The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Amy Fried is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.
Whatever our background or where we live, Americans value freedom, including our freedom to vote and what Franklin Roosevelt called “freedom from fear.”
When there’s a national tragedy, we don’t agree on everything that should be done, but typically we unify around basic facts, mourning, and the need to investigate. That’s what occurred in 2001 after the United States was attacked by terrorists using planes as weapons.
In contrast, look at what happened six months ago and consider some context.
An angry mob breached the U.S. Capitol, trying to stop a ritual of our republic — the counting of electoral votes and their recording by the vice president.
The same dynamics that fueled insurrectionists — disinformation and an effort to delegitimize the election — were harnessed politically to try to block a probe into the events of Jan. 6 and limit our fundamental freedom to select elected officials who further the public’s priorities.
During the 2020 presidential campaign President Donald Trump repeatedly suggested he would not accept the results of the election if he lost.
In December, Trump encouraged supporters to assemble, tweeting: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
None of Trump’s fraud claims stood up in dozens of election lawsuits he filed but on Jan. 6 Trump proclaimed he would “never concede” as there was “theft involved.” And, at the end of his speech, Trump called on those there to “fight like hell” and “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to the Capitol building.
Angry crowds massed at different locations around the building, beat police officers, sometimes with Trump flags, and forced Vice President Mike Pence and House and Senate members to flee to safety.
The eventual result — the Capitol secured and a peaceful transfer of power — was not guaranteed. Many more deaths could have happened and our democratic experiment could have ended right there.
But rather than join together as we did with previous tragedies, sharing our grief and seeking answers, some deny reality.
As reporter Eli Yokley noted in discussing a recent Morning Consult Poll, “Republican voters are now more likely to blame President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats for the events that led to the Capitol attack than they are Trump and GOP lawmakers, many of whom supported his false claims of widespread election irregularities. That stance puts them at odds with the broader electorate.” Other polls have similar findings.
Mind you, the claims of election fraud from the Trump team were so outlandish that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s contentions to courts led to him having his law license suspended.
While the view that the election was stolen is held by a distinct minority and most Americans see “making sure that everyone who wants to vote can do so” as the priority for voting laws, attempts to delegitimize the election sparked Republican efforts to pass state laws making it harder to vote.
While many will be challenged in court, last week the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 for an Arizona law that made it harder for some voters to cast their ballots and ruled 6-3 against a California law requiring disclosing the names of big donors. (Those majorities were created by Sen. Mitch McConnell manipulating the timing of votes filling the vacancies left by the deaths of Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.)
Franklin Roosevelt openly confronted what Americans feared, countering economic collapse at home and the military aggression of dictators. So has Biden in combatting the pandemic.
Our national past includes shameful periods of voter suppression aimed at Black Americans. Pursuing the freedom to vote and protecting our republic requires being open-eyed and honest and taking further action.
Americans should back the congressional effort to investigate the insurrection, and we should come together to pass legislation to safeguard our voting rights.