This Fourth of July, think about how a 26-year-old showed us what true patriotism is
“As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American. We were watching the Capitol building get defaced over a lie.”
So Cassidy Hutchinson, the incredibly courageous aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows described to the Select Committee of the House of Representatives her raw reaction to the unimaginable assault on the legislative branch of the U.S. government on Jan. 6.
It marked the culmination of a series of events which opened Hutchinson’s eyes to the coup that seemed to be orchestrated within the White House itself. Her growing concern for our democracy eventually led Hutchinson to risk her reputation, her career, perhaps her very life by agreeing to testify publicly about how Donald Trump had welcomed the armed protesters who showed up at his rally and made sure they were part of the march on the Capitol which he desperately wanted to join, if not direct.
Hutchinson, the 26-year-old who came to Washington straight out of college to work, first with Ted Cruz, then with Steve Scalise, before becoming the top aide to Mark Meadows, the White House Chief of Staff, would seem to have been a very unlikely star witness for the committee. Indeed, those who knew her as a staunch Trump loyalist were shocked to learn that she was cooperating with the investigation. Little did they realize how the scales had fallen from her eyes on Jan. 6 when she saw Trump and his gang of enablers for the existential threats to democracy that they had increasingly become.
One can ask: if Hutchinson knew the nonsense about a stolen election was a big lie, she must have long been aware of the rot pervading the Trump administration? Why did she stay? Perhaps, by the same reasoning as Miles Taylor, author of the famous anonymous op-ed in the New York Times. Taylor explained that he and others stayed to mitigate the damage that Trump and his facilitators were intent upon doing to the country. Hutchinson herself hinted at this in her testimony when she said that she had always tried to make the best of the situations that daily presented themselves. Then came Jan. 6, which proved, for Hutchinson, to be the bridge too far. As she watched, from the ultimate insider’s vantage point, the horror play itself out at the Capitol, she felt like a spectator helpless to do anything to prevent a car wreck taking place in front of her. That triggered the ultimate act of patriotism: daring to reveal to the nation the shockingly unpatriotic behavior of the nation’s top officials on that infamous day.
Maintaining free and fair elections is a minimal manifestation of patriotism in the service of democracy. Despite being traumatized by a mob trying to smash its way into its chamber, a majority of the Republican House caucus, including our own Hal Rogers, voted, just hours later, out of complicity or opportunism or fear, in support of the plot to overturn the certified results in several crucial states won by Biden. Not exactly the stuff of patriotism.
The attack on our democracy did not end on Jan. 6. The Republican Party has exploited the Big Lie to erode and weaken democracy through such antidemocratic instruments as voter suppression, gerrymandering, the filibuster, party control of election results, and the like. Patriotism and democracy go hand in hand. One cannot profess to be patriotic, to be proud to be an American, so long as you are abetting, by omission or commission, the forces warring against our democracy.
The odds look good that this Select Committee will indeed, as Adam Kinzinger predicted, change history, perhaps even save our democracy. If the latter does come to pass, pray Lord, no small credit will go to Cassidy Hutchinson. Her measured but powerful account of what she observed at the White House is an apt reminder on this Fourth of July of how our better angels can stir us to do our civic duty, to be democratic patriots, the only ones fit for a republic like ours. If Cassidy Hutchinson could rise to meet the critical demands of the hour even in such an anti-democratic environment as the Trump White House, so can we all.
Robert Emmett Curran is Professor of History Emeritus at Georgetown University.