Nearly a year after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, with the duly elected president in place, it’s tempting to conclude that the insurgency failed. It didn’t. At least, not yet. Our government is still under attack. The offensive is quieter now but no less menacing, eroding the government from within. The fundamental right to vote is under siege. The regulation of elections is being corrupted. And faith in the electoral process is fading; the “big lie” about Donald Trump’s supposed victory in 2020 has staying power for just that reason. Americans question the role and reliability of the Supreme Court and wonder whether they can trust health and safety institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Food and Drug Administration — during a pandemic. For too many, the old idea that government is the enemy has a newly magnified appeal.
But the damage goes even deeper. Faith in democracy itself is slipping away. The stunningly muted response to the Jan. 6 attack offers no comfort. More than 700 alleged rioters have been arrested, but their fates have varied; too many complicating factors prevent clear rulings of right and wrong, and sentences have been short and few.
It took a full six months for Congress to launch a formal investigation; five months later, the scope and purpose of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol remain unclear. Its high-profile subpoenas have been mostly unanswered, resulting in one criminal indictment, that of former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon, and on Tuesday the committee announced that it would move to hold former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt as well. The former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who played a significant role in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, agreed to answer his subpoena on Dec. 16, but he apparently plans to assert his Fifth Amendment rights so as not to incriminate himself.
Basic facts about the day’s events and planning remain fuzzy. Journalists have offered a stream of revelations and allegations — the memo from lawyer John Eastman outlining a plan for overturning the presidential election; the report of a Jan. 6 “war room” at the Willard Hotel; claims of dozens of planning sessions fostered by members of Congress — but each bombshell seems to vanish before it explodes.
Here’s the problem, and it’s foreboding: If a line is crossed, and the occasion passes unacknowledged, was there really a line? All these months after the attack, the seemingly bare-minimum response has not happened: There has been no full-throated group statement from the congressional bully pulpit stating that the attack was out of bounds, no strong, clear line in the sand naming the events of Jan. 6 an unforgivable assault on the democratic processes and principles of our government that must never happen again. This astounding omission could prove fatal.
Many Republicans have been doing the precise opposite of acknowledging a crossed line. They deny the attack’s importance (“You would actually think it was a normal tourist visit,” was how Rep. Andrew S. Clyde characterized some of the footage), dismiss the need for an investigation (“Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 elections,” Sen. John Thune said, is “a day lost”) and stab at the probe’s credibility (“This is a sham committee,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who may be the speaker by Jan. 6, 2023, said of the bipartisan House panel). Even moderate Republicans have joined that chorus; on ABC’s “The View” in October, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said she agreed with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that it was “time to move on.”