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We Need a Jan. 6 Truth Commission — But Nothing Can Redeem the GOP

We must not forget the damage wrought on January 6, nor the underlying forces that perpetrated it.

Trump supporters are seen through tear gas outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021.

In the immediate aftermath of the November 2020 election, the Republican Party was astonished to find itself still breathing. Sure, Republicans lost the White House and majority control in the Senate, a steep blow. Yet they actually gained seats in the volatile House and held a stout majority on the Supreme Court. The lower courts were packed with Trump seedlings who would take root over the next four decades. Meanwhile, the Democrats’ majority margin in the Senate is as thin as Joe Manchin’s necktie.

For a party that expected to be chased through the woods by hounds and hunters after four years of Donald Trump, the 2020 outcome was a pleasant — and almost complete — surprise. It did not take long, however, to recognize that Trump’s dramatic takeover of the party would have lasting post-election consequences.

For one thing, according to the Trump-devoted base, the election never ended, because the election was stolen. The deliberately stoked fury over this brazen fantasy eventually beat a path to the Capitol steps on January 6, where a still-sitting president whipped the crowd into a lethal frenzy and turned them loose on the branch of government that had assembled to certify his defeat.

Nothing quite like the sack of the Capitol has ever happened in this country before — the White House was torched once, but by the British (or as Trump believes, the Canadians), not by fellow American citizens. The disgrace of it all — feces smeared on the walls, nooses and zip ties at the ready, the Confederate flag carried proudly through the halls — will never be far from us. It is a new low mark in a nation seemingly dedicated to creating newer, lower marks. However, it was preceded by years of escalating white supremacist violence pointing the way toward such an attack, as the Republican Party continued to appease and harbor white supremacists, and to champion policies grounded in white supremacy.

The challenges to the election results haven’t stopped, either. On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected yet another suit brought by disgruntled Republicans, this time in Pennsylvania, who not-so-quietly believe the votes of Black people should not count. “The court’s denial, issued with no explanation and no noted dissents, was no surprise,” reports NBC News. “The justices have consistently declined to take up any of the post-election challenges from the state.”

The NBC News report also notes that “even if the challengers had prevailed in their legal challenge, it would not have affected the [election] outcome.” Such was the case for almost all of Trump and the GOP’s legal challenges against the outcome of the election, which begs the question: Why persist? Answer: fundraising, and to keep the boss happy.

A Newsweek article published on Tuesday reports that “Pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood said on Monday that he sometimes works up to 20 hours a day as part of his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.” Perfect grandstanding, especially for a fellow with aspirations for elected office someday, and Wood has found the right vein to tap.

“[T]he GOP in Georgia is not yet done cannibalizing itself,” reports Politico. “Outside the party convention in Cobb County, David Gault, a local precinct chair, said that ‘people just need to really calm down and, I think, perhaps we just need to mind our own store right now.’ The party, he said, should be ‘all about the future.’ The response from the base came from inside the convention hall, where a delegate carried a poster outlining complaints about voter fraud, Kemp and Raffensperger, among others. ‘NO,’ it said in red ink. ‘We Will NOT Move On!’”

Trump’s GOP base was gorging on a diet of cognitive dissonance long before their hero came along, but he perfected the art beyond all cogent measure. At present, Trump and his far-right media allies have much of his base convinced that it was actually antifa and BLM activists disguised as Trump voters who desecrated the Capitol on 1/6, but while at the same time communicating that sacking the Capitol was completely justified as a means to “Stop the Steal.” Both of these thoughts exist simultaneously in the minds of many Trump supporters. It is a wonder they do not topple into traffic on a daily basis from the freight of it.

This is an utterly untenable situation for the Republican Party — but no sympathy is due. They created it. Now, absent a coherent slate of policy arguments, all the GOP has left is culture war incitements aimed at getting that base to the voting booth while fleecing them out of all the quarters they can vacuum up from between the couch cushions. Decades of this have created an American subculture that is actively hostile to democracy, whose loyalties flow only to the man who promises vengeance against all their imagined enemies.

An honest, bipartisan 1/6 Commission is vital to the nation. On Friday, 100 days after the attack, House Speaker Pelosi released a “Dear Colleague” asking for such a commission to be formed. “On this 100th day, we are determined to seek the truth of January 6th. To do so, we must have a January 6th Commission,” she wrote. Several Republicans had replied to earlier Pelosi requests by blaming her for the Capitol attack, and they were similarly reluctant this time around. It is difficult to imagine any coherent commission coming together when such nonsense is peddled by the Republicans in broad daylight.

Even in the face of this, we must not imagine such a commission as a tool to fix or save the Republican Party — to return our two-party system to “normal.” At present, the Republican Party is under the control of an anti-democratic splinter of the old Confederacy. It has been coming to this for a very long time.

Hopefully, a 1/6 commission would highlight in detail how the 2020 election was among the cleanest and most well-run elections in our history. The commission could read the social media posts written by Trump supporters as they meticulously planed the attack. It could hear from witnesses who survived that harrowing day. Perhaps, the Proud Boys who cut a deal would be required testify as to their true intentions on that day. More broadly, perhaps the commission could allow for the testimony of survivors of white supremacist violence beyond the Capitol, reminding us that this was by no means an isolated attack.

A 1/6 commission is necessary because we must not forget the damage wrought that day and the underlying forces that perpetrated it. But what it cannot — and should not — do is redeem the Republican Party. It appears all too evident that neither event — the commission, or a Republican party liberated from itself — will come to pass any time soon.

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