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Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and editorial board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Democratic strategist James Carville famously coined the phrase “the economy, stupid” during Bill Clinton’s successful White House bid in 1992. On the eve of the anniversary of last January’s Capitol insurrection, I’m like most people still weighing the significance of that day’s events. To sum up the magnitude of the trouble, I say: It’s the counting, stupid.
Many on the right suggest that Jan. 6 was no big deal. There were no guns and few lives lost. The U.S. Capitol had been attacked before. Since the building was finished in 1800, there have been several dangerous incidents, including when the British set fire to it in 1814 during the War of 1812.
It is not what physically happened to the Capitol on Jan. 6 or the people working inside it that makes it a big deal in my opinion; it’s the justifications cited by nefarious actors that motivated the insurrection. The emergency comes from the idea that the express will of the people could be completely disregarded.
If a person voted and then that vote was unjustifiably not counted or thrown out, why would the person ever vote again in the future? A core tenet of our democracy is the belief and trust that our votes will be counted. The Trump administration and many in the GOP have injected doubt and cynicism into our electoral process. By subverting the system by which votes are cast and counted, they ensure there can no longer be accountability to voters. That is a very big deal for the survival of American democracy.
Americans have been learning about the extent Trump and his allies were willing to go to overturn a free and fair election. This knowledge has been trickling out in various books and from statements released by the Jan. 6 House select committee.
One of Trump’s senior advisers, Peter Navarro, recently published his memoir. He also told the Daily Beast about plans he laid out for the “Green Bay Sweep,” a plot to overturn the 2020 election. “We spent a lot of time lining up over 100 congressmen, including some senators. It started out perfectly. At 1 p.m., Gosar [Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona] and Cruz [Sen. Ted Cruz R-Texas] did exactly what was expected of them,” Navarro said.
“It was a perfect plan. And it all predicated on peace and calm on Capitol Hill,” he added. “We didn’t even need any protesters because we had over 100 congressmen committed to it.”
The objections wouldn’t actually overturn the result, but Navarro said he and his accomplices “hoped to be able to buy some time before the result was certified and put pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to intervene.”
The good news is that our institutions held, and key players stuck to their principles. Pence did the right thing despite the enormous pressure that was placed on him. Back on Jan. 5, Trump tweeted, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” On that same day, Pence told Trump in an Oval Office meeting that the Constitution does not give him that power.
There were no “fraudulently chosen electors,” and there was no widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. Each state certified its results and sent its electors to the Electoral College. The count of those certified results had already confirmed Biden’s win. On the morning of Jan. 6, Trump tweeted again that Pence needed to show “extreme courage.” Later that day, Trump supporters erected a gallows in front of the Capitol and chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”
Republican lawmakers are now laying the groundwork for the 2024 election. Some GOP-dominated state legislatures have passed laws to make it easier to overturn election results by allowing state lawmakers to appoint electors of their own choosing rather than the duly elected winner, which is constitutional. They’re working to install Trump loyalists in state and local election offices. Democrats have focused their energies on combating voter-suppression efforts. Americans need to understand that the threat is not on the front end with voter suppression, it is on the back end, with the counting and certifying.
It’s the counting, stupid.
If Americans no longer trust that their votes will count, the republic we call America is doomed. On Thursday’s Jan. 6 anniversary, it is imperative that we start paying attention. Listen to what the House select committee on Jan. 6 has to say. Perhaps watch HBO’s “Four Hours at the Capitol.” Think about your elected officials in the lead-up to the next election and ask whether they truly want your vote to count. And finally, acknowledge that the events of Jan. 6 were a really big deal.