The Inauguration of Jefferson Davis

The violent conflict at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, continues to disorient media elites and members of Congress. Like so many of his colleagues, Jake Tapper refers to the actions leading to the conflict as an insurrection. Jamie Raskin led his colleagues charged the conflict’s central figure with inciting a riot. This terminology catastrophically fails to convey the meaning of the relevant actions.

As a result, Americans lack the context to confront the existential threat to their society. Tapper and Raskin have good company in their failure to heed the lessons of the generations that preceded them. More is the pity.

Most Americans claim at least a passing familiarity with the Book of Numbers. In a portion designated Parashat Korach by those claiming a special relationship to the text, a story unfolds about a man named Korach who challenged the authority of Moses. Frustrated that Moses had yet to lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey, Korach and his princes demanded that Moses relinquish his status. Moses, engulfed in the task of teaching former slaves a code of conduct for building a just society, was evidently confounded by the challenge.

Thus, Moses turned to the Lord for guidance. The Divine response was to “cleave asunder” the ground under Korach and his confederates. With the traitors swallowed into the Earth, the Lord sent a plague to extinguish Korach’s acolytes. Only because Moses and Aaron promised an atonement did the plague end. Real or imagined, the Lord left no room for subtlety about the response to those who defy the organizing principles of Judaism.

Like the ancient Hebrews, Americans created their distinct identity on the basis of shared principles. In developing their identity, however, prior generations have failed to meet their Korach moment. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Southern delegates rejected James Madison’s plan for a national, representative republic. They did not share their fellow Americans’ faith in equality, and delegates from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and even Virginia, chose expedience of union over adherence to principle.

This original failure permitted the suffering of enslaved Americans for generations. Ultimately, the return to principle took the form of a war that cost the lives of 1 in 6 American males. When Americans considered the proper response to the Korach of the Era, Jefferson Davis, they, too, chose expedience over principle. Davis was charged with treason but never tried for the offense. His princes bore no burden for their disloyalty.

As a result, the perverters of the organizing principles of the American Nation have reveled in a glory manufactured by miscreants. For the past 150 years, the failure to punish has not only added to the misery of far too many Americans; it has disintegrated the societal bonds of American nationhood. The consequence is a people uncertain as to whether they stand for a country marked by its dominance of a territory or a nation defined by the shared principles of its people.

Hence, the third Korach moment in the history of the American Republic took place on January 6, 2021. The Five Books of Moses prescribes conduct far beyond Ten Commandments. The text includes a long list of prohibited acts. The United States Constitution has many provisions but only one crime: Treason. Under the Constitution, treason is the act of levying war against the United States.

In perhaps its final act of enduring significance, the Congress charged the Korach of our time with inciting a riot, as if the President of the United States had no more responsibility than a college kid throwing rocks at a ROTC building. Unlike Jefferson Davis and unlike Korach, the President of the United States is not leading an insurrection against a government. He is the embodiment of one-third of the U.S. Government. Congress’s weak-kneed response to Trump’s treason deprived Americans of their identity and thereby threatens the Republic.

Now, I am not suggesting that the solution is for God Almighty to cleave asunder the ground under Mar-a-Lago. On the other hand, who am I to argue with the Divine? I do, however, suggest three Earthly responses.

First, stop calling January 6th a riot or an insurrection. Unlike Davis, who resigned his Senate seat, Trump was the sitting President. Unlike Davis, who left the details of war to others, Trump identified the mission, staged the combatants, and ordered his troops into battle. Trump committed Treason, and his minions did Levy War against the United States.

Second, present the charges that comport with their historical importance. The failure of 19th Century Americans to confront the treason of Jefferson Davis and his henchman transformed the descendants of Grant’s Army into Confederate-flag-waving, anti-democratic traitors. Maintaining the distinct culture of American republicanism demands a clear response to those pulling the American people into generic ethno-nationalism.

Third, we must cease separating ourselves, symbolically or physically or intellectually, from the only relevant identity we possess, that of Americans. This is not a call to relinquish all regard for our parents’ customs. After all, if homogeneity had been determinative, English colonists would never have revolted against their English rulers. We can not survive as a people by placing our customs, whether they involve refraining from the consumption of Maryland crabs or chanting Torah on Saturdays, above the bonds of our American society.

Thus, we must emulate Moses. His willingness to sacrifice on behalf of all his people, even as they rejected him, propelled them toward the Promised Land. Teaching the ignorant and forgiving the disloyal offer the only means to advance the American journey to a just society.

singing songs nobody hears