Capitol attack
Credit: Tyler Merbler/Flickr

Among the unique characteristics of American politics is our capacity to forget the unpleasant and inconvenient.

After a sitting president burgled his opponent’s headquarters and then tried to sack his entire Justice Department, his successor pardoned him in the service of “unity” and his party went on to thrive in the aftermath. Just over a decade later, there was an enormous scandal involving the secret sale of weapons to America’s top-profile international enemy to fund murderous paramilitaries on our own continent. The criminals involved were pardoned, the president involved feigned ignorance and then got the national capital’s airport named after him. Shortly thereafter, another Republican president lied the country into a costly and devastating war from which there remains no exit, then oversaw the worst natural disaster response in American history before catapulting the nation into the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression. Within a decade, both parties seem to have forgotten that he even existed except to be seen as a respectable elder statesman at funerals and public functions.

Then came Donald Trump. Trump, his catastrophic failures and extraordinary malfeasance have not yet been forgotten because he still dominates the Republican Party. But his most horrific transgression is already receding into the background of the nation’s collective memory. So let’s all remind ourselves of what happened just this month.

This month—25 days ago!—there was an armed, murderous insurrection against the government of the United States. This insurrection was based on a months-long campaign of spurious lies that the election had been stolen somehow from Trump. These lies were enabled by intentional Republican policies like insisting on counting mail ballots late in order to create the impression of falsification, by the conservative infotainment brigade that promoted the calumnies of Trump and his lawyers, and crucially by hundreds of Republican politicians who backed the president’s lies in statehouses and on the floor of Congress.

Major GOP members of Congress and well-funded conservative groups organized the massive public event at the Capitol. The president’s apparatchiks in the Pentagon denied National Guard assistance to the Capitol Police, who were dramatically underprepared for what was to come—even though the President himself knew that perhaps over 10,000 troops would be needed.

And then the attempted coup began. Even as molotov cocktails and pipe bombs were staged at national party headquarters and elsewhere–likely as distractions–the Capitol building began to be overrun. Paramilitary militia men and women with military-style radios and handcuff zipties rolled through the halls and onto the floor of the Senate. They sought to kill or kidnap members of Congress, shoot the Speaker of the House and hang the Vice President from a makeshift scaffold, even as the legislators barely escaped with their lives by a matter of minutes thanks only to the heroism and quick thinking of handfuls of Capitol Police. They stole government computers with the intent to sell them to the Russian secret service. They sought to deliberately decapitate the line of succession behind Trump.

The seditious putsch plotters reportedly knew precisely not only where the Members’ offices were, but also their unmarked private workspaces in what appears may have been an inside job. As they went door to door in search of the Speaker of the House with murder on their minds, one Republican member of the House tweeted out the Speaker’s movements from the floor while being protected by the police, after allegedly having given some of the insurrectionists a tour of the Capitol just days before.

They failed by the narrowest of windows. But they did succeed in murdering a police officer. They clamored for the murder of others, shouting to kill one with his own gun. They injured dozens of others. One lost an eye; others suffered traumatic brain injuries. Another officer committed suicide afterward. And curiously, the only reinforcements during the event for hours came not to assist the officers–who were deliberately instructed to stand down without armed violence except under extreme duress–but to quickly secure and drag to medical attention the only insurrectionist fatally wounded by police.

It was not, as most journalistic organizations are calling it, a “mob” or a “riot.” It was an attempted coup, an insurrection, a mass assassination attempt. Those who perpetrated it were remarkably allowed to exit with their stolen loot and disappear into the night on their own recognizance, and while many have been arrested or are under surveillance, many are remain at large with whereabouts unknown. The President of the United States, having sent his army to the Capitol, did nothing to quell the violence for hours. Reportedly, the president grinned with glee and excitement as he watched the autogolpe unfold. And then that very same evening 147 Republican members of the House of Representatives sustained the President’s same lies that prompted the insurrection from the floor of the House—an act that, had it succeeded as a majority position, would have overturned the will of the voters and the Electoral College, functionally installing Trump as an unelected dictator. Two Republican Senators did the same from the floor of the Senate. All of them did so in a direct affront to their colleagues who were almost murdered in front of their eyes just hours previously.

This all happened less than a month ago.

And now? Forty-five Republican Senators remarkably voted that there shouldn’t even be an impeachment trial at all, under the theory that if a president commits high crimes in the waning days of his presidency he cannot be held accountable under any circumstance. The conservative media wurlitzer is pretending the incident never took place, that it was a minor blip on the political radar, that it was justified or a false flag perpetrated by leftists.

Meanwhile, President Biden has taken office and most of the press has settled into its comfortable role of analyzing stimulus talks, wondering if a few Republican Senators can draw out the negotiations, kvetching over deficits and reconciliation rules as if many of these same legislators hadn’t just been engaged in a coup against democracy just three weeks earlier. None of the insurrectionists has even been charged yet for the injury or murder of a police officer. Congresswoman Boebert has not yet been forced under oath to explain in public why she was tweeting out the Speaker’s location. One of the Congressmembers who supported the president’s assault on democracy just flew to the district of one of his Republican colleagues who had the temerity to hold the former president accountable, staging a rally in her backyard to encourage her removal in the next election. And after a short joke of an impeachment trial in which most Republicans will dutifully acquit the lead instigator of the failed coup, most of the political establishment will send the entire incident down the memory hole, encouraging Americans to “look forward not backward.”

But we cannot. There was a violent, murderous coup attempt against the United States less than a month ago. None of the pawns have yet been charged with the most serious crimes. None of the most powerful people who truly instigated it have faced any accountability at all. And nothing has structurally changed to prevent it from happening again.

Do not forget, and do not let them try to make you forget. Not until there is justice and accountability.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.