Just over two years ago, on Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of Donald Trump's followers attacked the U.S. Capitol as part of his coup attempt aimed not just at nullifying Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election but ending multiracial democracy in America.
Vastly outnumbered, lacking reinforcements, failed by their leaders and with limited resources overall, the Capitol Police and other law enforcement officers bravely fought back against Trump's mob. Beyond the physical stress and violence, Black and brown officers were also assaulted by Trump's followers with racial slurs and symbols and acts of white supremacist hatred.
After hours of hand-to-hand medieval style combat that one police officer said was more intense than what he experienced in Iraq, Trump's attack force overran the defenders and rampaged throughout the Capitol, eager to hunt, kidnap and kill Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats and Republicans alike who refused to participate in Trump's coup plot.
Infamously, Trump's attack force carried the Confederate battle flag inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, something that never happened during the Civil War as hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the struggle over the "right" to keep Black people as slaves.
New Yorker editor David Remnick offers this context in his essay "The Devastating New History of the January 6th Insurrection":
The insurrection at the Capitol was of such grave consequence for liberal democracy and the rule of law that commentators have struggled ever since to find some historical precedent to provide context and understanding to a nation in a state of continuing crisis. Some thought immediately of the sack of the Capitol, in 1814, though the perpetrators then were foreign, soldiers of the British crown. Others have pointed to contested Presidential elections of the past — 1824, 1876, 1960, 2000 — but those ballots were certified, peacefully and lawfully, by Congress. None of the losers sought to foment an uprising or create a national insurgency. Compare Trump's self-absorption and rage with Al Gore's graceful acceptance of the Supreme Court's decision handing the election to George W. Bush: "Tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession."…
For Trump, the choice was simple. The insurrectionists were his people, his shock troops, there to do his bidding. Nothing about the spectacle seemed to disturb him: not the gallows erected outside the building, not the savage beatings, not threats to Pence and Pelosi, not graffiti like "Murder the Media," not the chants of "1776! 1776!" And so he ignored calls to action even from his own party. At 3:11 P.M., Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin, tweeted, "We are witnessing absolute banana republic crap in the United States Capitol right now. @realdonaldtrump you need to call this off." Trump would not tell his supporters to go home until the early evening, when the damage had been done….
What happened on Jan. 6, Remnick observes, was "rooted both in the degraded era of Trump and in the radicalization of a major political party during the past generation." The net effect, he continues, is that many people will approach the Jan. 6 select committee's final report "with a sense of fatigue, even denial." One of Trump's most important accomplishments "has been to bludgeon the political attention of the country into submission."
Although the Capitol's defenders could not keep the mob out of the building on that fateful afternoon, they succeeded in protecting the lives of the vice president, all the members of Congress and others who were in the Capitol for the certification of the Electoral College vote. Several Capitol police officers subsequently died, at least partly because of the physical and emotional injuries they suffered on Jan. 6. Many more members of both the Capitol Police and the Washington Metro Police were forced to retire and will suffer the physical and emotional effects of that day for the rest of their lives.
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Ten days ago, on the two-year anniversary of the attack, President Biden honored 14 people — a group that included law enforcement officers and election workers — with the Presidential Citizens Medal for their service to the nation on Jan. 6 and during the 2020 election. In his speech during the White House ceremony, Biden said that "on this day two years ago our democracy held because 'We the People' ... did not flinch. … History will remember your names. They'll remember your courage. They'll remember your bravery. They'll remember your extraordinary commitments to your fellow Americans. That's not hyperbole, that's a fact."
The president offered special praise to election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss — who were important witnesses before the Jan. 6 committee — for their courage, dignity, self-sacrifice and service to American democracy:
Both of them were just doing their jobs until they were targeted and threatened by the same predators and peddlers of lies that would fuel the insurrection. They were literally forced from their homes, facing despicable racist taunts.
But despite it all, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss found the courage to testify openly and honestly ... to the whole country and the world about their experience to set the record straight about the lies and defend the integrity of our elections.
Ruby and Shaye, you don't deserve what happened to you, but you do deserve the nation's eternal thanks for showing the dignity and grace of We the People. Presumptuous of me, but I'm so proud of you both.
