In Colorado, like most states, every attorney is required to take an Oath of Admission upon being admitted into the bar. The oath has a requirement to support the constitutions of the United States and Colorado.
A little more than halfway through is an affirmation, which, in part, states “I will use my knowledge of the law for the betterment of society…” This is open to some interpretation, but I’m certain it doesn’t include writing a poorly reasoned memo justifying an attempted coup d’état.
Yet, this is exactly what John Eastman did, according to the book “Peril” written by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post. The memo — titled “January 6 scenario” — was released last week by The Washington Post which reported that it was written by Eastman, a former visiting scholar at the University of Colorado’s Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization, and presented to Vice President Mike Pence as an actual plan to give the 2020 election to then-President Donald Trump.
The memo proposed that Pence should refuse to count the votes in seven states where fringe groups had put forward an alternative slate of electors. “A majority of the electors appointed would therefore be 228. There are at this point 232 votes for Trump, 222 votes for Biden. Pence then gavels President Trump as re-elected,” the seditious memo reads.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” To put it more plainly, those in power don’t get to change the agreed-upon rules after the final tally simply because they don’t like the outcome.
In Lincoln’s day, the southern Democrats burned their behinds by supporting men who pushed for secession and sparked a Civil War that killed 750,000 Americans to prop up an evil establishment of slavery upon which their economy and rich lifestyles had become reliant.
Today, Trump supporters are clinging desperately to an unhinged man who is willing to carry their mantle of white supremacy.
The Eastman memo was written as a defense for an insurrection to prop up that mantle.
The memo and the subsequent storming of the U.S. Capitol were cynical attempts to change the rules to advance a narrative about this nation that has never been true — a narrative where those who proudly marched on the United States Capitol chanting “we will not be replaced” find comfort and sanctuary, a narrative that fueled former President Trump’s rise to power and perpetuates a toxic political environment.
The grand origin story of the United States is that our founders threw off the shackles of British imperialism to pursue the enlightenment principles of liberty, progress, constitutional government, and tolerance. Even today if you ask the person on the street what was the reason behind the Boston Tea Party the answer will be there should be no taxation without representation. An origin story is essential to how a group, culture, individual, or nation self-identifies and defines itself in relationship to others. Origin stories and the narratives that derive from them provide a place of comfort and shelter to its adherents.
At its core, the story of us, as Americans, is very much rooted in idealistic notions outlined in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. In the Preamble, the founders, without hesitation, define America as a place where all are equal, liberty is guaranteed, and a government formed by the consent of the governed is sacred. For most of the last 245 years, this basic narrative remained the main storyline with alternative narratives told only as long as they did not afflict the comfortable.
The undercurrent of the Eastman memo and the January 6 insurrection is a visceral response to those who demand as Martin Luther Kings, Jr. that America “be true to what you said on paper.”
For too long, this imperfect union sought to minimize its imperfections by excluding narratives that challenged the legitimacy of the great American origin story. As a young Baptist preacher, I was constantly reminded to “tell the story.”
At face value, it was a reminder to tell the congregation about salvation through Jesus. However, it was not a call for a perfunctory retelling of a gospel story. It was a call for listeners to locate and center themselves in that very story. The same is true of the story of American democracy. The challenge is and always has been to tell the American story so that all of us can center ourselves.
The challenge laid before us by Eastman and the other Jan. 6 insurrectionists is determining how to foster a democracy where each of us is centered and feels that our story is valued in the larger narrative.
On Jan. 6, 2021, we witnessed a twilight zone where democracy was sacrificed at the altar of fear and hate — a grim view of a future where who and what is American is defined so narrowly that democracy is suffocated.
The richness of our great republic is not how to draw a line to determine who is excluded, but by trusting its foundations enough to embrace all of the narratives that make our democracy the story of us.
Terrance Carroll is a former speaker of the Colorado House. He is the Executive Director for Unite Colorado. Unite Colorado is committed to bridging the growing partisan divide in order to tackle our largest challenges and leave a better state for future generations. He is on Twitter @speakercarroll.
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