Why January 6th is More Important Now Than It’s Ever Been

A screen shows former US President Donald Trump speaking on January 6, 2021 during a House Select Committee hearing to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol, in the Cannon House Office Building on Capi... A screen shows former US President Donald Trump speaking on January 6, 2021 during a House Select Committee hearing to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol, in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on June 9, 2022. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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It’s become fashionable for some to say that we shouldn’t be hung up on January 6th, that it is, after all, time to move on. And it’s not just the Trump supporters who led the insurrection. The thinking is that it is a bit lazy somehow, holding on to the familiar. You’re stuck in some relevance-affirming cocoon. And it’s time to get outside. It’s an attitude that most especially prevalent among those who judge their seriousness about politics and the validity of their perspectives precisely in inverse proportion to their personal engagement and investment in the big questions of political life. Let’s call them the supercilious center. The attitude is pervasive among elite political reporters and editorialists.

In fact, January 6th remains at the center of our politics. It’s as important as it’s ever been. We often say that it’s not just what happened on January 6th but the criminal conduct leading up to it. That’s true, as far as it grows. But what’s more true is this: It’s not so much what happened on January 6th or even in the weeks leading up to it. What’s truly important is what came after January 6th.

We can imagine an alternative timeline in which our version of January 6th happened but Trump and his supporters were thoroughly discredited by their attempt to overthrow the government of the United States. Trump in disrepute. Perhaps he is under arrest. The Republican Party is forced to reckon with the national betrayal it embraced and led. A new Republican leadership would slowly begin to emerge.

Needless to say this is not what happened. Rather than repudiate the attempted coup — which seemed barely possible until some point on January 8th — the party embraced it, validated it, pursued a consistent policy of protecting the reputation and freedom of those who carried it out. It is true enough that a bare majority of elected Republicans won’t explicitly excuse the behavior of the individual insurrectionists who committed discrete crimes of assault, vandalism and trespass on January 6th. But shock troops are always expendable. The coup attempt itself — the criminal effort to remain in power after clearly losing a free and fair election — the institutional Republican Party has defended on every front. The vanishingly small number of elected Republicans who denounced this crime are easily identified by the fact that they have all been driven out of the party.

The fact that the author of the high crimes, Donald Trump is not only still viable in the Republican Party but cannot even be seriously challenged tells the tale.

When National Guard troops and law enforcement retook control of the Capitol complex on the evening of January 6th it was possible to see the shameful episode as a dreadful first, yes … but something the republic had survived. The ongoing Republican defense of the failed coup means January 6th never really ended. Politically we’re still living in an open-ended January 6th. You can see it every time an elected Republican refuses to admit who won the 2020 election, the refusals to admit that Trump attempted a coup and failed. You have to look long and hard to find an elected Republican who can clearly and honestly answer these simple questions. Because the contrary is a party article of faith. No republic is safe if it contains a major political faction which allows itself to resort to subterfuge and violence if it can’t succeed in a free and fair election.

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