Hold Them All Accountable
As Sarah Longwell, publisher of The Bulwark, laments, "The people who attacked the Capitol are going to jail, and the people who lied to them are going to sit as jurors in their Senate seats."
With the impeachment trial as our backdrop, I talked with Sarah Longwell, publisher of The Bulwark, about why she believes the politicians who fomented the January 6 insurrection should also be held accountable. Read her recent piece Hold Them All Accountable.
The following excerpt has been edited for length and clarity:
Matt: Nobody's saying you should be able to storm the Capitol, vandalize, or steal Nancy Pelosi's computer and try to give it to the Russians, and just get away with it. But you make an important point about the unfairness of it all: The people who incited this are immune to a certain degree.
Sarah: Yeah, and they didn't just steal a laptop. I mean, they killed a police officer. You know, they were looking to do harm, bodily harm to Mike Pence, to Nancy Pelosi. Like it was scary what happened. And I am absolutely not arguing that they shouldn't be held accountable. I think for some of these people, they could get anywhere from a year to 20 years, depending on what they did while they were in there. And of course, they [video]taped themselves. So there's a lot of evidence. But they're going to be held accountable for real, it's gonna ruin their lives. Many of them will go to jail, and the people who filled their heads with poison, the people who lied to them for months—and that's not just Donald Trump…Madison Cawthorn, goes, gives a speech at Turning Point USA and says, “Hey, look, you can lightly threaten these guys”; Louie Gohmert goes on TV and says, “You know, now that they've thrown out my lawsuit that was gonna force Mike Pence to overturn this election, we don't have any other recourse, you got to go to the streets and be violent”; Mo Brooks on stage in front of that crowd, Congressman Mo Brooks says, “It's time for American patriots to start taking names and kicking ass, today”—mean, they filled their heads with poison. Even Kevin McCarthy said, “Donald Trump won this election.” And this is the thing that I can't get over. If you're just a person out there, you're MAGA, you think of yourself as a patriot, and your elected officials and….everybody is telling you this is being stolen from you, you have to go fight, you have to do something about this… Now, of course, [these politicians] might’ve just meant to donate to them. They just wanted to rile people up, they wanted them to be mad. They wanted them to feel aggrieved. You know, they're not lying when they say, “Well, we didn't mean go storm, the Capitol.” But what did they think was going to happen?
Matt: I think you're right, but I think Trump actually did he did cross a different line. When Trump is speaking and saying, “I'm gonna walk with you down to the Capitol.” I think he definitely did want to physically—maybe not storm the Capitol—but to physically intimidate Mike Pence and Congress—
Sarah: Absolutely. Absolutely. And the point of this piece isn't to say that Trump isn't uniquely responsible. He is. But Trump is also going to face at least some accountability, right? Trump is going to be impeached for a second time. It's very unlikely he gets convicted, but there's at least a political mechanism through which to try to exert some accountability. Whether or not it works is a different story, but it exists. But what do you do about Josh Hawley? What do you do about Ted Cruz? What do you do about Louie Gohmert? The only options available are political ones where you try to make it an issue in their election—which for a lot of them is many years away. I guess the contrast that I was really trying to draw is the people who attacked the Capitol are going to jail, and the people who lied to them are going to sit as jurors in their Senate seats. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley get to be jurors presiding over this trial. It's a wild thing, because not only are they witnesses to this crime, but they're also accomplices to the crime [and so] to convict Trump is in many ways to convict themselves. If you're Josh Hawley, you're not going to convict Trump. Like, you two stood there and said, “We're gonna object to this free and fair election,” you send out a bunch of fundraisers telling people to help you “Stop the steal,” like you didn't do exactly what Trump did, but you were part of the sort of surround sound of “This was stolen,” “You should be aggrieved,” “You should go fight,” and there is literally nothing to do to hold them accountable, except to make it clear that they all lied, and they all participated, and they all should be held accountable. Like you have to make this stick to them.
