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January 6 insurrection one year later.

Protesters enter the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Famous Last Words: I Was There When Democracy Fell

On this January 6th anniversary, time for the good guys to put an end to this.

Michael Winship

During this just-behind-us holiday season, occasionally I cruised our zillions of television channels and watched some movies, and it occurred to me that once upon a time, and not too long ago, on almost every one of our TV shows and in our films, bullies and crooks were the enemy.

It was the hero’s job to put them in their place. Fighting hate, aggression and ignorance, the good guys were the ones who took care of business and made sure the world was better for decent, law-abiding folk. Look at old movies like “Shane” and “Bad Day at Black Rock,” or more recently, the spate of Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington films in which they seek righteous revenge—“I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.”—against evil.

Attackers sought to find and kill government officials, including Vice President Pence and House Speaker Pelosi. It's frightening to think what might have happened if they had succeeded.

This is all very Old Testament for sure and of course, aggression and violence rarely are good solutions but admittedly there’s often a vicarious satisfaction gained from watching the fictional bad guys get their just desserts.

But these days, back in the real world, the idea of heroism has been turned on its head. On this anniversary of last year’s January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol Building, too many Americans are proud to be one of the bad guys or thrilled to be urging the bad guys on, imagining these reprobates as heroes instead of thugs, whether they’re in bandanas, tee shirts and MAGA caps armed with bludgeons, battering rams, and bear spray, or dressed in expensive suits spewing lies, conspiracy theories and thinly veiled threats.

There are still real heroes, too, but too many of us now view as somehow heroic the actions of anyone who uses their prejudice and fear to intimidate others, who causes illness and death because they believe the fake news that COVID is a hoax. They believe, all evidence to the contrary, that Joe Biden is not a legitimate president. They believe that fair election laws that encourage the vote need overturning and/or that Donald Trump is a bigger-than-life Superman instead of the callous blowhard who would have our democracy ravished in the name of arrogance, vanity, authoritarian power, and corruption.

“Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now” was this New Year’s headline of a New York Times editorial, noting, “It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, ‘When can we use the guns?’  and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties…

Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.

Often, when confronted with their seditious words and deeds, members of the GOP insist things were not as they seemed or they were just kidding—hey, where’s your sense of humor, pal? But this is no joke, and the blatant disregard of and contempt for democratic principles aren’t funny. The Times called January 6 exactly what it was—“a deadly riot at the seat of American government, incited by a defeated president amid a last-ditch effort to thwart the transfer of power to his successor.”

And Aaron Blake of The Washington Post writes:

It’s been a familiar exercise throughout much of the Trump era.

Something would emerge that was objectionable — say, expressing openness to Russia’s help in the 2016 election or attempting to use Ukraine for help in the 2020 election. Then would come the denials, that it was not what it looked like. Then would come the confirmation from those involved that it was pretty much what it looked like, whether that amounted to “collusion” (Russia probe) or a “quid pro quo” (Ukraine impeachment).

Over the past months, many have dared suggest that the attack was far less violent than reported or even that antifa and the FBI were behind the assault, a false flag operation. For others, it’s just too easy to dismiss what happened a year ago as an aberration that should be shrugged aside, or merely the latest act of idiocy by the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Nonsense. People died, including police. Attackers sought to find and kill government officials, including Vice President Pence and House Speaker Pelosi. It's frightening to think what might have happened had they succeeded.

Like so many of you, I’ve watched carefully over the last 14 months since the moment when the 2020 election results were announced. Even as Biden was declared the winner, Donald Trump refused to concede and admit defeat; instead, using his old familiar tactics: lying and lying and lying, badgering, screaming like a petulant child, insisting that he’d been robbed. He hadn’t been, of course, but that hasn’t stopped him from lobbing lawsuit after lawsuit across the nation while simultaneously insisting on recount after recount.

None of it has worked; the lawsuits were kicked out of court, the recounts either affirmed the initial results or even gave Biden additional votes.

And still he went on, relentless, with the support of GOP legislators and his ragtag army of fans, the Giuliani’s and the Bannon’s, the Eastman’s and the Navarro’s, making badgering phone calls and demands, wearing the rest of the country down, giving voice to every cockamamie conspiracy theory about everything from bags of phony ballots to Italian satellites tinkering with the vote tabulations. Further, he took on board every shyster and advisor out to peddle schemes that would overturn the electoral process and overthrow representative democracy. And all the while lining his and his collaborators’ pockets with the cash raised from the constant drumbeats of fundraising appeals—the Donald Trump Defense Fund and Marching Society.

Increasingly it seems the January 6 invasion of the Capitol may have been a key part of all this maneuvering and plotting and not some aberrant burst of misplaced outrage.

Increasingly it seems the January 6 invasion of the Capitol may have been a key part of all this maneuvering and plotting and not some aberrant burst of misplaced outrage. At first, I thought it might have been just a case of Trump and his GOP hoodlums throwing every tactic they could think of to see if anything would stick -- going after local and state election boards, poll workers and even the Supreme Court and the US Capitol to stage what was, let’s face it, an attempted coup d’état.

But no, more and more it seems that all of this may have been much more coordinated than previously believed. In addition to the ongoing efforts to subvert election law in state capitols, January 6 may have been a deliberate tactic—either in the hope of creating such total mayhem (and possibly with ringers who hoped to impersonate bombthrowing left-wing extremists) that Trump could declare a national emergency and suspend the congressional certification of the presidential vote, buying time for Republican state legislatures to call back pro-Biden electoral votes or just completely short-circuiting our government to permanently place himself in power. A dictator. A coup.

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol must continue its important work. Open public hearings should be held as soon as possible, preferably in primetime on television, radio, and across the Internet. Reportedly, an interim report will be issued in early summer, a complete version in the fall.

Further, the filibuster, which should be completely eliminated, must at least be lifted for the impending voting rights legislation that would delegitimize and end the anti-democratic, anti-voter bills passed by or pending in Republican-dominated legislatures. And the Justice Department must fully engage, prosecuting the guilty no matter how high they are in the government food chain.

So here’s to a Healthier, Happier New Year but the danger remains that Trump and his minions will return to finish the job that began when he took the oath of office five years ago.

“Trump Incites Mob”—that was the screaming New York Times headline the day after the January 6 insurrection. Those three words sum it up. Be aware, be vigilant, get involved.

Remember: the good guys don’t always win. A scant few years from now, don’t be one of those standing with mouth agape as our 226-year experiment in democracy fails, incredulously asking, "What happened?"


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Michael Winship

Michael Winship

Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. 

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