My colleagues David, Matt and Josh have each addressed this question of the scope of the Jan 6th committee in different ways on the site this morning. I wanted to add my voice to theirs and add some thoughts of my own.
Especially Republicans, but not only Republicans, want to focus any investigation on the narrow questions of the security breach itself. How did the insurrectionists manage to enter the Capitol complex? This is wrong and insufficient on many counts, not least of which is that we basically already know the answer. Just as important it focuses the inquiry on the possible shortcomings of some of the primary victims – Capitol Police officers who failed to protect the premises.
It would be a simple enough matter to harden the Capitol complex and add sufficient security forces and weaponry to secure it from another insurrectionary mob or one two or three times the size. The obvious point is that once we have an insurrectionary mob acting on the orders of the President or any national political leader seeking to storm the seat of government there has been a major breakdown of the civil order. Some level of security is a given. But we don’t want a Capitol prepped for such an encounter. The real question is not one of security but the nature of the breakdown in the civil order itself, who is responsible for it and how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Focusing on security breaches is like investigating the 9/11 attacks by interrogating the architects and contractors who built the Towers about why they weren’t able to withstand the impacts.
There is no way to understand the January 6th insurrection without beginning with the fact that it was led by, at the behest of and for the benefit of Donald Trump. It was the result of his actions. It was one of the final developments in a failed coup plot by Donald Trump.
It began with attempts to rig the election in advance. It continued with efforts to delegitimize and subvert the results in the courts and in the court of public opinion. Trump then pursued an array of extralegal and illegal actions to overturn the results of the election in multiple states and overthrow the republic itself. The events of January 6th, both the insurrectionary mob which tried to overthrow the state and the campaign to pressure Vice President Pence into doing the same, were in some ways the culmination of that failed coup attempt. But we can’t say it was the culmination because it actually hasn’t ended.
In many ways, what happened on January 6th and in the two months prior was less dangerous than what has happened in the six months since. The system actually worked. The courts rejected Trump’s spurious arguments. State authorities, often Republicans, refused to break the law or upend the election results on his behalf. The Congress and Vice President fulfilled their constitutional duty to confirm the lawful election of Joe Biden, who was duly inaugurated on January 20th. What has happened since then is that President Trump has managed – from his exile compound – to make support of the insurrection into the central pillar of party ideology.
‘Support’ may seem like hyperbole. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s true that most elected Republicans still won’t explicitly support the violent storming of the Capitol. But Trump himself now does. He has made vindication of the insurrectionists, release of all those indicted for their crimes and vengeance against the Capitol Police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt into the centerpieces of his 2022 campaign. He has succeeded in making any participation in any effort to investigate the events of January 6th grounds for de facto and perhaps de jure expulsion from the Republican party. Critically, he has managed to make the spurious rationale for the coup attempt – The Big Lie – even more firmly a matter of party ideology.
That is support. Indeed, there is every reason to believe and we are already seeing signs that a strict refusal to investigate or punish the people behind the coup attempt and firm support for its rationale are slowly involving into explicit support itself. There is currently no other issue – possibly including personal loyalty to Donald Trump – which is more defining for the GOP. That is support. For one of the country’s main political parties to be offering such support constitutes a profound threat to the civic order and the Republic itself.
That is why there is simply no going back. The problem is not shortcomings in the security of the Capitol complex. It’s not even the individuals who joined the violent assault on the Capitol. It’s the coup plot itself and the man who led it, Donald Trump.