Matt: Now, like you, I don't want to absolve people who killed cops. But I know what it's like to be delusional and to get caught up in something. And people who lack critical skills and cannot evaluate things are more susceptible to this. And I think it is incumbent upon leaders to not do or say things that might manipulate people who are going to pay a bigger price than the Josh Hawleys in the Ted Cruzes who actually helped stir that stir up that that stuff to begin with—
Sarah: A bigger price. I mean, I don't know that they pay that Josh Hawley pays any price at all. And maybe, maybe it is a thing that hurts him in his election, which is what when is he up? Four years?
Matt: I think so.
Sarah: I mean, what is the mechanism of accountability? And that, I think, is my frustration… They've been lied to by Fox News and OAN and Newsmax and everybody is telling them this is stolen and so they're agitated and now they're standing in front of the president and he says, “You are never going to take this country back with weakness. You have to show strength.” And like, what do people think he's trying to tell them?
Matt: People need to realize the importance of context. If Tom Landry is on the sidelines saying, “We have to fight like hell” to the Dallas Cowboys, that's a different context than if there's a bunch of guys holding pitchforks and lanterns who want to go burn someone's house down. If you really believed that this election really was stolen, and the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief has granted you the imprimatur to do something about it—because if you don't do it, you'll never get your country back. If you're a little bit, like I would even use the term like quixotic, you know, overly romantic. If you're a little delusional, you could find yourself in a situation where you are doing something where you will pay for it, maybe for the rest of your life.
Sarah: Yeah. And you can see it in some of the statements that they're giving now that they've, you know, been arrested. You hear some of these people saying, like, “I thought Trump wanted me to do this.” Like, “I thought I was invited by the President, I was told to go in.” And that is, I think one of the things when you look at the people who went inside, right, there were sort of different [types of] people that were kind of like voyeurs, you know, people who just kind of were like milling around, like, “Oh, my gosh, we're inside the Capitol, and I'm part of this, this thing that's important and big.” And then there's the people who came in with zip ties. And there's the people who picked up flags and started beating police officers with them. Then there's the mob, you know, trying to take that police officer's gun. And they're saying, “Shoot him with his own gun.” I mean, you know, it's not just the physical scars, the emotional scars for a lot of these police officers who got overrun. I don't know if you remember, because it's crazy how quickly this sort of just gets memory-holed by new cycles and everything else. But shortly after one of the police officers told this story about being on the ground, everybody hitting him then going for his holster saying “shoot him with his own gun”. He thinks he's gonna die, he thinks they're gonna kill him, and then some of the other people in the mob, like help him get out. He starts to shout, he just starts—I’ll never forget this guy’s story—he starts just saying out loud, like, “I have kids, I have children,” and then, some people help him and create enough space for him that one of the other officers comes and saves him. Like, that guy's traumatized. It's horrible to think about somebody going through it, and that's what the mob did. In fact, I'll say the other thing that distinguishes Trump and makes what he did so much worse. There's a lot of gradations of terrible here, but one of the things that I can't believe is what he did throughout the day. Like, if you look at his tweet, it's at like six o'clock at night. So people have died at this point. You've seen the footage from inside, like, you know, it's terrible. And Donald Trump says, “This is what happens when you get when a landslide election is stolen.”
Matt: Yeah, he tweeted: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love and in peace. Remember this day forever.”
Sarah: That's what he says at 6:01 pm. Okay, so the day’s taken place, but also throughout the day, he's watching it—and by all reports with great satisfaction—because he loves to see people doing things on his behalf. And of course, he didn't march down to the Capitol with people, he went and found a TV, and kicked back and watched the whole thing, as people were begging him for help. People were trying to get him to intervene. He did nothing. He did nothing. He tweeted sometime in mid-afternoon, another attack on Mike Pence. Like not only is he not calling to find out if his Vice President is okay, despite the fact that a mob has been chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” and that they're specifically looking for him. Not only does he not care if he's okay, he is actively continuing to incite their rage against him.