The US Keeps Failing the January 6 TestRoundup
tags: Republican Party, insurrection, Capitol Riots, January 6 Commission
Nicole Hemmer is an associate research scholar at Columbia University with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project and the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.
January 6 was a test the US keeps failing over and over.
That was made startlingly clear with the revelation of frantic text messages sent during the insurrection from a slew of Fox News hosts, as well as President Donald Trump's own son, Donald Trump Jr., begging the people around the then-President to spur him into action to curb the violence. The best they got was a hastily recorded message from the White House, in which Trump encouraged the rioters at the Capitol to disperse by saying, "Go home. We love you. You're very special." Trump eventually released another video asking for calm and expressing a focus on a "smooth, orderly, seamless transition of power." He almost immediately began undercutting this message, which itself came far, far too late to make any difference.
Trump's support for the January 6 insurrectionists is well documented. The more important story is in those texts. They remind us that as the events of January 6 unfolded -- from the pipe bombs discovered at the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic parties to the violent assaults on the Capitol Police to the blood-smeared floors of the Capitol after the deadly breach -- Americans across the political spectrum were horrified by what they saw. The desperate messages to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows revealed this week reflect a fundamental understanding that this was more than a violent assault on the Capitol: it was a lasting and unforgivable stain on Trump's legacy. The people who sent them realized in a deep way that in those moments, only Trump had the ability to call off the mob -- and every minute he failed to do so was another step toward the failure of American democracy.
They knew, and then they set out on a project of mass amnesia, an effort to erase Trump's complicity in the insurrection and, in the end, the insurrection itself.
But while Trump's enablers and supporters on the right bear responsibility for both the insurrection and its erasures, they are not the only ones who have failed. Democrats, who have done so much to raise the alarm about the threat to democracy, have also failed to pass the reforms necessary to safeguard the country against future anti-democratic actions. In fact, it is fair to say that American democracy is in a far more tenuous position today than it was during the January 6 insurrection.
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