On the day after the third day of hearings of the January 6 House committee, the Wall St. Journal ran an editorial in which they essentially said that all decisions as far as voting – including for the president – should be left up to the state legislatures. They talked about the Electoral Count Act of 1876, whose history gives some lessons. And they talked about “the courts”, meaning the Supreme Court, which is in the hands of the far right Republicans. And along with the members of the House committee, they condemned the January 6 riot/coup attempt. The significance of all of this is coming clear when one looks beneath the surface of the actual hearings.
However, in order to do that, we have to look at the “surface” – what was actually revealed in the testimony itself.
The most important testimony was provided by Greg Jacob, the legal council for
former Vice President Mike Pence. Jacob spoke extensively about his interactions with John Eastman, the wing nut lawyer that Trump relied upon to claim that Pence could throw out the vote results on January 6. Eastman proposed two options: Option 1 was for Pence to simply refuse to recognize the vote results in 5 to 7 states and declare Trump the winner. Option 2 was to say that those results were uncertain in those states and return the counts to those states for them to recount. Under the second option, Trump & Co. would have a week to ten days to put pressure on the Republican legislators to “recount” the votes.
According to Jacob, Eastman vacillated between these two options, but he also admitted that neither was legal, that both violated both the Constitution and the electoral count act of 1876. Also, according to Jacob, Trump was in on some of these conversations and knew that this plan was illegal. In other words, Trump, Eastman and all those involved in this are guilty of sedition.
“that issue [of who is the next president] would have had to be decided in the streets…. It would be a disastrous situation.” Former White House lawyer Eric Hershmann put it even more bluntly. The 78 million people who voted for Biden are not going to tolerate that, he said. “They [Trump & Co.] are going to cause riots in the streets.” This did not make Trump so much as hesitate from privately and publicly pressuring Pence to overturn the election result. On the contrary, according to Jacob, Trump had so whipped up his supporters that on January 6 they were literally ready to murder Pence. Yet Trump continued to whip them up through his tweets.
Of course, such riots would have been put down by martial law, but that would have meant the end of the famous U.S. “democracy” and political stability. That is not only bad for stable profits and regulated capitalist rule at home; it would have vastly accelerated the weakening of US capitalist influence abroad. It must be avoided at all costs (the majority of the US capitalists believe).
Electoral Count Act
There was much talk in the hearing about the Electoral Count Act of 1876. Understanding what lay behind that act is vital for understanding the current crisis:
The framing of the US Constitution partly represented an agreement between two ruling classes for joint rule over the then 13 states. These were the nascent capitalist class and the slave owning class. In the decades following the ratification of the Constitution (1788), the slave owners gradually gathered political power in their own hands at the expense of the capitalist class. This competition between the two former partners could only be finally decided in the way that all such competitions between ruling classes are decided – by force of arms. That was what the Civil War was about. In 1865, the slave owners were defeated, but they were not ready to fully accept their defeat. In the election of 1876 they attempted to make a comeback by putting their man – Democrat, Samuel Tilden – in the White House. They sought to do so mainly by the most crude form of “voter suppression” – A.K.A. terrorism against black voters – in the South. This led to a crisis in Washington DC which was resolved by a compromise that enabled the Republican, Rutherford Hayes, to become president and which also involved the end of “Reconstruction” in the South. In other words, the capitalist class reasserted their domination of the continent while leaving the former slave owners free to terrorize the newly “freed” black people of the South.
This crisis is what also led to the Electoral Count Act which was supposed to guide the counting of the votes of presidential electors in any future such crisis. There are complaints today about how poorly written that act is. Whether it is poorly written or not, any written “contract” – which is what both the Constitution and that act are – is only as effective as the ability of the different factions of the ruling parties to compromise is. When the slave owners and the capitalists were no longer able to compromise, the dispute had to be settled by force of arms. In 1876, the power had already been determined by that force so the former slave owners backed down before it came to that.
Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and What Followed
Fast forward to the post WW II era. Ever since the days of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” the Republicans had set themselves down the road of relying on racism and bigotry in general to retain power. They knew that much of their policies – such as cutting taxes on the rich and keeping wages low – were unpopular so they had to both use these smokescreens and repress the vote in any way they could get away with. In this, they were supported by a wing of the capitalist class.
