Flat White

Who remembers what happened last month?

6 February 2021

3:02 PM

6 February 2021

3:02 PM

Precisely one month ago today a truly extraordinary, appalling event occurred. Astonishingly, it seems few people can instantly bring to mind what it was.  

An earthquake somewhere; a tsunami; a bushfire perhaps? It was none of these, shocking though they are.

In fact it was a choreographed and rehearsed ‘event’ appended to a particular time and date. Long planned, brutal and brazen in its intent, violent and ultimately deadly for five individuals.

January 6, 2021, witnessed an assault on the United States Capitol by hundreds of rampaging Trump-doting, right-wing extremists.  The mob easily breached the inadequate security lines, smashed windows, busted doors and, once inside, almost made it into the in-session chamber of the House itself.

The intent was to pressure Congress, in particular the. Vice President Mike Pence, to overturn the presidential election result. Violence and chaos was merely a means to an end. 

As those old enough had done all those years earlier on September 11, 2001, people the world over, watched open-mouthed exactly four weeks ago (January 6) as unimaginable, even impossible, events unfolded in real-time, in real unfiltered life.

The searing images of weapon carrying Proud Boy members, along with other affiliated supporters, smashing their way into this fortress of democracy left the world community sickened to its stomach.  

Stunned, shocked and disbelieving, those who care deeply about global stability and the centrality of democratic institutions still recoil from what occurred that day.

Also possible is the events of January 6 have emboldened other dark forces to weigh their options for overturning elected governments and undermining democratic institutions. Time will tell how these dynamics in a bitterly divided US play out. 

What is perhaps more astonishing is the human capacity to jettison such events from our consciousness and so quickly.  

January 6, 2021, was not just another ‘crazy day’ in the kaleidoscope of US politics over the past four years.  It was a seminal day, an appalling day, a tragic day and certainly a history-making day.  It brought the 117th US Congress to a horrifying and gun-wielding halt.

In the global rush to sweep the 45th US President under the carpet, we appear all too ready to breezily sweep what happened on January 6 under the carpet with him.  

The lumps under the carpet remain.  

What occurred cannot and must not be forgotten.  Ask yourself what first-time US voters made of the event?  Ask yourself what young Americans and young people the world over made of the event?   As schools, colleges and universities tentatively commence the academic year here in Australia — it is to be hoped that this truly heinous, unprecedented and ugly event is discussed, analysed and remembered.   

It is for all adults young and older — not just teachers — to place what happened into historic, political and social context and to underscore the events as a frightening portent of what the future could hold unless we all seek to protect and uphold the sanctity of democracy — which of course includes the rule of law, the centrality of the justice system and the power vested in voters.  

The breathtaking events that day taught all those who place their faith in the democratic ideal (and regrettably those that don’t) two important lessons. One, that democracy, even in the steel-reinforced United States, is fragile and vulnerable and secondly, that anti-democratic forces lie in wait – barely beneath the surface ready to seize their moment.  

It was a humiliating and pitiable day for all law-abiding Americans and all the more so having been fuelled and encouraged by, of all people, the outgoing President’s own inflammatory (though denied) entreaties.   

What becomes of Donald Trump is of considerably less importance to what becomes of democracy.

When democracy is threatened — when your hard-fought democratic rights are threatened — never look away, never forget, and never stop working to protect them.

John Simpson is a Melbourne company director and governance adviser. 

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