Thursday, January 6, 2022

Thoughts on January 6th

By Michael Bitzer

Note: I write only for myself, and not for my affiliated institution nor for my colleagues who also contribute and are associated with this blog. 

Much has been written about the tragic day of January 6, 2021, a day that should live in comparable historical view with September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941. 

As someone who studies both American politics and history, the self-coup and insurrection of a year ago came as a sickening shock, but unfortunately, not a surprise.

Not a surprise because I suspected violence would occur. Throughout 2020, I often hoped and thought it wouldn't, but was realistic to know that the reality could happen. With all of the fuel being poured onto a deeply divided and polarized electorate and nation over 2020, violence likely would come in the form of what this nation had seen before, namely in the form of attempted, or God-forbid actual, political assassination. 

But a different political assassination occurred that day. An attempted political assassination of our form of governance. Of our democratic republic. Of our 'rule of law.' Of the unwritten and undergirding rules and norms, namely 'we lost this election, but we live to fight another one in the future.' Of resolving political conflict, not through the bullet, but through the ballot. 

Watching January 6, 2021 unfold, I wasn't just a political scientist who studies the United States of America, but as a citizen. 

I recall the horror, the recoiling, the utter shock and then anger and outrage of watching the bastion of our self-governance and the citadel of our constitutional republic defiled.

Of our process of peaceful transition of power dishonored. 

Of our will, as a people, desecrated.

I wish, that in a year's time, we took January 6th's seriousness and intensity to heart. 

I wish, that in year's time, we understood just how close we came to a crisis of our constitutional system of self-rule and governance, all under the guise of a big lie. 

I wish, that in a year's time, we acknowledged the self-inflicted damage to not just our institutions, but to our body politic and civic society. 

As much as I want, over a year's time, those wishes haven't come true. 

In fact, the body politic is more serious and intense in the acceptance of the polarized differences in the two political worlds citizens inhabit. One of those worlds I have spent time trying to understand and comprehend. 

One world that is based in their reality of enflaming the notion of 'us' against 'them.' A society they seek structured to ensure the 'sameness' of those who believe in only one way, one set of values, one set of beliefs. A world that minimizes the notion of diversity of beliefs, of ideals, of behaviors, and most fundamentally, of fellow citizens.

Because of divorced realities, of these two separate worlds, we have become more willing to inflame the constitutional crisis that will undermine the self-rule and governance that is our nearly 250-year grand experiment in self-governance. 

In fact, we have continued to damage not just the institutions of our government, but damage ourselves as a democratic-republic. 

A year out from January 6th, what I now fear is that we haven't learned any of the lessons of that day. But instead, parts of our nation--a significant number--willingly and blindly follow a path that likely will result in the ruin and failure of our grand experiment.

The fear of perpetrating a lie with no grounding in fact, just conspiracy. 

The fear of losing 'our way of life' when our nation has always strived for 'a more perfect union.'

The fear of our own history, when our nation has faltered, but we seek to strive towards that unrealizable goal of a 'more perfect union.' 

And simply, the fear of losing the 'sameness' of our past selves and acknowledging others who are different, no matter the aspect. 

Trying to posit what the future will hold is a daunting task. And looking to the past, we have seen tremendous times of upheaval and concerns for our approach to self-governance. Fears manifested then were co-joined with movements towards seeking a 'more perfect union.' But fear was still there, and perhaps was the motivation for addressing the concerns of the time. Perhaps it may be now. 

And what I mostly fear for the future is the likelihood of lessons lost from January 6th, and that the perpetuating of those fears into future reality. 

And that fear is singularly based on "We the People," especially those seeking elected offices to secure governing power. 

Of elected individuals in the future who disregard the basic values of American democracy and republican government: that the people rule, the people speak--through things like their votes, and that the will of the people should be respected. 

Of elected individuals in the future who will deny the reality of what America is, of the potential of what America can be, and the values that ground the nation: the rule of law, not the rule of men or personality; the liberty and freedom to exercise the fundamental process of representative democracy--the vote; and the acceptance of what We the People say to, and through, our elected representatives. 

If these individuals secure governing power, especially this year and before the 2024 election, and have the power to say "well, the voters really didn't mean to elect Candidate A, even though Candidate A got the most votes," or worse yet, to use unsubstantiated conspiratorial claims of fraud and illegality--without a shred of evidence or proof--and thus rebuke the election results for favoritism to a person, then these elected public servants will fail our grand experiment.

These individuals will warp our institutions and their public offices to realize certain truths. 

That votes will be disregarded.

That the voters' voices will be denied.

That the will of the people will be diminished.

If so, then we can simply disregard, deny, and diminish our democracy. 

For we no longer have a democratic republic.

For we will no longer have "We the People" seeking to form "a more perfect union." 

As we remember the January 6ths yet to come, I hope these fears aren't realized. 

But I'm realistic to say these things, with the hope of not having to mourn the end of nearly 250 years of our grand experiment to create a more perfect union.