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The January 6 Insurrection Isn’t Over

One year on, Congress is finally poised to act to protect American democracy. Will it follow through?

January 4, 2022
The Capitol building under siege on January 6, 2021
Probal Rashid/Contributor

On the even­ing of Decem­ber 7, 1941, Pres­id­ent Frank­lin D. Roosevelt summoned his secret­ary and dictated a speech to be delivered to the nation the follow­ing day. Roosevelt intoned stead­ily, puff­ing on his cigar­ette and specify­ing punc­tu­ation marks as he spoke. “Yester­day, Decem­ber seventh, 1941, a date which will live in world history…” When he received the typed draft, the pres­id­ent scratched out “world history” and scribbled “infamy.”

Decem­ber 7, 1941. Novem­ber 22, 1963. Septem­ber 11, 2001. These events scarred our national psyche, and the mere mention of the date is enough to recall the trauma. This Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of another such date: Janu­ary 6, 2021.

Like these other infam­ous dates, our under­stand­ing of the events of Janu­ary 6 contin­ues to develop. A year ago, we knew that Donald Trump had spurred the insur­rec­tion, with his Big Lie of a stolen elec­tion, his summon­ing of support­ers to a “wild” protest, and the demand that his follow­ers march up Pennsylvania Avenue and “fight like hell.” Today we know there was more to it: that Trump and his aides had a scheme, far-fetched as it was, to use chaos and doubt to throw the elec­tion to the House of Repres­ent­at­ives, where it could be stolen for him. “Just say that the elec­tion was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congress­men,” notes from his call with the acting attor­ney general recor­ded.

Also like the other infam­ous dates, we now recog­nize Janu­ary 6 not as an isol­ated event, but as part of a histor­ical move­ment. This move­ment did not start with Trump. And this wider anti­demo­cratic rebel­lion is far from defeated. To the contrary, it has made stag­ger­ing progress. In 2021, legis­latures across the coun­try considered bills to grant them­selves the power to over­turn or nullify elec­tion results. Some are trying to legis­late courts out of the voting process. Many are threat­en­ing to punish elec­tions offi­cials who attempt to ensure equal access to the ballot.

History’s sear­ing days often served to rally public emotion, for better or worse. In World War II, soldiers fought to “remem­ber Pearl Harbor.” 9/11 briefly unified the coun­try but was used to justify the inva­sion of Iraq. 

Will Janu­ary 6 simil­arly inspire and rally? Congress is finally poised to act to protect Amer­ican demo­cracy. The Free­dom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advance­ment Act are the most import­ant voting rights bills in over half a century. They would stop the wave of restrict­ive voting laws, combat racial discrim­in­a­tion, estab­lish strong national stand­ards for elec­tions. They would counter the anti­demo­cratic impulse behind Janu­ary 6. As the Senate returns this week from recess, they are the first item of busi­ness.

What does Janu­ary 6 mean? What the Senate does — or fails to do — will provide the answer.