Watching this, I felt a solitary tear run down my cheek. These men and women are among the best of us, the "real Americans." I would include Joe Biden allowing for all his flaws, among that group.
I am committed to critical patriotism — and that means telling the truth about America, be it good or bad, and then working to force the nation and its people to live up to their full potential.
Critical patriots have a deep love of America. We are passionately committed to truth-telling even if it makes us unpopular with those who want simple answers and happy narratives of American exceptionalism, those who believe that "patriotism" consists of whitewashing history and reality rather than confronting the sometimes-ugly truths and complexities of who we are as a nation and people.
On that same Friday I also felt my blood pressure go up as I confronted an ugly juxtaposition. While President Biden was honoring those true heroes of democracy, the Republican insurrectionists who attempted to end American democracy on Jan. 6 were taking control of the House of Representatives and installing Kevin McCarthy — an especially craven minion of Donald Trump — as speaker.
While Joe Biden honored the heroes of democracy for their sacrifices, the Republican insurrectionists who tried to overthrow democracy were taking control of the House of Representatives.
McCarthy and his party will now do everything they can to sabotage any and all investigations into the crimes of Jan. 6. Even worse, the Republicans in Congress will work to remove any oversights or other guardrails that could limit their corrupt behavior and fend off attempts to end American democracy. They will launch "investigations" into nonexistent "abuses" by the federal government, including the Department of Justice and FBI, for daring to investigate Trump and his allies' blatant criminal conspiracy.
In short, Kevin McCarthy and the other Republican insurrectionists — especially the right-wing shock troops of the so-called Freedom Caucus — are working to make the crimes against democracy committed by Donald Trump and his allies and followers appear to be normal, "legal" and even noble conduct. This corrosion and inversion of the rule of law as part of a larger assault on reality is one of the distinguishing features of fascist and authoritarian movements.
Writing at the Bulwark, Mona Charen focuses on one of the most dangerous figures of the new Congress, and what she embodies within the Republican Party and current "conservative" movement:
During one of Kevin McCarthy's gauntlet of punishing votes, it was striking to see with whom he passed the time. There she was, dressed in sophisticated black, the member hailed as a "key ally" to the new Speaker of the House: Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Her choice of color (in the past she has donned stark reds, whites, or blues — get it?) is perhaps a signal of the new Greene — a mainstream figure, a serious politician. Her status was signaled by a respectful, not to say softball interview with Howard Kurtz on Fox News.
Doubtless Fox would like to sanitize her since she played a significant role in elevating McCarthy to the speakership. She must be a changed person or the GOP will have to ask itself some uncomfortable questions.
Things move fast, so cast your minds back only to 2021 when Mitch McConnell described Greene as a "cancer" on the Republican party and John Thune warned that the party had to draw some lines: "They have to decide who they want to be. Do they want to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, free markets, peace through strength, and pro life, or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon?"…
Greene's "makeover," Charen observes, has been an extended process. She denounced Nick Fuentes (but not Trump) after the infamous Mar-a-Lago dinner, and has tried to create some distance between herself and her former friends Rep. Lauren Boebert, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and Alex Jones. "But this is not a case of a politician who misspeaks or commits a gaffe and must make amends," Charen writes. "She has a disordered personality. ... She is drawn to hatred as a moth to a flame. She is the poison that courses through the veins of parts of the right — the vicious, reality-challenged right. If she is to be normalized by the GOP, it is the party, not she, that is changed."
This stomach-churning contrast between Joe Biden's tribute to the heroes of Jan. 6 and the Republican fascists in Congress points to fundamental questions that must be answered if American democracy is to survive the Age of Trump. What does justice mean in America when Donald Trump and his allies and acolytes not only go unpunished for their evident crimes but now control one house of Congress? What does it mean that Kevin McCarthy, who flew to Florida only weeks after the Jan. 6 insurrection to kiss the ring at Mar-a-Lago, is now second in the presidential line of succession?
David Remnick notes in his New Yorker essay that it's urgent for us to find out "whether a two-and-a-half-century-old republic will resist future efforts to undercut its foundations — to steal, through concerted deception, the essential legitimacy of its constitutional order." These next two years, with insurrectionists holding what is supposed to be the "people's house" in Washington, will put that question to the test.