Former national security official Fiona Hill, who bravely testified against President Trump in the impeachment hearings in 2019, wrote in an op-ed for Politico: “The storming of the Capitol building on Jan. 6 was the culmination of a series of actions and events taken or instigated by Trump so he could retain the presidency that together amount to an attempt at a self-coup.”

It does not matter that the seditious attack failed. Nor does it matter that Trump failed in his attempts to cajole — and even threaten — Vice President Pence, Congress and state election officials into overthrowing the election results. The coup took place in an environment that must change. As Hill argues:

Unless the Big Lie is thoroughly refuted, we can expect more attempts to subvert the constitutional order from Trump’s supporters—and we still have to get through the January 20 Inauguration. The president’s actions and his falsehoods have shattered America’s democratic norms, exacerbated its political divisions, and put people’s lives at risk. …
If we are to restore democratic norms and make sure this does not happen again, these congressional Republicans will have to take personal responsibility for their actions in support of Trump’s coup attempt. They must tell the truth to their constituents about the election and what the president tried to do in January 2021. They owe it to the people they represent as well as the country they serve.

The “Big Lie” to which Hill refers — that the 2020 election was stolen through rampant voter fraud — is one of many in the post-truth world that right-wingers have propagated to gin up their base and promote a sense of panic and grievance. In this world, masks don’t work and Ukraine has the DNC server. White evangelicals tell their flocks there is a war on Christians. Radio talk-show hosts tell us there are terrorists among refugees fleeing violence in Central America. There is a whole industry — extending to issue-oriented advocacy groups and think tanks — designed to con the mob and infuriate them.

Early on Jan. 6, The Post's Kate Woodsome saw signs of the violence to come hours before thousands of Trump loyalists besieged the Capitol. (The Washington Post)

Lawmakers who fanned the flames of sedition and who continued to object after the failed coup attempt were incentivized to do so by right-wing media, donors and, yes, their constituents. Several conclusions flow from this sorry state of affairs.

First, this is not “polarization.” It is the systematic radicalization of the right. It is authoritarian and, hence, resorts to deception and fear as political organizing tools. This is a problem that only those on the right can address, although others may be needed to address criminal activity and violation of congressional rules.

Second, the incentive system must change. We already see some corporate donors such as Comcast and Hallmark say they will not give money to those who objected to the electoral count. That should be the permanent rule across the board for public companies; private donors who fear for our democracy should adopt it as well. Imagine if political donors such as Charles Koch cut off lawmakers and conservative institutions that propagate the Big Lie. Think tanks need to reject “scholars” who churn out propaganda, not fact-based analysis. Cable and broadcast networks have to end post-truth programming from lying hosts and their equally dishonest guests. The issue is not ideology; Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — both of whom rejected the efforts to challenge the electoral college certification — are as conservative as they come. The issue is reliance on a web of lies that radicalize and incite the base.

Third, primary challenges should be mounted against every single Republican who promoted the Big Lie or sought to overturn the electoral college results. Some of the culprits may be hard to rout. The ideology of the challengers should match the constituency at issue (super-conservatives in deep-red districts, moderates in light red or purple ones). The only requirement is that the challenger not swim in the sea of sedition.

Fourth, the lawmakers who did participate need to be identified as such for as long as they participate in public life. They must be cited, introduced and chyroned as members of the bad-faith effort to overthrow the election results. It does not matter if the offender is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or a little-known member of Congress.

Fifth, bar associations must devise rules for those who file and advance demonstrably false and frivolous election challenges. Judges must apply sanction mechanisms already available to punish lawyers making frivolous claims.

There is no law or congressional rule that will bring this about. This is not a violation of anyone’s First Amendment rights, since government is not involved. (Bar associations, for example, have every right to police their own, and judges have the power to sanction those who abuse the courts.) Only through the conscience of those who know better and who comprehend that democracy cannot survive in the Republicans’ post-truth world can we accomplish these ends. That requires business leaders, donors, public-opinion makers, politicians and voters to put a halt to the mythology of victimhood and white grievance. Without it, our democracy will not recover.

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