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One year later, the national wake-up call went unheeded

The Jan. 6 attack was our national wake-up call. Much of the political world hit the snooze button.

About a week after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver looked ahead to the possible implications of such a dramatic assault on our democracy. The election forecaster suggested the political shockwave from the insurrectionist riot was unlikely to soon fade.

After noting the historical model that suggests the opposition party nearly always makes gains in the president's first midterm elections, Silver added, "But one of the exceptions to that was 9/11, when the president's party gained ground in the midterms, and 1/6 resembles 9/11 in certain ways."

George Will added soon after, "I would like to see January 6th burned into the American mind as firmly as 9/11, because it was that scale of a shock to the system."

The analysis hardly seemed outlandish. The violence had a 9/11-style potential to change everything. An American president had dispatched a violent mob to attack his own country's Capitol, as part of a larger initiative to kneecap our democracy. The seat of our government hadn't seen such an attack since the War of 1812. The sitting vice president literally had to run for his life as extremists hunted him in the halls of Congress, chanting about their intention to hang him.

It was our national wake-up call. Political radicals were putting our system of government in grave danger. They had too many allies in one of the nation's two major political parties. The future of the American experiment appeared far from stable.

A disgraced and corrupt president couldn't accept voters' verdict, so he summoned a gang and incited a riot.

Almost immediately, there was reason to believe the political landscape had changed. Donations shifted. Administration officials resigned in protest. It was widely assumed that Donald Trump's influence would wane — it'd have to — and his confederates would become political pariahs.

Any attempts to rewrite the history of these events would obviously be insane. The world had just seen a coup attempt unfold before our eyes, and it would not soon be forgotten.


Well, maybe not. One year after Trump deployed rioters, he remains the leader of the Republican Party and is the prohibitive frontrunner for the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination. The twice-impeached former president's favorability rating among rank-and-file voters in his party remains largely unchanged. The more he tries to reframe Election Day 2020 as "the real insurrection," the more his party shrugs its shoulders with indifference.

Republicans' national favorability ratings have improved. Donations roll into their coffers, and polls show voters likely to reward them with congressional power in the fall. Many GOP lawmakers feel no shame trying to recast the antagonists of the Jan. 6 story as harmless "tourists."

Everything was supposed to change, and it seemed for a while like everything might change, but on the anniversary of the failed Jan. 6 insurrection, it's difficult to find evidence of things actually having changed.

"It seems like it's as if it never happened," Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said this week.

That's true, but it's not worth bragging about.

A year ago today, 147 congressional Republicans — eight senators and 139 House members — voted to overturn the results of a free and fair American presidential election in the aftermath of the riot. A grand total of one of these lawmakers has publicly expressed regret for having done the wrong and cowardly thing.

None of this is likely to have a meaningful impact on their re-election prospects.

The immediate crisis on Jan. 6 quickly dissipated — the rioters were driven from the Capitol complex, order was restored, and the certification process advanced — but the larger crisis persisted. The radicalization of Republican politics continued. The threats to our democracy intensified. Support among GOP voters for the Big Lie got worse, not better, as the year progressed, and Republican policymakers at the state level exploited the lies to justify an aggressive voter-suppression campaign.

This wasn't supposed to be the consequence of Jan. 6, but it was.

The nation's alarm went off a year ago today, much of the political world hit the snooze button.