If there is a fair election AND Trump actually loses, many of his more devoted followers might protest the counting of mail in votes and declare fraud. Some of these followers might turn to violence.

On the other side, Biden is currently beating Trump in the national polls by 8 – 10 percentage points.  If there is a fair election AND Biden actually loses, many of his more devoted followers might protest and claim that the disqualification of enough mail in votes was fraud. Some of these followers might turn to violence.

Both candidates can take actions to reduce the possibility of violence. If they lose fair and square, they should commit themselves to acknowledging their defeat publicly and not allow frustration to blow up into violence. They should also commit themselves to not declare victory prematurely, which could stir up wrong expectations. It is time for Trump and Biden, and for their respective followers, to commit themselves to abide by the election results. So be it!