It is hard to believe that a year has passed since I walked into my family room and saw rioters smashing windows, throwing flagpole-spears at police, and using bear spray at the Capitol. My significant other looked up from the TV, tears in her eyes, and said, “This can’t be happening.” But it was. Directed by their president, a Trump mob, replete with banners, buttons, and military garb, attempted to overthrow the government.
Fortunately, calls for the hanging of Mike Pence and the murder of Nancy Pelosi were not followed. This failure may have disappointed the president who was watching events unfold from the dining room adjoining the oval office at the White House.
We now know that Trump resisted calls, even from his own daughter, to direct his followers to stop their deadly assault. Evidence now surfacing, some of which may be unveiled at the first public hearing of the House January 6 Committee, is expected to show how complicit Trump was in planning and directing the assault.
Trump has not yet been held accountable for what was either a severe dereliction of duty or outright treason on January 6 and the days leading up to it. It is that injustice—the top perpetrator remaining at large—that makes me cautious about commemorating January 6. We do not yet have closure on January 6, and we may not for some time. The problem is that the January 6 insurrection is not over. We are learning that the political dysfunction that gave rise to the violence of that day lies much deeper. Democracy remains in jeopardy. America’s embrace of the Constitution is loosening as the faith in government and democracy weakens. We are in trouble.
A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that one in three Americans believes that violence against the government is sometimes justified. The respondents cited civil rights, elections, and other grounds as potentially justifying violence. This is troubling. People on both the right and left are losing faith in government as the best means of resolving injustice. A second poll found that 62 percent of respondents expect violence in the case of a future disputed presidential election. Yes, 62 percent. What should we make of these numbers, other than that our political divisions represent a more serious risk to “domestic tranquility” than we might appreciate?
I have come to separate Donald Trump from the vile collection of prejudices and delusions of his followers. Trump may be more a symptom than a cause of the rise of QAnon, Proud Boys, open racism, and the evaporation of civility in political debate. Trump, in my perception, is gradually fading from the American political stage. The more he fades, the more he works to remain in the news. Yet cowardly Republicans, such as Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, continue to kowtow to Trump. Dunleavy sought Trump’s endorsement for re-election and got it on the condition that he not endorse the re-election of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. Trump may soon find himself indicted for treason as well as tax fraud, but it really doesn’t matter. The group of people commonly referred to as “Trump’s base” don’t need Trump to oppose immigration, refuse vaccines, fly “Lets Go Brandon!” banners, and circulate anti-Black, homophobic, and similar memes on the web.
I think we should stop calling the mob that attacked the Capitol “Trump supporters.” The treasonous rioters were simply opponents of democracy. Best I can tell, the 2020 election won’t be the last election they protest or attempt to overturn. I also fear that as the efforts underway today through the instrument of the Republican party fail, they will turn to violence.
I don’t think there is anything to celebrate about January 6. Those who want to celebrate the date as a successful defense of democracy better wait until the causes of insurrection are understood and addressed. Much greater efforts are needed than just indicting the rioters or even holding Trump accountable. The cancer that gave us Trump must be eradicated.
We don’t yet know how to convince a group of fellow citizens alienated from democracy that they are mistaken. We better get to work figuring that out before it’s too late.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.