The Danger of Another Insurrection is Very Real
Later today, President Joe Biden will mark the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection with a speech in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. A Biden campaign official told Politico Playbook that the location is no accident.
[Valley Forge] was the moment where [GEORGE WASHINGTON] was able to bring the colonial forces together and mark the beginning of his ascent to power before he ultimately gave up power in the ultimate precedent as our nation's first president,
This speech represents the unofficial kickoff of the Biden-Harris reelect, which also released this ad on Thursday.
There will be a lot to say about the role of January 6th in the campaign. There remains a distinct possibility that within a few months, Donald Trump will be convicted and sentenced to prison for his role in fomenting the violence at the Capitol.
His conduct on January 6th could cause Trump to lose the election (and his freedom). Frighteningly, once again, his defeat could lend itself to a violent response. A look at the polling, political trendlines, and recent rhetoric of Republican officials show that another insurrection could be on the horizon.
1. The Insurrection is Memory-Holed
The violent assault on the Capitol felt like a moment that would forever be etched into the American political consciousness. Millions were glued to the TV, watching the scary and impossible-to-imagine image of rioters occupying the United States Capitol to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. It briefly felt like a pivot point in history where the Republicans would abandon Trump and Trumpism. Speaker Kevin McCarthy condemned Trump on the House floor. Mitch McConnell was reportedly open to voting to convict Trump in the impeachment trial — which would have prevented Trump from running for federal office ever again. In the end, the Republicans changed course and decided to stick with Trump. McConnell blinked and voted to acquit Trump. McCarthy made an embarrassingly obsequious visit to Mar a Lago to bend the knee.
Alarmingly, the public is beginning to memory-hole that fateful day. Earlier this week, the Washington Post and the University of Maryland released an unnerving new poll.
First, the number of Americans who believe Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate has decreased by seven points since December 2021. Republicans are the biggest driver — only 31% believe Biden won legitimately. It is concerning that the number of Independents has also reduced by six points.
Second, while a majority of Americans believe Trump “bears responsibility for the attack on the Capitol,” the number who do so has decreased seven points since 2021. The number of Republicans who hold Trump responsible has been nearly cut in half (27% to 14%). Even 6% fewer Democrats blame Trump than three years ago.
Finally, Republicans decided to rewrite history about what happened at the Capitol. Only 18% of GOPers believe the people who entered the Capitol on 1/6 were “mostly violent.”
Donald Trump, his party, and his allies in the Right Wing media have used the steady drumbeat of misinformation and conspiracy theories to fuzz up what should have been one of the most significant days in U.S. history. That fading memory means that history is more likely to repeat itself in 2025.
2. MAGA Mike Believes the Big Lie
Kevin McCarthy was an insurrectionist by convenience. He played the part because he thought it was in his job description. Mitch McConnell infamously humored Trump’s lies about voter fraud in the aftermath of the election because he was worried about the turnout from the MAGA base in the Georgia Senate elections that happened in January of 2021.
Speaker Mike Johnson, on the other hand, is a true believer in the Big Lie. Johnson’s role goes much deeper than organizing House Republicans to sign on to a legally and factually absurd amicus brief.
In the aftermath of the election, Johnson called President Trump and encouraged him to fight to overturn the results.
Johnson’s role went well beyond simply trying to exhaust all legal options; he pushed even the craziest crackpot theories. According to ABC News:
Among other things, Johnson raised the unfounded theory that voting machines from Dominion were "rigged" and had ties to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, who was dead, echoing conspiracy theories floated by Trump supporters such as Sidney Powell, a former Trump lawyer who ultimately pleaded guilty to state charges in Georgia over her efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
Listen to Johnson in this radio interview from a few weeks after the 2020 election. He refuses to admit Biden won.Even more concerning, Johnson’s entire political career has been in opposition to majoritarian rule. The man does not believe in the basic idea of democracy. In a 2016 interview, Johnson said:
We don’t live in a democracy because democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner.
Suppose the Republicans retain control of the House (and Johnson doesn’t get ousted McCarthy-style). In that case, Johnson will be in a position to wreak havoc on the certification of results in the event of a Biden electoral win. The fate of the election will lay in the hands of a far-Right extremist who believes in the Big Lie but doesn’t believe in democracy.
Johnson’s defenders argue that he was pursuing his concerns through the legal process set up to adjudicate the integrity of the election. This is technically true, but it’s worth noting that Johnson has not distanced himself from or strongly condemned what happened on January 6th. As the assault on the Capitol shows, nurturing these conspiracy theories with apocalyptic rhetoric can lead to violence. There are very real reasons to believe that the risk of political violence is greater today than it was on January 6th, 2021.
3. Violence Becomes More Acceptable
A few months ago, the Public Religion Research Institute released its annual American Values Survey. The poll didn’t get a ton of attention, but buried inside the extensive report was one of the most alarming poll findings that I have seen in a long time.
One-third of Republicans and 46% of people who think the 2020 election was stolen believe that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save the country.”
Trump’s rhetoric has become even more unhinged. He continues to push the disproven lies about the 2020 election with more explicit calls for violence.
In recent months, Trump:
Threatened the judges and prosecutors involved in his cases, including exhorting his supporters to “go after” New York Attorney General Leticia James;
Suggested that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff be put to death for treason;
Ridiculed Nancy Pelosi about the violent assault on her husband by Trump supporters; and
Proposed the death penalty for shoplifters as part of his second-term agenda.
This is a dangerous powder keg — a Right Wing Speaker who believes the Big Lie, an increasingly unhinged former President, and a Republican base that believes violence may be the only way to preserve America as they know it. I know a lot of Democrats are down in the dumps these days — frustrated with the lack of progress on some issues and heated by the neverending cycle of bad news. I know some were hoping for the opportunity to vote for a younger or more progressive Democrat this time around. Those feelings are legitimate, and it is incumbent on Biden, his campaign, and folks like myself to persuade people why they need to exercise their power again.