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Politics: Nearly a year after Jan. 6, US democracy remains perilously fragile

Shared history of January 6 is impeded by disinformation, denial and diversion

  Shared history of January 6 is impeded by disinformation, denial and diversion A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter.In an earlier era, journalists might have made certain assumptions about the aftermath of a violent attack on the Capitol. They might have expected unanimous condemnation and calls for accountability. They might have anticipated that coverage of the aftermath would be a major story, one that Americans would follow with equal fervor, regardless of partisanship.

On Jan. 20, 2021, most Americans breathed a sigh of relief. President Biden's inauguration went off without a hitch. Trump's attempt to overturn the results of the election had failed. Even conservative states attorneys, election officials and judges had rejected his spurious allegations of voter fraud. The FBI had arrested many of the terrorists who had stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and was aggressively pursuing the rest.

Nearly a year after Jan. 6, US democracy remains perilously fragile © AP Photo/John Minchillo Nearly a year after Jan. 6, US democracy remains perilously fragile

Democracy itself seemed to be the big winner, and many of us believed politics was returning to normal.

What if the Jan. 6 insurrection had succeeded in illegally installing Trump?

  What if the Jan. 6 insurrection had succeeded in illegally installing Trump? What if Donald Trump were illegally installed for a second term? He would then have moved quickly to consolidate power, with Republican help.What if the coup attempt had succeeded? What if the election results had been overturned? What if Donald Trump were illegally installed for a second term as president of the United States?

That hope proved forlorn. During the past year, Trump has doubled down on the "Big Lie," the unfounded claim that he won the election. The myth that it was stolen from him through widespread voter fraud has become Republican orthodoxy, accepted by 56 percent of the party faithful. He has made accepting it a loyalty test in what is now his party. In May, Trump supporters formed the America Strong political action committee to target 10 house Republicans who voted to impeach the former president.

Rhetoric alone, however, is no cause for concern. A lie does not become truth by endlessly repeating it, but a lie can become the basis for action. Using unfounded claims of voter fraud as a pretext, Republicans have been making it harder for Democrats to vote. Under the guise of election security, 19 states have passed more restrictive voting laws. These laws restrict voting by mail, tighten (already more than adequate) identification requirements, reduce the number of polling places, shorten the time for early voting, and/or increase the number of voters per precinct (which leads to longer wait times). Many of these laws, such as Georgia's highly restrictive measure, unduly impact minorities, who tend to vote Democratic.

Jan. 6 anniversary points to bigger fights ahead for democracy: ANALYSIS

  Jan. 6 anniversary points to bigger fights ahead for democracy: ANALYSIS The Jan. 6 anniversary points to bigger fights ahead for democracy: ANALYSIS Donald Trump’s presidency seemed to be fizzling in almost “poetically perfect” fashion, Kaine would later say, with Trump’s followers engaged in a horrific assault on democracy that might expose the movement for what Kaine and many others long believed it to be.

Restricting access to the ballot box is just one part of the strategy. Across the country, Republicans are replacing nonpartisan election officials with party loyalists, and Trump has endorsed candidates for secretary of state who accept the big lie. These partisan officials could refuse to certify elections results, as two did in Michigan after the 2020 election.

Even more pernicious are laws passed by 14 states giving legislatures power to interfere in elections. These statutes make it easier to challenge and even invalidate results. Conservative jurists have been arguing that state legislatures have the power to appoint electors. In such a scenario a state legislature could invalidate a Democratic victory and appoint Republican electors, thus negating the will of its own people. These efforts by Trump supporters led journalist Barton Gellman to conclude that the effort to subvert the 2024 presidential election has already begun.

Opinion: The text message I sent my wife inside the Capitol

  Opinion: The text message I sent my wife inside the Capitol Rep. Colin Allred writes that, on January 6, the most important thing that happened was not a failed attempt to reject the results of a free, fair and secure election, but Congress acting in a strong bipartisan fashion to reaffirm our democracy later that night. Democracy held, but it showed dangerous signs of fracturing. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I have spoken with representatives from allied nations since that day. As the world watched the attempted coup, many wondered whether democracy in the US would survive.


