January 6 Select Committee Gets Started

As the committee’s hearings begin with riveting testimony of the horrific violence at the Capitol on January 6, and with much discussion about the need for the committee to figure out what caused the breach of the Capitol that day (including Rep. Kinzinger’s op-ed), I hope that there will be recognition that the threat on January 6, 2025 probably won’t be a repeat of the security failure that occurred this year. True, it is possible that America will lose its democratic system of self-government as a result of a violent overthrow of the Republic, but I think the security forces of the Biden Administration, as well as Congress’s own protection with its Capitol Police, will be much better prepared in the event of civil unrest after the 2024 presidential election.

Instead, I think the much more significant threat to America’s capacity for democratic self-government will come from the abuse of legal machinery that would permit the party that loses the presidential election to negate the outcome that the voters want and to install a different winner. That could happen without a single drop of blood being shed, if security forces do their job in keeping civil peace even as control of the government is determined, not democratically, but through an abuse of power. How could it happen? It would involve features of what we all witnessed between November and January, but without the violent breach of the Capitol. There would be an effort to get state legislatures, or state governors, to assert control over a state’s electoral votes regardless of the actual popular vote in pivotal states. There would be a willingness in Congress of Representatives and Senators to have the outcome of the presidency determined not based on what the voters actually wanted, but based solely on partisan votes in Congress itself.

The key point is this: the entire existing apparatus of antiquated rules that would permit this kind of anti-democratic “coup” through the exercise of state and federal government power remains in place today, ready to be employed again by partisans wishing to use it this way. Trump’s effort to get a second term that he didn’t win from voters by the use of this apparatus failed because state-level officials didn’t go along with his plans (this time) and, even more significantly, because he lacked sufficient votes in Congress under the arcane procedures of the Electoral Count Act. But he is endeavoring to replace state-level officials with individuals who will be more compliant with his wishes next time and hoping to have a more compliant Congress as well.

Will the select committee, in addition to being backward-looking in determining how the Capitol could have been breached to the point of such deadly violence, be forward-looking on what reforms are essential to prevent a repudiation of self-government (whether bloodless or bloody) after ballots are cast in the November 2024 election and the losing side doesn’t like the outcome?

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