Retrospective on January 6th: Past or Prologue?

7/7/21

Shortly before the July 4th holiday, the NY Times posted a video that chronicled the January 6th assault on the Capitol. If you haven’t viewed this video, I highly recommend it. It’s not easy viewing, and it requires 40 minutes of your time; but if you give a damn about the state of our nation, it’s worth watching.

I’ve heard many commentators express relief about how close we came to losing our democracy; but for me, in the aftermath of watching that video, the use of the past tense in this assessment seems premature. The mob mentality shown during this day-long effort to stop the certification of a national election was horrifying; and, unfortunately, that mentality is alive and well in a frighteningly large portion of our population, the ultimate resolution of the election results notwithstanding. The big lie perpetrated by President Trump clearly precipitated this event; and, despite the overwhelming evidence debunking that lie, it is still embraced by as many as a third of Americans according to a June 21 CNN poll.

The Times’ video lays out the sequence of events during the day, and it also raises yet to be answered questions. Why, for example, did it take some three-and-a-half hours after the breach of the Capitol for the National Guard to arrive on the scene, long after the violence had escalated well beyond the capacity of the Capital Police to maintain order? This question requires an answer, and yet Republicans in Congress seem intent on sweeping the question under the rug. Who was responsible for this delay? Is no one to be held accountable?

For me, as disturbing as the events of that day are, the lies and misrepresentations that came from Republican stalwarts after the fact are no less reprehensible. The Times video includes statements of two Republican legislators, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WS) and Representative Andrew Clyde (R-GA). Both were at the event, with Representative Clyde captured on the video trying to barricade doors to hold back the mob. Johnson says, “Even calling it an insurrection… It wasn’t. By and large it was a peaceful protest.” Clyde says, “If you didn’t know the TV footage was from January 6th, you would actually have thought it was a normal tourist visit.” We did see that footage, though, and it was by no means a “normal tourist visit.” The seemingly concerted effort to whitewash the history that is available for all to see is nothing short of reprehensible.

I restrain myself from ad hominem attacks, but it’s hard not to attribute such willful lies to base, political motives. It’s an embarrassment that people of leadership can abuse their platforms by fostering such obvious fabrications. And yet, by and large there’s no reproach — at least none that I’ve heard that come with the vehemence that’s deserved.

These two legislators, of course, are small potatoes; and while they deserve censure, it’s nothing compared to the condemnation deserved from the very top, starting with Trump, himself. (What ever happened to the principle of the buck stopping at the top, as per the pronouncement of Harry S. Truman?) There can be no question that the assault on the Capitol was a direct outgrowth of Trump’s repeated claims of winning the election “by a landslide” and that the election was stolen as a consequence of fraud — claims wholly debunked by myriad reviews and audits.

It’s clearly not sufficient for the truth to be displayed transparently, as it has been done by the NY Times investigation and others. To right this ship requires a full-throated repudiation, not only of the lies underlying the January 6 assault, but of the liars who’ve advanced them, starting at the top. But let’s not forget the 147 members of Congress (8 Senators and 139 House members) who voted on that infamous day to deny the certification of the Biden victory. They have been memorialized as defilers of democracy in connection with this abominable episode, aptly named as the Sedition Caucus.

Those who support Trump and whatever they view as his positive accomplishments are free to champion those policies and relish in their consequences as much as they’d like; but what I can’t understand is the indifference these sycophants show to the threat to democracy that Trump has posed and will likely continue to pose if he is permitted to remain in the political arena. If not rebuked, his personal failure to accept the will of the people in one of fairest and most honest elections in our nation’s history will perpetuate a mistrust of election results for many elections to come, with concurrent claims of fraud, irrespective of any state-sponsored legislation that may likely be enacted in the near term. Those who expect these Republican sponsored election laws to “fix” anything are delusional. Anything but. Mother Jones reports that in 14 states, new laws open the door for overriding of election results at the discretion of partisan operatives. And Congress dithers.

Unless Republican leadership does the right thing by repudiating Trump and holding him personally responsible for the mayhem that he has wrought, claims of fraudulent election outcomes are sure to become a staple in future elections, and adherence to the will of the people will be tenuous. Unfortunately, as necessary as this repudiation might be for the long-term viability of our democracy, I’m not holding my breath. Given the Republican party’s fealty to the perpetrator in chief, it’s hard to see much reason to feel like our democracy is anything like safe and secure. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not at all optimistic.

Kawaller holds a Ph.D. in economics from Purdue University.