Video: One year later: Recap of events since Jan. 6 attack (NBC News)

The strategy may not work. Restrictive voting laws still face numerous legal challenges. Democrats control 17 state Houses, and nine states with Republican-controlled legislatures have Democratic governors. Even if they do not change the outcome, however, these measures increase the likelihood of contentious elections, including confrontations at polling places.

If legal efforts to subvert the 2024 election fail, the threat of violence remains. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute revealed that 18 percent of all Americans and 30 percent of Republicans agree with the statement: "True American patriots might have to resort to violence in order to save our country." In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, extremist groups may have gone underground, but they have not gone away. A March report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated that "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and militia violent extremists present the most lethal" domestic extremist threat. Most racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists are white supremacists.

Democrats Will Have to Do More to Save Democracy From Trump

  Democrats Will Have to Do More to Save Democracy From Trump The Biden administration’s troubles may pave the road for the former president to return in 2024 with a legitimate electoral win.During the four years of the Trump presidency, his opponents could draw comfort from the fact that a majority of Americans had rejected him. Trump had lost the popular vote, his party never won the support of the majority of the electorate, and he had prevailed because his political coalition was ideally distributed for the Electoral College. His four years in office coincided with Republicans losing both chambers of Congress and ultimately the White House.

Three retired generals have called on the military to prepare for another insurrection in 2024 and warn that politically-motivated members of the armed forces might take sides. This would be a worst-case scenario that seems unlikely given the Pentagon's unwillingness to use force against Black Lives Matter protesters as Trump demanded. In December, the Department of Defense issued "guidance on plans to counter extremist activity in the force." Though probably not extensive, the presence of extremists in the military, some of whom participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, is worrisome.

During the almost 40 years that I have taught Western and World Civilizations, I have often told students what a remarkable thing the orderly transfer of power that occurs at a U.S. presidential inauguration is. Over the course of history, people with power have often refused to give it up, even in ostensibly democratic countries. The rigged presidential election in Nicaragua, which gave Daniel Ortega a fourth term in November, is a case in point.

The political system we have long taken for granted is now in jeopardy. American democracy rests on a consensus that elections are free and fair. Before 2020, the integrity of a U.S. presidential election had not been seriously questioned since 1876. In that election, unlike 2020, there were legitimate grounds for challenging the outcome. Despite the controversy, the parties resolved the issue through compromise.

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No president before Trump has refused to concede an election since the tradition of formally doing so began in 1896. Even after exhausting every avenue of appeal, failing to replace the attorney general with a loyalist who would validate his claims of election fraud, and unable to get Vice President Mike Pence to reject the electoral college vote, Trump clung to the myth that he won the election. Mounting evidence suggests he was plotting a coup to stay in power.

Neither Trump's behavior nor acceptance of the "Big Lie" by his supporters is surprising. The willingness of all but a handful of congressional Republicans to call him out on it is. Even those who privately admit the election was fair refuse to say so in public. The party has made a devil's bargain for which the rest of us may have to pay.

If an election result can be invalidated, either by legal chicanery or force of arms, the United States will no longer be a democracy. To prevent that from happening we must be vigilant and proactive.

Tom Mockaitis is a professor of history at DePaul University and author of "Violent Extremists: Understanding the Domestic and International Terrorist Threat."

Old Florida Keys bridge reopens to pedestrians, bicyclists .
MARATHON, Fla. (AP) — A segment of a 110-year-old Florida Keys bridge is reopening to pedestrians and bicyclists on Wednesday following a $44 million restoration project. Rehabilitation construction on the oft-photographed 2.2-mile (3.5-km) span of the Old Seven Mile Bridge began in late 2017. “What made the project challenging was that it is a historic bridge, and we had to restore the bridge to the same aesthetic fabric as the original,” said project manager Tony Sabbag, a Florida Department of Transportation contractor. © Provided by Associated Press In this Monday, Jan.

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