One year ago tonight, I let out a long sigh of relief.
I’d just watched our system of laws, checks and balances (not to mention a few courageous individuals) thwart a final effort by a United States president to overturn his election loss.
In the weeks and days leading up to that day, we’d all watched (or heard) our president employ a series of increasingly disturbing tactics to try to undo the will of the people. We’d heard the recorded phone call in which he’d threatened a Georgia election official if he didn’t “find” enough votes to reverse the results there. We’d seen how he’d invited small-town election officials to the Oval Office in hopes of convincing them to toss out validated results that helped deliver Michigan to Joseph R. Biden. And we’d read how he’d fired “disloyal” military leaders in the days and weeks leading up to the transfer of presidential power.
Back then, I was troubled that more people weren’t deeply disturbed by all of this. I found myself wondering if I was overlooking something that would explain their relative silence? Had I been watching too much cable news? Was I trapped in my own echo chamber? Were these news stories, recordings and anecdotes actually not nearly as important as they seemed to me?
But then came Jan. 6, 2021, when the president of the United States incited a riot. And not just any riot, but one that actually succeeded in delaying the certification of our election–perhaps the most sacred proceeding of our democracy. We all sat helpless as the MAGA mob infiltrated the Capitol building with its Confederate flags, Trump banners and zip-ties. For the next three hours, our president sat in the dining room near the Oval Office and watched it all on TV, reportedly mesmerized by the fear and chaos he’d created. He tapped out a vindictive this-is-what-you-get message on Twitter. When he finally did speak, he told his mob, “We love you; you’re very special.”
Although that day was horrifying on many levels, I also saw hope.
I truly believed that Jan. 6, 2021, was The Moment.
This would be The Moment that would reveal with great clarity to anyone who hadn’t yet understood the jeopardy this president was willing to put our democracy in order to stay in power. After this dark day, I was sure that only the most zealous, vacuum-wrapped, unreachable of Trump’s followers would fail to finally see him for what he’d just become: One of the most notorious figures in American history.
On that night, I was sure that all of Congress [not just Democrats and a few principled Republicans] would take the earliest opportunity to unanimously impeach and convict this president. I believed that this man would live the remainder of his days as an American outcast [if not also as an inmate at a federal prison].
One year tonight, I was certain that all of our elected officials would cross partisan lines to ensure that something like this would never happen again. Collectively, they’d agree that the will of the people [our democracy] would always come first, that it is more important than personal interests, partisanship, culture wars, Supreme Court appointments, policy differences and deep-seated resentment.
A year later, there’s a sinking feeling in my stomach. It’s the kind that skids lower and lower until it anchors to the pit of my gut and expands painfully in all directions, until I’m forced to accept that something is very very wrong:
A year later, our democracy is in grave danger.
In the February impeachment trial of Trump, too few Republicans had the courage or foresight to convict him of inciting an insurrection. In fact, most Republican leaders have refused to condemn Trump, and the former president has not become the party outcast he should be. In fact, he is unquestionably the most powerful member of the Republican party, and now some of our elected representatives have taken steps to fill key election roles around the country with Trump loyalists, people who (unlike their predecessors) might be willing to “find” Donald Trump some votes in 2024.
A year later, Trump still hasn’t been held truly accountable for his efforts to upend our democracy. Most troubling of all, there’s no indication that the Justice Department is investigating Trump and his top enablers for the crime of impeding the electoral certification and attempting to deprive citizens of their constitutional right to vote.
Some 727 people have been charged in the insurrection, but not one of them is Trump or his fellow instigators. Donald Trump is not behind bars nor in criminal court; instead, he is at his resort where he’s making plans for a Jan. 15 rally that will perpetuate his election lies and celebrate the deadly mob that tried to subvert our democracy.
And that is an American disgrace.
One year ago today, I believed that we’d finally experienced The Moment that would unite nearly all Americans to protect our democracy. Today, it’s clear that moment has not come, and I worry if it ever will.
But there is something we can do.
Congress still hasn’t passed important voting-rights legislation that would help protect our democracy. This is because Senate Democrats lack the votes to stop a Republican filibuster that is killing important voting-rights legislation that would help protect our elections. On Jan. 17, they will vote on whether to change those rules so that the filibuster rule would be lifted and these important protections can become law. In Washington, DC, they call this the “nuclear option” because it is considered to be an extreme political move with potentially long-lasting ramifications to bipartisanship.
But if ever there was a time in politics to go “nuclear,” it is now.
Hanging in the balance is nothing less than the future of our democracy.