For over a week near the end of January, after she was identified, Rachel Powell was in hiding, sought after by the FBI. Profiled by Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker, Powell has eight children, ranging in age from 4 years to mid-twenties; some of the younger ones disappeared from her house when she did.
Powell made a social media splash as the “bullhorn lady” in her pink knit cap in videos of the Capitol on January 6th. Accompanying audio recordings allow us to hear her exhorting fellow insurrectionists to break more windows, and then she directs some of the invaders’ movements. After securing legal representation, Powell turned herself in on February 4th. She faces an extensive list of charges, including obstruction and depredation of government property. She has been separated from her husband for three years, and works part-time while homeschooling her children, raising chickens, and keeping a garden. She has posted several videos protesting pandemic restrictions, particularly singling out the mask mandate as a “liberty issue.”
Ms. Powell paints herself as just another patriot, caught up in the moment of the attack on the Capitol. She disavows association with any group, and claims no knowledge of the layout of the building. Her story relates to accountability, writ small. As a mother of eight, including young ones, her judgment in leaving them to go to Washington to participate in a mass protest (and January 6th wasn’t the first time) is certainly questionable. Taking an active part in the breaching and entry into the Capitol represents the abandonment of all responsibility to her family. Taking them into hiding with her shows no regard for their safety. And yet….she counts herself as among the faction that fervently preaches personal responsibility and respect for law and order. She is only one among hundreds who abdicated family ties and obligations that day, let alone adherence to democratic principles. The tale of her radicalization is a common one among right-wing extremists, and now, when it’s much too late, she says that her only regret is the possible repercussions for her children, but she tries to block out those thoughts.
As the microcosm, so the macrocosm, in this case. At this writing, the verdict on the Orange One’s impeachment will be announced shortly. Unless all the pundits are mistaken, the vote will be for acquittal. Not only will the former President be allowed to skate out of his culpability for the insurrection, none of his Senate enablers will face any consequences, either. Indeed, the most common argument advanced by those outside the halls of the Senate is that those who vote to let the ex-President off the hook are afraid of their constituents. The GOP rallying cry is, “Unity!” Unfortunately, all too many Dems also would like to forget the recent past and “move on,” thereby assuring that the inciter-in-chief pays no price for his many crimes against the nation.
The call for unity assumes that a reconciliation is possible under the present circumstances. It assumes, for instance, that there’s a middle ground between wearing masks and rejecting them, between social distancing and the lack thereof, on the individual scale; and between accepting election results and denying them, between believing that Democrats are socialists out to confiscate all guns (possibly while being cannibalistic pedophiles) and believing that Republicans want an autocratic theocracy, on the larger scale. At least in these examples of basic tenets, obviously, the viewpoints are mutually exclusive. The same goes for many of the other differences between the 81-million-votes and 74-million-votes segments of the population. In short, there’s precious little in the way of middle ground, politically. Neither is there a halfway point when it comes to racism, homophobia, or xenophobia. There’s no way to go on as a cohesive country when a significant part of the population refuses to acknowledge a change in Presidential administrations. If one wheel of a car is stuck, the vehicle can’t move forward.
Is accountability the answer to the question of unity? Clearly not. Convicting the former President of incitement would do nothing to intimidate his followers, and certainly wouldn’t meet with their approval. Conversely, will accountability create more division? Again, no. The lines have already been drawn; once a thing is severed in half, it can’t be any more severed. The either/or proposition is a false one here. It’s being put forward as a diversion to focusing on the reality that exists in our government today. The corporately-owned GOP is trying to keep power away from the equally corporately-owned Democrats. The parties are two sides of the same coin, although the Dems are more subtle with their greed and power plays, and aren’t willing to go to the same lengths their opponents embrace. In truth, it’s difficult to imagine T***p as a member of the Democratic party; he’s too overt in his mania, sins, and bigotry (the Dems prefer a more civil, gentlemanly persona). However closely related the two parties are, via nods and winks in the cloakroom, though, the citizens of this country are as divided as it’s possible to be. Each party applauds that separation as it jockeys for position.
Why push for accountability, then? It’s simply a matter of what is right. Rachel Powell is now forced to deal with the U.S. justice system. And just as with individuals’ personal lives, elected officials’ actions should have consequences. Such accountability serves as a check on power and irresponsible choices. As we’ve seen over and over, flouting the law and ignoring duty, with no imposition of penalties, only leads to more of the same. The Republicans are determined to hold the line and back their guy, no matter what. In effect, they’re maintaining the monolithic nature of their party and telling the world that, no matter what they do, they can’t be held to account. Therefore, for no reason other than a push-back against that imperviousness, T***p’s dereliction of duty and unleashing of a violent mob on Congress need to be called out. Every scrap of evidence needs to be made public and go into the records if there’s any chance of preventing the 2.0 version from trying the same stunt, and possibly succeeding in bypassing election results. Accountability is the enemy of would-be despots, and is one of the most valuable tools in a representative government. Without it, we will cease to have a republic.