Holding Clarence Thomas Accountable
Waiting on someone else to deliver accountability to the Republicans will never work. It's up to us.
To fit with a longstanding pattern, the Washington Post and CBS News jointly broke a huge story not long after Jon Favreau and I finished recording Pod Save America. According to the Post:
Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in a series of urgent text exchanges in the critical weeks after the vote, according to copies of the messages obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.
This is obviously a huge deal for a whole host of reasons. At the very moment Thomas was pressing Meadows with a slew of conspiracy theories, her husband was in a position to rule on a number of cases related to the very election she was trying to overturn. Justice Thomas never disclosed the conflict of interest and has continued to participate in cases about which documents need to be released as part of the investigation into January 6th.
There was a familiar pattern to this fast and furious news cycle.
Outrage —> Defeatism
Online outrage turns into defeatism within the blink of an eye. In a normal world without a morally bankrupt and broken institution, Clarence Thomas would be under tremendous pressure to account for his actions. Joshua Zeitz, a historian on Twitter, pointed out a similar situation in the distant past:
But of course, Thomas will not resign. No Republicans will support his impeachment or removal. And it’s highly unlikely that any of them will even voice concern about the wife of a Supreme Court Justice being actively involved in an illegal plot to overthrow an election. There were immediate calls for Democrats to impeach Thomas even though such an effort had zero chance for success. The Democratic activists who populate the firing squad knew Democrats would not undertake a doomed-to-fail effort. This unwillingness was only more evidence that the current party leadership was not up to the challenge.
There was some real Trump-era déjà vu. A clear misdeed would go unpunished. When you combine the Thomas news with the reprehensible behavior of the Republicans in the confirmation hearing and the news that the Manhattan District Attorney passed on an opportunity to indict Trump for financial crimes, it’s easy to get a sense that the bad guys always win. That there are no rules anymore.
As one Message Box subscriber wrote to me, “When will there be accountability??”
We Are the Agents of Accountability
I get it. I really do. Trump and the Republicans have ruthlessly exploited loopholes in the system, the weakness of the media, polarization and institutional distrust to violate norms and break laws. To win elections despite representing fewer voters and holding less popular positions. Every time we think the GOP is on the cusp of walking away from Trumpism, they retrench even further into the MAGA camp. Not enough elected Democrats demonstrate the urgency this moment demands. Too many in the media normalize abnormal behavior and value balance over accuracy.
Don’t get me wrong. I want the January 6th Committee to aggressively pursue this matter and for Democrats to scream from the rooftops about rot within the Republican Party. But we must remember that in the American political system the ultimate arbiter of accountability is us. It is delivered at the ballot box. Not in the halls of Congress or the pages of the New York Times.
Yes, it’s true that Donald Trump is not (yet) sitting in prison. But he also isn’t in the White House. Bob Mueller did not defeat Trump nor did Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer. We did — through hard work and organizing in the middle of a pandemic. Mitch McConnell has not been drummed out of polite society for all of his democracy-damaging misdeeds, but he no longer controls the Senate. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is headed to the Supreme Court, because all of you channeled your anger into the hard work of politics to win two Senate seats in Georgia.
The best opportunity to hold Ginni and Clarence Thomas (and all the Republicans covering up for them) accountable is in November. If you are looking for a reason to get fired up and recapture the energy that dominated the Democratic Party from the day Trump won until the day he lost, this is it. To that end, Vote Save America is launching a new “Midterm Madness” program to mobilize volunteers to protect and grow our progressive majorities. Sign up HERE:
As Barack Obama used to say: “Citizenship is a full time job.” No one is going to do it for you.
Thanks, Dan. I think this is necessary but not sufficient, to quote someone wise. First, everyone who values democracy needs to get involved in the effort to win the midterms. There's something for everyone from social media advocacy (go to www.moreperfectdemocracy.org to get involved) to doorknocking to postcarding. I also think that it may be time to put on massive marches again, like the Women's march that was joined internationally. Sadly, I'm not the one to plan that, but I know someone is. And also,we've got to find a way to put pressure on the media to stop the BS both-sides reporting that is killing us with casual readers. We've managed to pressure several companies to leave Russia. I think a grassroots campaign to hold some of the media accountable might help the narrative. But all of this is meaningless if the criminals aren't held accountable. We gave the former confederates amnesty after the Civil War, and pardoned Nixon, and now the same general faction feels they can act with impunity. Thanks for what you do, Dan, and now let's all reach out to all of our friends and family and get them involved however we can.
Can't remember if it was a tweet or on the pod, but I heard you make the comment that everybody's hard work in 2020 is what is bringing KBJ to the SCOTUS - I repeated that to an acquaintance and it landed strong. I believe the same point about accountability will be motivational to a fair number of folks too. It's like the organizers' version of ASO's instruction to make the voter the hero of the story - we need to make potential activists the hero of the organizing story.
In my sphere, there is a deep sense that, to paraphrase Trump's words to Billy Bush, when you're a Republican, they let you do it. The challenge and the charge is to turn "they let you do it" to "we won't let you do it any more".
ps - Can you talk to Costa and Woodward and ask them to time their bombshells to better match the pod's schedule?