One year after Jan. 6
R. Albert Mohler Jr. | Will America defend its constitutional order?
The events of Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C., were of a scale that demands the nation’s attention and urgent concern. The meaning of those events is now a maelstrom of partisan division, fueled by both the media and the political class. Right now, even the briefest of conversations about Jan. 6 reveals at least three Americas.
In one America, the events represented nothing less than an attempted coup against the lawful government of the United States, an insurrection that threatened to topple over two centuries of constitutional government. In a second America, the chaos at the Capitol was just evidence of a political demonstration that grew out of control and a mob that took over what was intended as an orderly protest against charges of electoral malfeasance. In the third America, probably representing the mainstream of the nation, the events were a national embarrassment, a riot against lawful order, a stark portrait of political violence, and a sobering vision of a crowd out of control.
The images of Jan. 6 were truly horrifying, and bizarre. We saw mobs march to the U.S. Capitol and invade our greatest architectural symbol of constitutional self-government. We saw them break into the Capitol by force, disrupt government, halt the certification of the 2020 presidential election, and even threaten the lives of elected officials, including the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, who was presiding over the certification process. Some even dared to carry Christian symbols. Many people feared for their lives and others, including members of the Capitol Police, were seriously injured.
We saw the desecration of the Capitol, with a mob of Americans—some of them looking like middle America and some looking like escapees from an institution—breaking into congressional offices, putting their feet on historic furniture, and expressing total disdain for our constitutional order. A nation that tolerates this kind of behavior and lawlessness undermines its own legitimacy. Thankfully, the events of Jan. 6 were not swept under the rug.
But this was not a coup, nor even an insurrection, legally defined. There was no involvement of the military or of any other conspiring sector. No unit of government joined the attack, and the only military and law enforcement personnel involved, thank goodness, were there to protect the constitutional order and not to overthrow it. An insurrection, legally defined, requires “a full-on rebellion against the government.” A coup seeks to topple a government. That did not happen. What did happen was a riot, which is itself a form of violence.
History will record that the certification of the 2020 presidential election did take place, and the declared winner, Joe Biden, took office as the 46th president of the United States exactly as scheduled on Jan. 20, 2021. The House of Representatives has launched an investigation and the courts have handed down hundreds of criminal convictions. More will follow.
What did happen was bad enough. And the passions behind those events were incited and flamed by the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The mob was encouraged by the president, whose undeniable sins of commission and omission on that day will be debated for generations to come.
The left now uses the events of Jan. 6 for its own political purposes, which generally involve citing “Jan. 6” as supposed justification for whatever progressive legislation it currently pushes. The right now uses the passions of that day as energy for a second Trump administration. Democrats can’t stop talking about Jan. 6 in a pose of moral righteousness, ignoring the fact that much of their outrage is directed toward political opportunism. Republicans don’t want to talk about the day at all, because they see themselves stuck between the need to rally the most ardent Trump supporters and the need to look politically responsible. The dominant media class uses Jan. 6, incessantly, to deny legitimacy to anything conservative.
An honest look at Jan. 6 requires a full consideration of the efforts by the left and the right to undermine political norms. The Left is largely in control of major cultural institutions, but nonetheless, often takes to the streets in riots that are celebrated by the media and the liberal commentariat. The most irresponsible elements of the right marched right to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and brought humiliation to the nation. Where is sanity and respect for our constitutional order to be found?
We must hope that the needed virtues are found, first of all, among American Christians, who honor constitutional government precisely because we know the dangers of human sinfulness unleashed. The images of Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol are more than enough to awaken Christian citizens in America to the fact that we are a nation in political crisis. That political crisis points to an even more basic moral crisis, which Christians know is really a spiritual crisis.
In that sense, Jan. 6 was a wake-up call for the nation and this first anniversary of the event is a sobering reminder of the massive challenges facing our constitutional order. We will find a way to preserve our grand experiment in self-government, or we will lose it.
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