Are the American people undeserving of the whole truth about an attack on the heart of our democracy?
The Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol was not the most devastating crisis in our nation’s history, but the suppression of the truth by party-over-country Republicans might yet accomplish what the rioters set out to do: fatally undermine the institutional foundations of our republic.
Over the years, official federal investigations have followed many crises in America — the congressional report of the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, the Rogers Commission after the Challenger disaster, the 9/11 Commission in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While it’s impossible to reach perfect clarity on complex events, these commissions have produced basic consensus by frank discussion of issues laid bare by extreme events, the avoidance of which present real threats to our democracy. This due diligence is owed to the public after such tragedies rock the nation, and it should be prioritized over petty politics. The congressional Republicans who blocked the creation of a Jan. 6 commission apparently disagree.
Why was the Capitol Police force so unprepared to protect our national leaders as they officially counted the presidential electoral votes, despite previous reports of mass gatherings and demonstrations in D.C.? How much did known extremist groups collaborate ahead of the so-called “Stop the Steal” rally that devolved into attendees rushing the Capitol steps and invading congressional chambers? Why did the National Guard take such a long time to respond? After Donald Trump riled up the “Stop the Steal” crowd, what was the then-president doing while Congress was under attack? What was the extent of Trump-allied Republican congressional leaders’ roles in planning the rally, and what communications did they have with the Trump administration before, during and immediately after the ensuing riot?
Any one of these questions going unanswered would mean that the American people are left in the dark regarding the crucial details of an attack on what should be bipartisan values: the security of our democratic institutions and the peaceful transfer of power. Thanks to the Republicans whose loyalties lie with their Trumpist wing over the Constitution and the country, we might never get close to any of the answers. It’s a continuation of the party leadership’s go-to tactic of holding obfuscation above truth and partisanship above principles. This was, of course, the driving force of the Stop the Steal rally itself: President Joe Biden won fair and square in the most scrutinized election in modern American history, but as long as Trump owns the soul of the Republican Party, a critical mass remains tethered to every lie, excuse and conspiracy theory he tosses out for why he simply lost. Even if it means a storming of the U.S. Capitol in which their own lives are threatened. Even if it means painfully dividing the country even further. Even if it means short-selling the very notion of truth for quick political gain.
Some congressional Republicans — at least the ones who still own their spines — acknowledge the perilous path down which this poisonous partisanship leads us. After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would vote against the Jan. 6 commission bill, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called him out.
“To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on Jan. 6, I think we need to look at that critically. Is that really what this is about, one election cycle after another?” Sen. Murkowski said, adding, “I guess now we’ll never know. Isn’t that part of the problem, that we’ll never know? It’ll never be resolved. It’ll always be hanging out there.”
For the cynical majority of the Republican Party, that is indeed the point; for them, leaving the matter unresolved is far more valuable than the truth. To them, it doesn’t matter that Trump lost the election, a conclusion bolstered by scores of audits, recounts and court rulings. There are plenty of conspiracy theories to soothe the perpetually aggrieved former president and his followers who now loom large in Republicans’ campaign calculus. Similarly, it doesn’t matter to them that the Jan. 6 riot brought on by that conspiracy-mongering wounded our democracy when it was most vulnerable. How it developed, how it happened and how to prevent it in the future are questions not nearly as politically useful to some of our leaders as how to protect their own hides and how can they exploit our democracy’s fragility for partisan point-scoring.
Disregard for the truth comes with a steep price. On Jan. 6, that price was an assault on our democratic institutions. Now, in the search for answers following that day that will live in infamy, the assault turns to the basic pursuit of truth — and the price for that could be even more grave.