Peace for Our Time
Peter Meijer and the fantasy of Republican reform.
1. What About Pete?
The first is that I’m grateful to Meijer for voting the way truth demanded in both the 2020 election certification and the House impeachment trial. I’m also grateful that went on the record to Alberta about two important stories:
On the House floor, moments before the vote, Meijer approached a member who appeared on the verge of a breakdown. He asked his new colleague if he was okay. The member responded that he was not; that no matter his belief in the legitimacy of the election, he could no longer vote to certify the results, because he feared for his family’s safety. “Remember, this wasn’t a hypothetical. You were casting that vote after seeing with your own two eyes what some of these people are capable of,” Meijer says. “If they’re willing to come after you inside the U.S. Capitol, what will they do when you’re at home with your kids?” . . .
The next month, as other local parties across Michigan were debating similar reprimands of both Meijer and Fred Upton, the state GOP chair joked with party activists that “assassination” was one remedy for dealing with the two of them.
This is another data point in support of the fact that at least some Republicans voted the way they did out of fear for their physical safety. Please recall Pennsylvania Republican state Senate leader Kim Ward explaining to the New York Times:
Asked if she would have signed it, she indicated that the Republican base expected party leaders to back up Mr. Trump’s claims — or to face its wrath.
“If I would say to you, ‘I don’t want to do it,’” she said about signing the letter, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.”
So this is the climate in which at least some Republican politicians live. This is not normal.
Which explains the second important story that Meijer related:
[H]e remembers walking into a small side room and encountering two House Republican colleagues. “They were discussing the Twenty-Fifth Amendment—talking about phone calls they made to the White House, encouraging officials to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment,” Meijer says. “Neither of them voted for impeachment a week later.”
Again: This is not normal. This is life in an autocratic political movement. And it is entirely new in American politics.
And yet . . .
There is a moment in the piece where Meijer goes to speak at his high school alma mater and is asked a question by a student. Here’s what he said there, and then afterwards:
The students listened to Meijer warily. Finally, George, a shy-sounding student in the back of the room, raised his hand and announced that he had a question on behalf of his friends. “What we’re wondering,” George said sheepishly, “is how do you define what it means to be a Republican right now?”
Meijer thought for a moment. Then he launched into a soliloquy about how local control of political institutions produces more accountability, more efficiency, and better results. . . . George told me, after class, that he was frustrated by Meijer’s evasive response.
Later, over beers at a nearby pub, I reminded Meijer of his burden in the aftermath of the impeachment vote: He and the other nine dissenters were supposed to be “the hope” for their party’s future. He had just spoken to a group of soon-to-be voters whose notions of Republicanism were formed by red hats and angry chants and crazed tweets. Meijer had just looked the party’s future in the eye and acted as though all of that was normal. “How do you explain to George,” I asked, “the difference between the Republican Party that fills his imagination and that scares him, versus the Republican Party that you want to represent?”
“Well, my Republican Party wouldn’t scare him,” Meijer said with a shrug.
I asked if he understood why George and his friends might be scared right now. He smirked. “The inability to affirmatively and consistently reject anti-Semitism and white supremacy?”
The fundamental problem, Meijer said, is that Republicans are offering no plans for improving lives and making the future a more promising place. Instead, the party continues to rely on grievance and fear—and misinformation—to scare voters into their ranks. But he didn’t say any of this to George.
No. The fundamental problem is absolutely not that Republicans are offering no plans for improving lives.
The fundamental problem is this: That the Republican party has set a course counter to democracy.
Many Republicans tried to overturn the democratic order 11 months ago.
Many Republicans are now organizing at the local level for a more successful effort in 2024.
Many Republicans are explicitly in favor of this effort.
And many other Republicans, while not explicitly in favor it, refuse to recognize it. Retreating to euphemisms about “improving lives” and trying to butch up by criticizing Joe Biden.
To the extent that Pete Meijer is tired, or beaten down, or frustrated, or afraid for the lives of his family members—I understand all of that.
But he should wear it as a badge of honor.
Republicans like Meijer had the misfortune to be born into a moment when the old politics had fallen away and the old ways were not available to them. It is good that he has not joined the new politics. But pretending that the transformation has not happened is not, in the long run, good enough.