A year ago today, we witnessed what many historians and political scientists regard as the biggest threat to democracy in modern U.S. history.
For a country that survived the Watergate scandal, the bloodshed of the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War protests, that’s saying something. Sadly, the threat persists even a year after the violent scene at the U.S. Capitol, where thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters tried to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
They stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, because they believed what’s become known as the Big Lie — Trump’s claim the election was stolen. That fabrication — consistently refuted and debunked by court rulings and election audits — has only gained traction over the past year, setting the stage for further turmoil in this fall’s midterm elections.
After all, if people don’t believe our elections are secure, with provable results, governments at all levels suffer from a legitimacy problem. Voters dissatisfied with a government they don’t believe was duly elected are more susceptible to calls to resist or overthrow the constitutional order.
The tragedy of Jan. 6 is that it wasn’t received as a clear and convincing lesson about the fragility of our democratic institutions. We see it in the polarization of views about what occurred.
While 83% of respondents in a recent CBS News-YouGov poll disapprove of the events of Jan. 6, that figure is down from 87% last January. And 56% of Republicans say the storming of the Capitol was “defending freedom” and another 47% view it as “patriotism.”
Rather than ending a dark chapter in American history, Jan. 6 now stands as the hallmark of an era of election outcome denial. And it’s not just Republicans. Efforts by GOP-led state legislatures to tighten voting rules will certainly lead to cries of voter suppression and election gaming among losing Democratic candidates.
Shrugging off the diverging views as “just the way things are now” will only fray the social fabric further. That’s why we agree with U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s assessment that the bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is one of the most important fact-finding missions in U.S. history.
It would be naive to think that those findings will be widely accepted. And the way they’re expected to be shared with the public — in dribs and drabs over the coming year — is less than ideal. But there should be no whitewashing of history here. The anniversary of Jan. 6 is the time to remind the public how close this country came to having a free and fair election overturned.
Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, is one of only two Republicans on the nine-person committee tasked with detailing the preparations before the attack, the financing behind the Jan. 6 rally that preceded it and the extensive White House campaign to overturn the 2020 election. They are also investigating what President Trump himself was doing as his supporters fought their way into the Capitol.
Even if the American public reacts to the committee’s findings with a yawn, the facts should provide important context going forward. Our best hope of overcoming political divisions lies with a new generation of voters. They deserve an accurate account of what happened on Jan. 6.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.