by Jackie Calmes
We can argue whether 2021 was “the least bad year of the last two years,” as “The Daily Show” claimed, considering that it began with a bloody insurrection at the Capitol and ended with U.S. COVID-19 deaths exceeding 820,000. Yet rather than debate the past, let’s look ahead to 2022 and what it could hold for the nation and its riven social fabric.
I’m mostly pessimistic.
A year ago I was among the 8 in 10 Americans who were optimistic about leaving godawful 2020 behind, only to be disappointed by 2021. Maybe the opposite will prove true, and my pessimism about the coming year will turn out to be misplaced. Time will tell, but here’s what to watch (out) for:
○ The House Jan. 6 committee. Republicans’ success in blocking an independent, 9/11-like commission to investigate the deadly Capitol riot to overturn Joe Biden’s election was perhaps the year’s sorriest political act — second only to their opposition to impeaching and convicting Donald Trump for his incitement and unprecedented refusal to peacefully transfer power.
Instead of breaking with Trump, as senior Republicans signaled they might after the Jan. 6 rampage, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and others quickly folded, reaffirming Trump’s lock on their party. Fortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic majority settled for a fallback: In June they created the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol.
Thanks to the patriotism of Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois in defying their party to join the committee — and truly putting America first — its findings cannot credibly be dismissed as partisan. That’s assuming, as I do based on my reporting, that the members continue to work well together. Imagine the committee without those two Republicans. Or with the election-denying Trump toadies such as Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, whom McCarthy tried to seat but Pelosi wisely vetoed.
Even McConnell seems to recognize the panel’s potential. In May he said, “There is no new fact about that day that we need the Democrats’ extraneous ‘commission’ to uncover.” But on Dec. 16, he told a Kentucky reporter, “It was a horrendous event, and I think what they are seeking to find out is something the public needs to know.”
Indeed. After months of closed-door interviews and document collection, the committee plans to hold open sessions that could be as riveting as the Watergate hearings half a century ago, and also issue an interim report by midyear.
Sadly, no one should have illusions that the MAGA-verse of most Republicans will ever be persuaded to disavow Trump’s “big lie” and hold him and his enablers accountable. But history, and the rest of us, demand a truthful record.
○ The 2022 elections. Despite Republicans’ sins, and because of other offenses such as gerrymandering and new voter-suppression laws, the party is favored in the midterm elections to recapture a House majority and perhaps the Senate too. Rarely does the president’s party gain seats in the midterms, and certainly not when the president, like Biden, has a job-approval rating well below 50%.
The Democrats’ cause would be helped if, as I expect, they unite around a pared-down version of the “Build Back Better” package that’s acceptable to their essential 50th vote, the holiday Scrooge from West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin. But that achievement, on top of others like pandemic relief and a landmark infrastructure law, likely wouldn’t be enough to help Democrats withstand the political headwinds.
Alas for democracy. Only big losses would force a restoration of the Republican Party, as some anti-Trump Republicans contend. Conversely, the party’s likely victories will only confirm Trumpism, reinforce the ranks of radicals such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert in Congress, and tee up Trump’s 2024 campaign.
Also, imagine that Republicans don’t win as big as they think they should. It’s not alarmist to suggest that political violence could result: The nation’s highest-ranking military officer, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has suggested as much, expressing fear that Jan. 6 was a dress rehearsal, “a precursor to something far worse down the road.” Fiona Hill, a former Trump national security adviser, echoed him.
○ A radicalized Supreme Court. The current court term that ends in June will be the first to show the full impact of Trump’s three justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — each of them muscled through Senate confirmation by the norms-busting McConnell. With a 6-3 conservative supermajority, a court that’s shown little regard for longtime precedents is poised to deliver rulings against abortion rights, gun control and perhaps affirmative action, and further weaken the wall between church and state.
Trump vowed in 2016 that his appointees would overturn Roe v. Wade “automatically.” They seem poised, along with Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, if not Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., to make good on that promise in a Mississippi case. All but Roberts tipped their hand in an antiabortion, bounty-hunting case from Texas, allowing a blatantly unconstitutional state law to take effect pending appeals, effectively ending most abortions in the vast state and undermining the court’s own authority.
How the high court’s rulings might roil the midterm campaigns is anyone’s guess. What’s more, a confirmation battle could be ahead: At term’s end, 83-year-old Justice Stephen G. Breyer, named by President Bill Clinton, could finally announce his retirement so that Biden can pick a successor — before Republicans possibly retake control of the Senate.
Happy New Year?