The meaning of January 6 and what it doesn’t mean

Of the articles I read yesterday and today about the events of January 6, 2021, I found two that are most closely aligned with my views. The first is a Wall Street Journal editorial called “Democracy isn’t dying.” Among the points it makes are these:

On all the available evidence Jan. 6 was not an “insurrection,” in any meaningful sense of that word. It was not an attempted coup. The Justice Department and the House Select Committee have looked high and low for a conspiracy to overthrow the government, and maybe they will find it. So far they haven’t.

[The mob] didn’t come close to overturning the election. The Members fled the House chamber during the riot but soon returned to certify the electoral votes. Eight Senators and 139 House Republicans voted against certifying the electoral votes in some states, but that wasn’t close to a majority.

In other words, America’s democratic institutions held up under pressure. They also held in the states in which GOP officials and legislators certified electoral votes despite Mr. Trump’s complaints. And they held in the courts as judges rejected claims of election theft that lacked enough evidence. Democrats grudgingly admit these facts but say it was a close run thing. It wasn’t. It was a near-unanimous decision against Mr. Trump’s electoral claims.

None of this absolves Mr. Trump for his behavior. He. . .was wrong to give his supporters false hope that Congress and Mr. Pence could overturn the electoral vote. He did not directly incite violence, but he did incite them to march on the Capitol.

Worse, he failed to act to stop the riot even as he watched on TV from the White House. He failed to act despite the pleading of family and allies. This was a monumental failure of character and duty.

As for the Pelosi Democrats, the question is when will they ever let Jan. 6 go? The latest news is that the Speaker’s Select Committee may hold prime-time hearings this year, and the leaks are that they may even seek an indictment of Mr. Trump for obstructing Congress.

We have an open mind about the Jan. 6 Select Committee, not least because an honest inquiry that laid out the facts could be helpful. But at this point it’s also hard not to see that playing up Jan. 6 has become the main Democratic election strategy for November.

The second article is this piece by the editors of National Review called “Anniversary of a disgrace.” Among the statements they make with which I agree are these:

There is no defense for what the mob did that day. None. The people have a right to form loud, angry crowds to petition and protest their government. They need not do so in ways that are pleasant or polite. The “Stop the Steal” protesters who listened to the speeches and went home were exercising their rights as citizens.

But ours is a government of laws, not of men. A rule-of-law system has no place for physical intimidation or mobs obstructing the peaceful, constitutional transfer of power. The Founding Fathers feared few things more than mob rule. They created a federal district to avoid a repeat of a 1783 riot around the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

There is also no defense of what Donald Trump did to summon the crowd, tell it that there remained any option but counting Biden’s electoral victory, and urge the assemblage to march on the Capitol because “if we allow this group of people to illegally take over our country . . . you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Trump’s recklessness disgraced the office of the presidency.

Additionally, there is no defense of Trump’s pressuring Pence to take unilateral, unlawful action against the counting of electoral votes, then telling the crowd that Pence might do so, knowing full well that they would discover when they reached the Capitol that Pence would not. Some of them, entering the Capitol, chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.” It was Trump who led them to believe that his own vice president was allowing their country to be stolen.

What happened at the Capitol that day is best understood as a riot that was particularly dangerous because of its setting and context. It was not a purely peaceful protest, or a cartoonish costume party with a little bit of trespassing. The Secret Service had to rush Pence to safety. Members of Congress emptied the chamber and fled for cover. The vote-counting process was interrupted for five and a half hours. The Capitol itself was wreathed in smoke. This is the stuff of a banana republic.

The January 6 anniversary calls for serious reflection on how it happened and why it failed. Unfortunately, Democratic politicians and their media allies prefer hysteria, hyperbole, and crass opportunism.

America has the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. Our system has outlasted many others because we distribute power that is centralized in other nations and bounded by rule-of-law norms. Though the riot was heinous, it was not an existential threat — the electoral votes were going to be counted and Biden acknowledged as the winner, an eventuality that was delayed by a few hours but never in doubt.

How many days in American history “live in infamy” in the national imagination? Only December 7, 1941 comes to mind (and also 9/11, which somehow didn’t come to my aging mind at first), though a few others probably should be thought of that way.

January 6, 2021 shouldn’t be, for the reasons stated by the Wall Street Journal. It was bad enough to warrant serious reflection on this, its one-year anniversary. But now that commentators have engaged in such reflection, along with many ruminations that aren’t serious, it’s time to stop the wallowing.

All evidence of which I’m aware suggests that the vast majority of Americans stopped quite some time ago.

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