Who is more of a threat to American democracy, the angry mob or the politicians who are dismantling the system? Tímea Hajdú addresses this question.
On January 6, 2022, more than 100 Democratic lawmakers held a memorial service on the steps of the Congress building. Before the majority leader of the House of Representatives spoke, Bishop Curry, who was joined by Meghan Markle and British Crown Prince Harry, offered a prayer calling for the healing of a country „traumatized” by the events of a year ago. A number of „emotional support” dogs were available to members of Congress and their staff that week as well. And President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also commemorated the event.
The vice president compared last year’s riots to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and Joe Biden described the event as an armed uprising.
Last year, on January 6, Republicans were tearing their hair out. The messages released by Fox News anchors show that even the most Trumpist reporters tried to get Donald Trump to be more assertive and stop his supporters. Those who broke through in the first wave thought they could stop the new president’s inaugural vote count. Fights broke out, and more than 100 police officers were injured. While the stampede was going on, it was unclear what was happening and there was legitimate concern that serious trouble could ensue. Although Democrats say there have been five deaths, only one of these was violent: Police shot and killed a protester named Ashli Babbitt inside the building as she entered in the first wave.
A year has passed, and it is still not clear how it is possible that the Congress building’s security was so weak that the crowd was able to enter with relative ease. Although a commission of inquiry has been set up and the FBI has focused enormous resources on interviewing every single person who was there and bringing them to trial on minor charges, the investigations have failed to uncover a concerted conspiracy. The FBI also interviewed people who only attended the Trump rally. The crowd was of mixed composition, with QAnon followers swarming into the building with many people who, according to released footage, were just walking around the building like tourists.
Glenn Greenwald, a left-wing journalist, maintained in his article on the one-year anniversary that the claim that there was an „uprising” or „attempted coup” on January 6 was ridiculous from the beginning. Despite a year of investigation by the authorities, no one has been brought to justice on these charges.
The Republican Party has spent the last year trying to distance itself from the event, while the Democrats have tried to keep the memory alive for understandable reasons. A Congressional Commission of Inquiry has been set up with the power to subpoena anyone for a hearing. It is expected that more and more names will be called. There is a core group among Republicans who consider January 6 to be a heroic event, but senior politicians in the party have condemned it. No Republican attended the Congressional commemorations (except Liz Cheney) and the leadership has made it clear that Democrats tend to exaggerate the seriousness of the event in order to turn it into a political weapon. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement:
“[I]t has been stunning to see some Washington Democrats try to exploit this anniversary to advance partisan policy goals that long predated this event. It is especially jaw-dropping to hear some Senate Democrats invoke the mob’s attempt to disrupt our country’s norms, rules, and institutions as a justification to discard our norms, rules, and institutions themselves.”
Several U.S. commentators have noted that the „commemorations” also show how much Biden needs Trump. The president, elected by a historic margin, had a first year in which his popularity plummeted towards the end. However, Democratic voters are united in their hatred of Trump, and the events of January 6 reinforce the narrative that Republicans are extremists and „a threat to American democracy.”
Democrats also benefit from the fact that Republicans don’t really know what to do with January 6th.
Some have tried to remind people that the disturbances at the Antifa and BLM protests a few months earlier were at least as serious as the events in January. Some Republicans prefer to remain silent on the issue, or at least try to keep their distance. Democrats, on the other hand, know exactly what to think and say: They talk of armed insurrection and desecration of the sanctuary of democracy, and their commentators demand accountability.
January 6 has probably turned moderate voters away from Donald Trump for good. Those who stormed the building probably had no idea of the damage they were doing to their own cause.
But there is another important point: January 6 silenced all legitimate criticism of the circumstances of the 2020 elections.
Trump’s insistence that he does not recognize Biden’s election and his talk of electoral fraud have all served to distract attention from the fact that the Democrats are really trying to change the electoral system, which they believe is not fair enough in its current form. It was significant that at the January 6 commemoration, several hundred Democratic demonstrators gathered at Congress with signs calling for electoral reform. Mollie Hemingway, a journalist for the conservative Federalist, who has written a book on the circumstances surrounding the 2020 election, explained in an article that the hysteria surrounding the siege is a distraction.
“Hundreds of laws and processes were changed in the months leading up to the election, sometimes legally and sometimes not, creating chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. Tech oligarch Mark Zuckerberg, one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men, spent $419 million — nearly as much as the federal government itself — to interfere in the government’s management of the election in key states”
– Hemingway wrote in his article. According to the journalist, U.S. media was also responsible for openly campaigning against Trump and covering up stories that discredited Biden.
“The media and other Democrats have used the January 6 riot at the Capitol as a way to ignore legitimate concerns about what they did to the election system, and as a way to continue the assault on election security”
– Hemingway writes.
In the spring of 2021, the House passed a bill that would have made the local vote counting procedures followed in 2020 part of the federal electoral system. The proposal would make absentee voting permanent, abolish the requirement to show photo identification to vote, make it possible to register illegal immigrants who are already on a state database, and remove the possibility of comparing a voter’s signature with one already on a state database. And it would remove other provisions that ensure the fairness and verifiability of elections. The bill failed in the Senate, but the voices raised at the January 6 commemoration show that Democrats have not given up on passing it.
Recalling the events of January 6 is a disgrace for Republicans and a political weapon for Democrats.
As the Republican politician McConnell put it, while the Democrats express their concern that the angry mob on January 6 „attacked American democracy,” it is they who want to change the electoral system of this democracy.