Looking Back on January 6th, 2021: A Difficult Day in a Difficult Year for U.S. Democracy

One year later, political leaders have failed to unite behind a recognition and rejection of the profound antidemocratic forces behind the Capitol riot.

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Aaron Meuser

On January 6, 2021, an exasperated crowd, supportive of former President Trump’s false claims of a rigged election and inscenced by a distorted notion of patriotism, stormed the U.S. capitol hoping to interrupt the congressional verification of a fair and legitimate election. Citizens, analysts, and politicians alike were shocked and frightened by what they witnessed and endured that day. The United States, often called a “beacon for democracy,” experienced perhaps its most significant domestic attack since 9/11, and the perpetrators were its own citizens. 

In the hours and days following the event, there was great speculation as to how the nation and its leaders would respond. Many rightfully noted that, while calamitous, the invasion of the capital provided the country with an opportunity. By coming to a consensus and recognizing the full extent of what happened and who was responsible for causing it, perhaps the U.S. could move forward, more secure in its institutions and the liberal ideals they were intended to support.

 Prospects of that consensus seemed at least somewhat hopeful that night as the Capitol was finally cleared and lawmakers returned to session. The election was certified  overwhelmingly in the Senate and comfortably in the House, only facing objections from eight senators and 139 of the 435 total representatives. The nation heard an uncharacteristically strong condemnation of the attack from then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who labeled it an “insurrection” which “only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our republic.” And as President Biden was officially sworn in, there was certainly a sense that Democracy had won. But a little over a year after the January 6th attack, the battle continues.

A little more than a year later, January 6 looms large over the U.S. and continues to threaten our democracy. Since the incursion, more than 725 have been arrested. More than 225 of them have been charged with “assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees,” 640 with entering or remaining in restricted federal areas, and 275 with impeding or obstructing official proceedings, among other charges. Of those charged, 165 have pleaded guilty, 70 have been sentenced, and the FBI continues to search for 350 individuals believed to have been involved in the violence.

The House Select Committee investigating the attack, composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans, has interviewed over 300 individuals, including election officials from contentious states, and combed through 35,000 pages of texts, phone calls, and emails pertaining to the events. The committee has requested information from notable Trump allies such as Steve Bannon, former chief of staff Mark Meadows, and most recently from Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Both Meadows and Bannon have refused to cooperate. The Committee is expected to go public with its findings soon; however, an official report will do little to alleviate the harms that have already been done.

An Ipsos/Reuters poll from May 21, 2021 showed that 56% of Republicans still believed that the election was rigged, 61% agreed that the election was stolen from President Trump, and 54% agreed that the riot was actually led by violent left-wing protestors. One may think that an official report from the House Select Committee on the January 6th attack would dispel any confusion surrounding the true nature of the election and the day, but this apparently is not the case. Since the night of the election certification, many Republican lawmakers have altered their stance toward the attack, and efforts to find the truth have been far from bipartisan.

Trust in the Committee suffered a rough start when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two Republican picks for the committee, Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN), due to their past statements and actions (both voted against certifying the election). However, before the Select Committee was even established, Senate Republicans blocked legislation aimed at creating an independent commission to investigate the assault. In the House, Jordan and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who both admit to having spoken with President Trump on the day of the attack, have refused to participate in the Select Committee’s investigations. Representative Jordan labeled the Committee a “partisan witch hunt” and Representative McCarthy called the investigation “illegitimate.”

During the recent day of remembrance hosted at the capital, Republican representatives were nowhere to be seen. Of the 262 Republican members of Congress, only two were present, neither of them Senators. In fact, the only Republican-led event at the Capitol that day was meant to deflect blame away from former President Trump: Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida held a press conference during which they continued to spread conspiracy theories of election fraud. Republican hesitancy to recognize the true severity and reality of these events, while simultaneously standing in the way of the House investigation, does very little to change popular misconceptions and restore trust in the U.S. government. 

Repercussions of the January 6th attack do not stop at mere misconceptions regarding the incident itself and the 2020 election. A grassroots movement has started within the Republican party to place Trump sympathizers in positions as election administrators. In Pennsylvania, two candidates who supported allegations of election fraud have been elected as local voting judges and local republican leaders in Michigan altered election canvassing boards by appointing individuals who expressed belief that the election was rigged.

Beyond the local level, Trump sympathizers are running for state-level positions. Kristina Karamo, candidate for Secretary of State in Michigan, and Kari Lake, candidate for governor of Arizona, have both promoted conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election and are both endorsed by Trump. Candidates like Karamo and Lake claim to be advocating for greater, unbiased voter security, so that all voices can be heard. However, the need to run on such a platform indicates a belief that the 2020 election was already biased, corrupt, or fraudulent, something that has been disproven time and time again. Even if Republican candidates sympathetic to Trump claim to be unbiased, their claim is at least partially subverted by their distrust of an already legitimate system. A campaign to elect such officials specifically for their sympathetic stance threatens the U.S. electoral system.

Within Congress, the events of January 6th have begun to cause problems, further hurting an already-gridlocked system. Democrats and Republicans are now more divided than ever. For instance, Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who worked together for years, now refuse to work together because of Gosar’s ‘no’ vote on the election certification. Hostilities run high in both the Senate and the House, where compromise seems impossible in many situations. 

Where, then, does this leave the United States? More than a year after the January 6th attack, our democracy clearly has not recovered. Not only is the country divided, but so too are our leaders. The events of January 6th offered us, specifically our leaders, an opportunity to stop the country from continuing down a dangerous path. For years under Trump, misinformation, partisan interests, and the actions of America’s near-demagogue drove our country apart, and directly threatened its very foundations. The former President continues to wield a tight grip on the Republican party. Openly opposing him is an electoral death wish for representatives like Liz Cheney (R-WY), managing him is nigh impossible, and supporting him is rewarding for those who choose to do so. This provides a strong incentive for politicians to look the other way when Trump or his supporters try to alter or avoid our most fundamental institutions, such as our popular elections.The January 6th attack gave us an opportunity to recognize this danger, address it head on, and distance ourselves from a President who identified real and serious divisions before exacerbating them for his own benefit. Instead, we allowed facts to become narrative and narrative misinformation. As this occurred, our democratic institutions have continued to weaken and a fair and free election has faced continued opposition. Should Trump choose to run again in 2024 is a frightening thought; win or lose, another Trump campaign promises serious consequences for democracy. Needless to say, the factors behind last year’s attack on the Capital have not gone away. They continue to simmer under the surface of American politics and will come back to bite us again if not managed in three years time.⬩

1 comments on “Looking Back on January 6th, 2021: A Difficult Day in a Difficult Year for U.S. Democracy”

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