Trump's sedition: George Washington warned us in 1796
President Donald Trump walks from the west wing of the White House to Marine One in 2017. (Shutterstock.com)

“I have said that any man who attempted by force or unparliamentary disorder to obstruct or interfere with the lawful count of the electoral vote should be lashed to the muzzle of a twelve-pounder gun and fired out of a window.” —General Winfield Scott, 1861

Last night the January 6th Committee’s co-chair Liz Cheney told us that “Representative Scott Perry sought a pardon” along with “multiple other members of Congress” for their participation in the attempted coup, their sedition against the United States of America.

They understood they had committed a crime. And they wanted Trump to give them absolution, to prevent them from being prosecuted, to keep them out of jail.

Technically, to commit treason requires that a country be at war. “Giving aid and comfort to the enemy during a timer of war” is as bad as it gets. It’s the worst possible crime against your country.

Sedition, attempting to obstruct or overthrow your government by force, is the peacetime equivalent of treason.

Sedition is a word with which most Americans are not familiar. We haven’t had an American politician or armed group try to commit sedition in the United States since 1861, so it’s not a word that we normally use or see in the media.

But sedition is what this is all about. An attempted coup to overthrow our government and replace its duly elected leader, Joe Biden, with Donald Trump.

Multiple Proud Boys and other white supremacist militias have been charged with conspiracy to commit sedition, and now we know why. Assembling near the Washington monument at 10 o’clock in the morning and then marching from there to the Capitol without even attending Trump’s rally to lead the assault on that building is clearly sedition.

Trying to hang the Vice President of the United States and kidnap or murder the Speaker of the House to stop the peaceful transfer of power is clearly sedition.

And participating in organizing the entire thing, as Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, and other senior members of his staff appear to have done, deserves the 20 years in prison that a sedition conviction brings.

Last night’s Committee hearing laid out the crimes committed on the ground, at the time, around and in the Capitol on January 6th. As time goes on, we will learn more about those around Trump who participated in the planning and execution of this crime, or failed to do anything to stop it.

Five people died that day, and soon thereafter three police officers died as a result of its violence. Sedition, attempted murder, destruction of property, assault on police officers: all these crimes were committed in an attempt to overthrow the government of the United States.

It’s truly breathtaking.

And when we turned to Fox “News” during the breaks, we saw Sean Hannity, a close ally of Trump’s, whining that Nancy Pelosi had not called out the Capitol Police when the National Guard, who were under the direct control of Donald Trump, were positioned just a few miles away but had been forbidden to assist or even move on that day under order of Donald Trump‘s Acting Secretary of Defense.

Checking Fox News at the end of the hearing, we watched Laura Ingraham assert that what we saw was not, definitely not, an attempt to overthrow the election and the government of the United States. She asked, for example, how a man putting his feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk could be overthrowing the government?

So now, it appears that we have three levels of criminality here, or at least culpability.

There was a man at the top, Donald Trump, who helped organize and encourage the entire operation.

There were elected Republican officials, ranging from members of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate all the way down to individual state houses forging Electoral College certificates, who organized and executed the political part of the crime.

There were the white supremacist militia members, loyal followers of the viciously racist president, who organized violence intended to stop the counting of the electoral college vote, even if that meant the murder of America’s Vice President.

And there are those in the media and their allies in Congress who are committed to an ongoing cover-up of the crime.

George Washington, in his farewell address of 1796 (ghost written by Alexander Hamilton), warned us of this moment.

Should the time ever come when a “faction” of politicians or Americans put their party interest above that of the nation, he warned us, it would create a “spirit of revenge,” that could be so severe it would provoke “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” to “usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Writing that he was offering “warnings of a parting friend,” Washington told his and future generations:

“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you.”

In the next sentence, he added a warning:

“But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively, though often covertly and insidiously, directed…”

This is exactly what we have seen with Donald Trump and his allies in Congress and the media, the “batteries of internal” enemies of America trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power that is the hallmark of a functioning democracy.

“[I]t is of infinite moment,” Washington warned us, “that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity…”

For over 200 years, with the exception of the Civil War era, this has dictated our political dialogue.

Democrats, Republicans, and members of other political parties have, for two-and-a-half centuries, disagreed about things but kept that disagreement respectful and tried to deal with issues and disputes in an open and honest fashion.

That all came to an end with the Reagan revolution, because the Supreme Court legalized political bribery and it became “normal“ in America for politicians to put their loyalty to their donors and their donors’ industries and causes above the interests of our nation and its people.

In service of their overlords, Republicans have frozen Congress and forward movement for forty years now. It’s gotten so bad we can’t even deal with the ongoing slaughter of our own children or the climate change threat to all life on Earth.

In the final part of that warning sentence, outgoing President Washington told us that we must be:

“[W]atching for [our nation and its democracy’s] preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.”

We now have entire media organizations devoted to alienating one portion of the country from another and enfeebling the sacred ties that once bound America into a single, united nation.

“[T]here will always be reason,” Washington warned us, “to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.”

And how would that happen? Washington warned us about politicians who would nakedly lie about the behaviors and motivations of their political opponents:

“One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.”

Our constitution calls for a peaceful transfer of power when a new president is elected. It lays out the specifics of the process, a process that Trump, his allies in Congress, and the white supremacist militia members sought to disrupt in their effort to destroy the government of our country.

In that same paragraph, George Washington spoke to this moment:

“Respect for [our nation’s] authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.”

Yet Trump; his allies in Congress; the white supremacist militia he pulled together and directed as an invading army against our capital; and his handmaids in the media ignored that sacred obligation. They spit upon it.

Trump’s crimes against our nation, attempting to raise an armed force to overthrow our government and murder our Vice President, is the most severe crime against our nation since the oligarchs of the Old South seceded from the union and began the Civil War.

Trump’s allies tried to steal the electoral college ballots, murder the Vice President and Speaker of the House, and stop the installation of Joe Biden as President. Again, President Washington and Treasury Secretary Hamilton were prescient:

“All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency.”

“Fatal“ as in deadly to democracy, destructive of our nation itself.

“They serve to organize faction,” Washington wrote, “to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community…”

Well aware of the vital importance of democracy, but also cognizant of its fragility, Washington added:

“[C]unning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

As if they had dreamed of Donald Trump rising to power in the United States, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington told us:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.

“But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Always be on alert for politicians who want to seize absolute power in America, President Washington told us. Beware those “more fortunate” rich people who corrupt our nation for their own gain.

“A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.”

Laws can be changed, the Constitution can be amended, as times and events demand. The nation will grow and mature, necessitating these changes. But never, ever try to make such changes with a mob attack in the capital building:

“If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this… is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.“

Make no mistake.

Donald Trump and his allies within the Republican Party and it’s allied media, embrace foreign despots like Viktor Orbán and suggest his despotic Hungarian government should replace our Constitution and be a new model for America.

They make excuses for Donald Trump’s crimes and his attempt to overthrow our government, and actively act against the interests of democracy or our nation.

They have tried to destroy our democracy.

They have torn apart our nation.

In seeking pardons from Trump, they prove they knew the gravity of their crimes.

They are continuing that effort to this day. If anything, they are doubling down on it.

Last night, Congresswoman Liz Cheney said:

“Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

But the judgment of history is less urgent than the crisis we face today. Republicans are already preparing for a repeat in 2024 as, in state after state, they rewrite our election laws, purge voter lists, and organize armed militias to intimidate the remaining voters at the polls.

They must be punished, and punished severely, both at the ballot box and in the courts.

Anything less continues this existential danger to our democratic republic, and we may not survive their next seditious attack.