But I was wrong.
That’s not because I was naive about how dangerous the insurrection was. The peaceful transfer of power is a bedrock of democratic government — and that’s not what we got. We are extremely lucky that the violence wasn’t much worse. It’s a miracle, and a testament to the brave police officers, that no member of Congress was killed by the mob.
I had repeatedly warned that something like the insurrection would happen. In May 2020, I tweeted: “If [Donald] Trump loses, there’s a real possibility he will reject the results, absurdly claim it was rigged, and say he’s the victim of the ‘deep state.’ And he will send that message to some people who are heavily armed, which could prove deadly.” That same month, in The Post, I posed the following question: “What will happen if Trump loses and then takes to Twitter to say he actually won? It’s not hard to see how deadly that could become.” (Many commentators and columnists dismissed such arguments as alarmist hyperbole before the 2020 election).
But there was nonetheless good reason to feel optimistic on Jan. 6.
Finally, the mask was off, and the authoritarian monster was impossible to ignore. Finally, Trump and his acolytes had gone too far. Finally, I thought, there would be some Republican backlash.
At first, there was. Lindsey Graham famously said: “Count me out. Enough is enough.” Mitch McConnell stood before the Senate and told his colleagues that the vote to certify Joe Biden’s victory was the most important he would ever cast. Even Trump’s most zealous Fox News Trump cheerleaders put down their pompoms for a moment to distance themselves from the Jan. 6 attack.
I, and many others concerned about the future of American democracy, had long awaited such a moment. Now, we thought, party elites could start to disavow the most authoritarian extremists in their base. Republicans had the excuse they needed. Trump would continue to howl, but it would increasingly be lost in the wind. Or so we hoped.
It was over in a week. Within days, most Republicans had returned to the Trumpian fold. McConnell stopped speaking out. Graham went from “count me out” to “there is no way we can achieve our goals without Trump.” And the Fox News hosts — who had privately implored Trump to stop the insurrection — picked their pompoms back up and resumed their brainless cheerleading. The hope that Jan. 6 might mark the GOP’s break with Trumpian authoritarianism was dead.
A year on, there’s no cause for optimism that the GOP will snap back from extremism.
We must now grapple with a stark reality: if a violent authoritarian insurrection isn’t enough to break Trump’s despotic spell, it’s hard to imagine what would be enough. Heck, a once-in-a-century global pandemic made things worse, not better.
The Republican Party is now an authoritarian party — and for a variety of reasons, that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
The only realistic fixes involve systemic reforms aimed at restoring functionality to our democracy. But aside from some modest voting rights legislation that is currently struggling to make it through Congress, most of the necessary sweeping changes aren’t even being considered. It’s a bleak outlook for a broken country.
The last best hope, then, is for real accountability. The Biden administration, the Justice Department and the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack have a duty to impose consequences on those who tried to destroy our system of government.
Now, one year after trying to find hope in one of the darkest days in our modern history, I’m again flirting with a hint of that same feeling. We’re not going to push the Republican base away from authoritarianism. That battle is lost. But maybe, just maybe, Democrats will finally insist on legal and criminal accountability not just for those who stormed the Capitol, but also for those who sent them there.
Or perhaps that’s just yet another pipe dream.