For more coverage of the January 6th attack, check out our collection of essays and reflections examining where we are as a country a year later, including what has changed – and not – since a violent crowd of Trump- Supporters stormed the US Capitol.
Time and again, Republicans have downplayed the seriousness of what happened on January 6th. Only a handful of Republicans voted to indict Trump over the role he played in the attack on the Capitol, and almost all of them were Republicans against a bipartisan investigation into what happened.
It’s not just Republican politicians. Republican voters are also taking the January 6 events less seriously. For example, the Pew Research Center shows that between March and September, the percentage of Republicans who said it was “very important” to prosecute the Capitol rioters dropped from 50 percent to 27 percent.
Why aren’t Republicans taking the January 6th events seriously?
First and foremost, it is possible that despite American democracy dangerous situation, the threat still feels a long way off to many Americans. Historical perspective is useful here. At various points in US history there have been serious threats to the very survival of the republic. The civil war (and the democratic relapse on End of the reconstruction), Second World War and the Cold War all of them posed an existential threat. But in all of these troubled times there were still peaceful transfers of power. Free and fair elections were also held during the civil war and during the politically repressive time around the First World War (and the 1918 flu pandemic).
And while that unbroken record of peaceful transfers of power may now really be in jeopardy, ironically, some Americans are not concerned about the continued success of American democracy. That said, America’s hit streak may have made it easier for some to claim January 6th wasn’t a big deal – just a few Tourists who never had a chance to seriously disrupt government operations, though Film recording and personal accounts the events suggest otherwise.
The other factor at play here is the extent to which American politics has become a zero-sum contest. Virtually every issue and vote in Congress is now framed in terms of winners and losers – and partisanship. And as political scientist Lilliana Mason wrote in her 2018 book: “Civil Agreement”““ In this political environment, a candidate who takes up the ‘us versus them’ and ‘win versus lose’ banners is almost guaranteed to tap a stream of resentment and anger across racial, religious and cultural boundaries that has recently been neatly divided into parties divided up.”
Republican elites and media representatives in particular have cleverly used this framework, arguing that the demonstrators on Nov. treated harder as Protesters against Black Lives Matter. Others have tried to blame Democrats – in particular – for the attacks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Taken together, these ideas make up a powerful narrative, albeit false and misleading, that has caught on with many Republicans: the events at the Capitol were harmless, and the effort to hold people accountable is nothing more than partisan scoring. But a lot of Americans do it, of course look what happened on January 6th as part of an at constant threat to democracy, even if these opinions are broad split the party lines.