If any among us held out hope for reconciliation after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, that the nation would experience some collective “morning after” regret and unite against what amounted to an act of domestic terror, they surely lost faith well before today. Whatever the outcome to the ongoing House inquiry into the insurrection, the criminal investigations and prosecutions by federal authorities or the various lawsuits that have arisen from that day, it’s clear that the United States of Jan. 6, 2022, remains a nation divided. The tinder that fed the conflagration is as dry and flammable as ever. A deep political polarization, rampant misinformation and the cult-like influence of a deposed leader — whose patently false rewrite of the 2020 presidential election results — remain, perhaps waiting for the next spark to trigger the next inferno or to ensure a result preferred by Republicans and the right-wing extremists who hold such power over that political party.
Even during the height of public protests over civil rights or the war in Vietnam or even the revelations of the Watergate investigation of decades ago, any suggestion that U.S. democracy was truly at risk seemed more hyperbole than thoughtful assessment. Not so much in 2022. Thanks to Donald Trump and the Republican party, millions of Americans have lost faith in the legitimacy of elections. Recent polls consistently show a Grand Canyon-like chasm between Republicans and Democrats. Nearly three-quarters of GOP voters doubt that Democrat Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate (either “probably not” or “definitely not”), according to a University of Massachusetts at Amherst survey. And 40% of Republicans think violence against the government is sometimes justified under a Washington Post/University of Maryland poll. What really prevents another attack on Congress or the White House or, perhaps, a series of mini-Jan. 6 riots aimed at local state houses and city halls? Better riot gear? Improved fencing? More officers? Those are merely the last lines of defense.
What the United States desperately needs today is some measure of rapprochement. As helpful as investigations and prosecutions have been (and would be, if those who actually organized and directed the attack were brought to justice) in better educating the public about what happened and bringing about some level of accountability, they do not address this core malady, the crisis of faith in democracy. After the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln began to bind the nation’s far greater wounds reminding North and South of how much we shared, the principles we believed in — that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” One hundred fifty-eight years after the Gettysburg Address, Americans must look beyond their elected leaders for such inspiration and restoration. It is not what is said in the halls of the White House or Capitol that matters nearly as much as what is said in the halls of our homes, our gathering places, our houses of worship and our places of business.
And so what we would recommend as a way to remember the events of Jan. 6 is to engage, to talk, to share and to recommit ourselves to our democratic ideals. Can common ground always be found? Obviously not. Those threatened by the growing number and influence of people of color — the white nationalist, Proud Boys faction — are unlikely to be dissuaded from their “great replacement” views through mere conversation. But, while a study of Jan. 6 by the University of Chicago’s Robert Pape has shown as many as 21 million Americans still sympathize with the rioters, for many of them, it’s not racism but a stubborn belief that the election was stolen that appears to undergird their insurrection support.
Facts matter. Whatever the power of social media, whatever the skills of propagandists, whatever the hold that Mr. Trump continues to have over the Republican Party, the truth is more powerful than all. It just needs to be given a chance. And so we would call on everyone, ourselves included, to reach out and spread the truth of the last election and of what happened one year ago at the Capitol, spreading accurate information far and wide. Think of it as a good form of COVID-19 that can actually prevent a harmful disease from doing greater damage. Only then, perhaps, might the country truly heal.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.