When thinking about what I call the “tumultuous triad” – former President Trump’s 2020 defeat, the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and the House committee’s investigation – I recalled the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” That was a #1 New York Times bestseller by Robert Fulghum published in 1986. Its catchy, relatable title confirmed that adults needed a refresher course on basic human behaviors.
The book famously revisited such rudimentary rules as “Play fair,” “Don’t take things that aren’t yours,” “Share everything,” “Clean up your own mess,” “Don’t hit people” and “Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody,” to name a few.
So how does the “tumultuous triad” relate to Fulghum’s long-forgotten book? The answer is a panoply of despicable behaviors exhibited by top-elected leaders, appointed officials, gangs of violent citizens and White House enablers — whose actions and inactions were testified to or revealed by the Jan. 6 committee.
For example, during the committee’s eight public hearings, Americans heard about possibly illegal activities of powerful presidential advisers before and during the explosive attack on the Capitol. Unfortunately, these men forgot their kindergarten lessons to “play fair” and “share everything.” Most notably, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who cowardly has declined to testify.
Conversely, showcased on the national stage was the courageous and patriotic behavior of the only two Republican Jan. 6 House committee members. While seriously jeopardizing her congressional seat, co-chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R Wyo.) chose to put her oath of office first. She explained why on ABC News, “that we swear under God to the Constitution” means “we cannot embrace and enable a president as dangerous as Donald Trump is.”
Also, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a war veteran who was once considered a Republican rising star, declined to run for reelection but is dedicated to finding the truth.
The Jan. 6 hearings have showcased “courage” versus “cowardice” — behavioral choices and life lessons to discuss with your children.
Moreover, White House staff who chose courage have testified while potentially trashing promising careers and incurring threats to personal and family safety. Their lives will be impacted forever after working for a president who, then and now, rejects the kindergarten rule “clean up your own mess.” (Coincidentally, star witness Cassidy Hutchison also testified that she literally helped “clean up the mess” after an enraged President Trump had thrown his lunch against the wall.)
Then there is the golden kindergarten rule, “Don’t hit people,” — repeatedly violated when rioters attacked the Capitol police at the building that symbolizes peaceful democracy.
Fortuitously, pre-Jan. 6, numerous state and local officials opted to “play fair” and rejected bullying calls from Trump’s henchmen to change election results. Our nation is grateful for those Americans who played by the rules and did the right thing at tremendous personal and professional costs. So, parents, pass those lessons forward.
The more we learn how close our nation came to a breakdown in the orderly transfer of presidential power – a hallmark of any democracy – the more we must teach our children about the sacred nature of that transfer. They must learn that even if their preferred candidate loses an election, the office of the president must be respected and revered as fundamentally stronger than its temporary occupant.
Years ago, one of my college professors said, “In our nation, there are no tanks in the streets during presidential inaugurations.” I recalled that remark when former federal judge J. Michael Luttig testified before the Jan. 6 committee. Luttig said, “If [Vice President] Pence obeyed Trump’s plea, [to halt the certification of President Biden’s victory],” the U.S. “would immediately have been plunged into what would have been tantamount to a revolution within a paralyzing constitutional crisis.”
Thankfully, then-Vice President Pence remembered his kindergarten lessons or read Fulghum’s book because on Jan. 6 — while his life was threatened and with chants of hanging – Pence refused to “take things that aren’t yours.” And even though Pence was slated to lose his job, he stood up to the president of the United States, who never learned “don’t hit people” while they are doing their job adhering to the Constitution.
The Jan. 6 House hearings have provided robust evidence that Trump failed to learn another essential kindergarten lesson, “Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody” (or a nation). At least not yet, though it’s doubtful he ever will.
Currently, it’s unknown whether the Department of Justice will charge the highest-level perpetrators who tried to overturn the 2020 election — but smoke signals have begun emanating from the roof. They started last week when Attorney General Merrick Garland emphatically stated, “no person is above the law in this country.”
Then, on July 26, during an NBC News interview, Lester Holt asked Garland, “The indictment of a former president, perhaps candidate for president, would arguably tear the country apart; is that your concern?”
Garland replied: “We intend to hold everyone, anyone who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding Jan. 6, for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another, accountable. That’s what we do. We don’t pay any attention to other issues with respect to that.”
And if Garland’s Justice Department finds enough evidence to indict any high-ranking officials who “interfered with the lawful transfer of power” – including a former president – our great nation will continue to stand firm on its constitutional foundation.
But the alternative is painful to fathom. The rule of law when “no person is above the law” will be negated if Donald Trump is not held accountable. It will mean he successfully shredded the Constitution. Consequently, our standing in the world as a beacon of democracy would be incinerated, along with our electoral process.
Then, expect tanks in the streets at future presidential inaugurations, and tell your children it’s time for a new founding document because the original 1788 version will be resting on shifting sand.
Myra Adams writes about politics and religion for numerous publications. She is a RealClearPolitics contributor and served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008. Follow her on Twitter @MyraKAdams.