On Jan. 6, 2021, a mob of self-proclaimed “patriots” attacked the U.S. Capitol to challenge the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory in a “second American revolution” they claimed was shielded “under the banner of 1776.” They flocked to “Stop the Steal” of a “sacred,” so-called 'landslide election victory’ from President Donald Trump that was (in his own words)“viciously stripped away from great patriots” due to unproven claims of voter fraud.
What transpired shattered the precedent of the peaceful transition of power created in America that followed every presidential election since 1796, when President George Washington did not seek a third term. It was reinforced after the bitterly divisive election of 1800 — when President John Adams stepped aside for his partisan rival Thomas Jefferson — and reinforced again and again until 2021.
While no coup actually took place and thus the historical transition of power was indeed maintained, one year later, uncomfortable numbers still cast the accused (including the now-convicted) of Jan. 6 as “patriots.” Candlelight anniversary vigils are planned for them, with their supporters even flying American flags emblazoned with words falsely attributed to George Washington.
But there’s nothing patriotic or Washingtonian about Jan. 6. That is why starting with the 2024 presidential election, the nation needs a nonpartisan pledge from every candidate to support a peaceful transition of power and accept election results.
Though the events of Jan. 6 were the most dangerous challenge to American democracy since the Civil War, they were the ugly result of a long-stemming corrosive trend. Members of both political parties have recently challenged elections. In doing so, Democrats and Republicans alike have shaken public confidence in American democracy since the 2000 presidential election.
While George W. Bush and Al Gore behaved admirably and accepted the Supreme Court’s decision, the imagery of “hanging chads” in Florida cast doubts over the election. Though he conceded, to this day, Gore hints at conspiracy.
Four years later, while then-presidential candidate John Kerry promptly conceded, many Democrats believed that massive election fraud had occurred. Michigan Congressman John Conyers raised the prospect of Jim Crow-style voter suppression. Others even urged Congress not to certify the election.