Accountability Matters

U.S. Senators being sworn in as jurors in the second Trump impeachment trial. (Youtube screenshot)

James Baldwin said, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

I have thought a lot about that quote from the iconic Black gay writer and activist in recent weeks. Since the Inauguration, Congressional Republicans have talked a lot about “unity” and “moving on.”

“Moving on” from four years of incalculable damage to the country and to whole groups of Americans — LGBTQ among them — wrought by Donald Trump and his GOP cohort and enablers.

Joe Biden focused on uniting the country as he ran for president. In his Inaugural address, Biden emphasized that he would be a president for every American and his Inauguration was evidence of that pledge. He highlighted the voices that had been suppressed for four long and misery-inducing years.

On day one of his presidency, Biden made good on his promise to begin to undo the harm that had been done to marginalized people by the Trump administration. He signed the country back up with the World Health Organization to fight the pandemic. He renewed the U.S. pledge to the Paris Accord on the climate crisis. He signed an executive order banning discrimination against LGBTQ people that requires all federal agencies examine their policies toward LGBTQ individuals.

In the past two weeks Biden has signed several dozen more executive orders, each one emphasizing the need to address the crises the country is in, each one emphasizing equity. As Vice President Kamala Harris said, when she explained the use of the word ‘equity’ rather than ‘equality’ in Biden’s executive orders, “Equality suggests, ‘Oh, everyone should get the same amount.’ The problem with that, not everybody’s starting out from the same place.”

We are not starting out from the same place, Republicans in Congress and the rest of us. They are starting out from a place of control and power and immense privilege. Which is what makes the calls from the GOP for “unity” and “moving on” ring so hollow.

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

For many of us, unity without accountability is anathema. If I had the power to do so, I would set up a Truth and Reconciliation panel to address what has happened in the U.S. over the past four years and, especially, over the past few months during Trump’s frenzied efforts to overturn the election. Those efforts culminated in one of the most shocking events in U.S. history — the insurrection at the Capitol, the impact of which is being revealed piece by harrowing piece.

The Republicans who fueled that insurrection with their claim that Trump actually won the election, an assertion referred to by Democratic leaders and the press as the Big Lie, are among the most strident voices for “unity” and “moving on.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a likely candidate for president in 2024, tweets querulously that Biden is undermining the quest for unity with his executive orders and bypassing Congress. The senator forgets, apparently, the number of times Trump did just that.

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

Over in the House, things are more dire. Several newly elected GOP Congresspeople are staunch proponents of the far-right extremist QAnon conspiracy group. Notable among these are Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO). Both women have made headlines for their attempts to bring guns on the floor of the House and for their threats against other House members, notably Speaker Pelosi and five women of color. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, referred to by many as AOC, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are known as The Squad. They are the most progressive Democrats in the House. Newly elected Rep. Cori Bush is also a progressive. She was forced to move her office last week when she was threatened by Greene outside her previous office.

Both Greene and Boebert ran for Congress on getting The Squad, who they both refer to as Socialists and Communists interchangeably, out of Congress. The how of that is concerning. Greene posed with a rifle pointed at a photo of The Squad during her campaign. Boebert said they need to be “taken out.”

There is also video of Greene telling a group of supporters that Speaker Nancy Pelosi should be executed. And during the insurrection, it is alleged that Boebert posted the location of the Speaker while the rioters were calling to execute her and then-Vice President Mike Pence.

Unsurprisingly, Greene and Boebert are also anti-LGBTQ, with long histories of anti-LGBTQ statements and direct harassment of LGBTQ people.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) led the Big Lie in the House, promoting it on Fox News and other outlets. McCarthy has put both Greene and Boebert on committees and raised no objections to their actions or rhetoric. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer moved Feb. 3 to strip them of their assignments.

And on Feb. 2, Speaker Pelosi tweeted that McCarthy should be concerned about extremism, and referred to him as “Qevin McCarthy, Q-CA.”

Biden’s efforts to unite the country are admirable. We all want to have a nation that works best for all of us. But as Vice President Harris noted, equity matters. And the very people who want us to “move on” and not hold them accountable have been responsible for tremendous harm to marginalized people with their policies.

The GOP packed the courts with anti-LGBTQ judges and justices. Under Trump’s presidency, hate crimes against LGBTQ people rose exponentially, to nearly 1 in 5 such crimes being perpetrated against LGBTQ people, far outpacing their demographic.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s life was saved by Black lesbian Capitol police officer Crystal Griner when Scalise was shot in 2017. Griner was badly wounded in the shooting. Yet in 2019, Scalise voted against the Equality Act.

This is who the GOP is.

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

Trump’s defense for his impeachment is that he really won the election: the Big Lie, still. The danger in continuing to make these assertions was evidenced January 6.

There can be no unity without accountability. These people tried to steal our votes and our election. And if they are not held accountable, they will do it again and we will once again be their unwilling victims.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.