The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Ignore the GOP spin. The nation still hasn’t reckoned with Jan. 6.

Television crews and technicians prepare for Thursday night's hearing by the House select committee investigating the attack of Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol on June 7. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House committee probing the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack will begin public hearings Thursday, revealing the evidence it has gathered over 11 months of investigating, including firsthand testimony and information about President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Expect leading Republicans to argue that the committee is a partisan panel dedicated to harming Mr. Trump, and that Americans should disregard the illiberal threat that manifested in the Jan. 6 riot his supporters perpetrated. That would be a tragedy all its own. The committee’s work is the best hope the nation has to get a definitive account of one of its most perilous moments. Any political harm that the record does to Mr. Trump will be of his own making, given his role in inflaming the violence.

Jan. 6 happened because Mr. Trump and his allies tried to hack the electoral college, generating cockamamie legal arguments to justify what would have amounted to a coup. As select committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has pointed out, Mr. Trump has shown no remorse for his role in the Jan. 6 disaster — in fact, he has doubled down on his incendiary claims.

What Americans should be asking now is how to strengthen democracy against future subversion, which Congress still has not done a year and a half since a dangerous mob stormed the nation’s seat of government. Axios reports that the committee’s members are divided on what reforms to recommend; measures that would make U.S. democracy more orderly and less prone to subversion, from extensive new voting rights laws to bans on partisan gerrymandering, would be plausible responses.

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At a minimum, the electoral college should be made less prone to partisan abuse. It should be explicitly illegal for the vice president to discard electoral votes at will. It should be harder for members of Congress to object to and toss out presidential electors. New protections for election workers are needed, as are guardrails preventing governors and local lawmakers from ignoring the results of the popular votes in their states. But a bipartisan group of senators, convened by Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), is still working on these least-common-denominator policies. Their window is closing; if Republicans retake the House in this year’s midterms, nothing that could be construed as critical of Mr. Trump is likely to get through the chamber.

Republicans reportedly are betting that the public has Jan. 6 “fatigue” and would rather hear about inflation than about a plot to overthrow the democratic order. They might take comfort in polls suggesting Americans are less outraged about the attack and less inclined to blame Mr. Trump for it than they were in its immediate aftermath.

Americans must be reminded how Jan. 6 called into question many things they could previously take for granted: that their leaders would accede to free and fair election results; that the president would defend the U.S. system of government; that violent resistance to the nation’s democratic institutions would find no succor in the White House or in the halls of Congress. There can be no higher priority than restoring those fundamental norms.

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