There is something very special about being on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. This is where the laws are made. With its 435 members, it is the legislative chamber that is closest to the views and beliefs of the American people. This is sacred space. There is decorum. There are rules.
Three years ago, on January 6, there was violence. The Capitol was attacked for the first time since the British burnt it in 1814. Not even the rebellious armies of the confederacy in the Civil War ever reached Congress. But then president Donald Trump’s troops did. It was a desecration of democracy.
Inside the House chamber, men with guns drawn aimed at the doors of the House to stop the attackers. A woman was shot and killed just outside as she pushed to enter the chamber. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office was pillaged.
Gallows to hang then-vice president Mike Pence were carted outside the Capitol. The mob occupied the Senate, trashed the desks of the senators and celebrated their driving the solons from the temple of democracy.
I worked in that building for over 10 years, and never imagined for a moment that armed Americans would attack the Congress to try to stop the House and Senate from conducting business required under the Constitution to ensure the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next.
The Capitol was retaken later that afternoon. The House and Senate fulfilled their constitutional responsibility. But three years on, the insurrection of that day is still under way.
The attacks on 9/11 were the most catastrophic on the American homeland since Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. A special bipartisan commission was established to document what had occurred and how such a grievous assault was to be prevented. Its authoritative work demonstrated that leaders from across the political spectrum could come together to protect the country.
Not so with January 6. Republicans in the House and Senate spurned every effort to form a bipartisan committee to investigate and report not only on the events of that day but what occurred in the weeks after the 2020 election leading up to the riot at the Capitol.
It was an own goal. With Republican leaders boycotting the investigation, the January 6 Committee — with two Republicans who refused to be intimidated by Trump, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — was unimpeded in producing a most stunning and compelling report.
Unlike in the aftermath of 9/11, there has been no coming together of the American people on the legacy of January 6. Trump said he spoke that day to “a loving crowd.” Up to 70 per cent of Republican voters believe the 2020 election was stolen. Trump’s inconsolable grievances are the springboard for his campaign utterances.
Three years on, more Republicans than ever believe that Trump was not responsible for the insurrection, that accounts of the violence were overblown, and that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.
A friend reports that, even in the Capitol itself, on a tour taken in 2022, “January 6 was completely ignored, not mentioned once on the tour. It’s as if it never happened.”
Trump has 91 criminal charges levied against him, but he is today stronger than ever. “They’re not indicting me, they’re indicting you,” he tells his base. “I am your warrior. I am your justice.” In Trump they trust, and they want him back with a vengeance. “And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”
Trump is on the cusp of defeating his rivals in the early round of primaries beginning this month in Iowa, placing him in reach of securing his party’s presidential nomination by the end of February.
The insurrection at the Capitol — which was a near-mortal blow to the heart of America’s democracy — is today at the heart of Trump’s legal jeopardy. In a trial to occur in Washington, Trump is charged with conspiracies to overturn the election, obstructing the work of Congress and depriving people of their votes being counted.
Two states, Colorado and Maine, have found that Trump “engaged” with the insurrection and must, as prescribed by the Constitution’s 14th amendment, be removed from their election ballots. The Supreme Court will decide that issue, along with Trump’s assertion that he is immune from prosecution for all acts he did as president.
If Trump is convicted in the Washington trial, will his voters still stay with him next November? Early polls indicate that some of his voters — perhaps up to 5 per cent or more — are unwilling to vote for a convicted felon.
On January 6, 2025, Congress will meet in joint session to count the Electoral College votes and certify the winner. Vice President Kamala Harris, still in office until the inauguration on January 20, will be in the chair.
Will the man who has acted relentlessly to sow division, distrust and doubt about America’s democracy be declared the winner and sworn in – again — to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution of the United States? Will Trump see his insurrection through to a successful restoration?