As the world capitalist economic crisis mounted, and as it was added to by the weakening of US capitalism in relation to its rivals (who were also even some of its allies), the necessity to rely on bigotry, religious mysticism and science denialism increased for the US capitalist class. Donald Trump vastly accelerated this process.
Wall St. Journal a good barometer
The Wall St. Journal editors are always a good barometer for the thinking of the most aggressive elements of the US capitalist class. After initial opposition, they were won over to Trump when he and his party pushed through the tax cuts in 2017. These cuts were a windfall for their class. The WSJ editors also liked the religious mysticism, which helped confuse, divide and weaken the working class. But they became increasingly concerned about Trump’s narcissism, his inability to think beyond his own personal interests. They were infuriated by his campaign in Georgia in 2021 around the senate runoff races. Trump’s involvement, in which he focused on the “big lie”, helped both Democratic candidates get elected, which then led to a Democratic majority in the Senate.
Like all good capitalist representatives, they also were horrified by the riot/coup attempt of January 6. As with possible riots if Pence had taken it upon himself to decide the election winner, January 6 was bad for business and would have been doubly so if it had succeeded. According to testimony, at one point the rioters were 40 feet away from Pence. They did not know it, but if they had, and if they had gotten ahold of him, according to testimony they would have killed him. The same for Nancy Pelosi. As Jacob texted to Eastman, “thanks to your bullshit we are know under siege.”
Trump et al guilty of sedition but likely to get off
The third day of the hearings produced the evidence that Trump, Eastman et al are guilty of sedition. In fact, Eastman as much as admitted so when he in effect asked Trump for a pardon before he (Trump) left office. Yet it is highly unlikely that he will be charged. Committee chair Bennie Thompson claimed that the committee had already decided not to recommend that the attorney general do so, while others on the committee deny that they have even discussed the issue. And even if they did so recommend, then what? Attorney General Garland has already announced that he will not indict Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows despite the fact that Meadows is in flagrant contempt of congress for refusing to obey a subpoena.
Democrats and old-school Republicans
So we have the following:
The Republican opposition to Trump – from Jacob to Liz Cheney to the Wall St. Journal editors – is simply opposed to Trump’s irrationality and his narcissism, which culminated in his immensely destabilizing effort to retain power through a riot and coup. But they are all united in the general strategy of religious mysticism and bigotry and the use of voter suppression and vote nullification to retain power through what might be called a legal coup. The Wall St. Journal editors provide a “democratic” and legal cover, saying that the whole matter must be left in the hands of the state legislatures, which are increasingly under control of Republican advocates of vote nullification. And if the matter comes under dispute, it should be left to the Supreme Court, which is in the same hands and which will say “it’s not in our domain; it’s for the states to decide”.On the other hand, the Democrats are horrified at the attempt for a violent coup, and also oppose the legal coup. However, they are hemmed in by the fact that the overwhelming majority of them are determined to try to return to the good old days when the two capitalist parties were competitors, yes, but also collaborators. Both they and their Republican collaborators such as Liz Cheney cling to the idea that what has happened to the Republicans is the fault of one man and one man only – Donald Trump, and once he is out of the scene, the Republicans will return to “normal”. Because of this illusory hope, the Democratic Party leadership and the great bulk of its representatives are unwilling to take any decisive steps that would create a final break with the Republicans. They won’t arrest Trump because that would mean a full break with every Republican that now only supports him reluctantly. There is also the secondary consideration for them that the arrest of Trump would likely lead to either riots by the fanatical Trump supporters or terrorist acts of unheard of as yet horror, or both.
As for the slightly more determined Democrats (from Sanders and AOC to Schiff), they might champ at the bit, but they won’t break free of the rest of the Democratic team.
A hint of the alternative
There was a hint of what can stop a future Republican coup, legal or otherwise, when the Vermont Labor Council passed a resolution saying it would organize a general strike in the event that Trump overturned the 2020 election and clung to power. The fact that this was merely a bluff was shown by the fact that nothing was ever done to try to actually organize such a strike and if Trump had succeeded it would have been too late after the fact. The time for bluffing has long past. It’s either put up or shut up.
Read our analysis of Day 1 of the hearings here January 6 revisited
Read our analysis of Day 2 of the hearings here What was revealed by Day 2 of the January 6 hearings