'The fate of democracy in America is quite literally at stake': The dangers of not punishing insurrectionists

'The fate of democracy in America is quite literally at stake': The dangers of not punishing insurrectionists
The U.S. Capitol Building, Jan. 6, 2021, Tyler Merbler

With the United States' track record of failing to hold insurrectionists accountable for their volatile actions, The Guardian's Steve Phillips is explaining why it is so imperative for them to face consequences now.

In wake of the House Select Committee's hearings for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Phillips offered a brief account of American history as he emphasized why history must not repeat itself. Opening his op-ed, Phillips wrote, "The last time the United States failed to properly punish insurrectionists, they went on to form the Ku Klux Klan, unleash a reign of murderous domestic terrorism, and re-establish formal white supremacy in much of the country for more than 100 years."

So, why is the sense of urgency waning? According to Phillips, time passing gives offenders the advantage of downplaying the severity of their actions.

"It is often difficult to sustain the requisite sense of urgency about past events, however dramatic and shocking they may have been at the time," he wrote. "Memories fade, new challenges arise and the temptation to put it all behind us and move on is strong. On top of all that, Republicans quickly and disingenuously called for “unity”, mere days after failing to block the peaceful transfer of power. If we want to preserve our fragile democracy, however, Congress and the president must learn from history and not make the same mistakes their predecessors did in the years after the 1860s war for white supremacy that we call the civil war."

Fast forward to more than 150 years later, the United States is still faced with a disturbingly similar problem. In addition to the volatile actions, Republican lawmakers have also taken aggressive action in hopes of swaying legislation in their favor.

Invoking the words of journalist Ron Brownstein noted that he warned, “The two-pronged fight captures how aggressively Republicans are moving to entrench their current advantages in red states, even as many areas grow significantly more racially and culturally diverse. Voting laws are intended to reconfigure the composition of today’s electorate; the teaching bans aim to shape the attitudes of tomorrow’s.”

So why is all of this happening? According to Phillips, "because the insurrectionists have not and believe they will not be punished. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Democrats control Congress and the White House, and they can take strong and decisive action to ensure appropriate consequences for people who seek to undermine democracy."

Citing concerns similar to Phillips', The Philidelphia Tribune's editorial board is also emphasizing the importance of the House Select Committee's hearings and what they signify. "The public hearings of the House committee investigating the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol should expose those involved in the insurrection and help to hold them accountable for their crimes," the board wrote.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Hakeem Jefferson also echoed similar sentiments. In his op-ed, he expressed concern about the fragility of America's democracy as he also argued why insurrectionists should be punished for their missteps. "The attack on the nation’s Capitol was a vivid reminder of how fragile our democracy is, but we cannot lose sight of the more routine attacks that fail to capture our attention in the same way the spectacle of Jan. 6 did," Jefferson wrote.

He later added:

These attacks on our democracy are egregious and unconscionable and should be met with the same anger and frustration many of us felt watching the events of Jan. 6 unfold.
Let me be clear. Those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 should be held accountable for their actions. Democracies cannot countenance such violent responses to democratic outcomes. On this, there can be no debate or disagreement. But democracies cannot — while calling themselves democracies — countenance routine attacks on the very foundation of democratic governance: the right of every citizen to participate in free and fair elections and to have their voice heard and reflected in the halls of power.

Phillips' op-ed follows numerous calls for insurrection accountability. From Democratic activists to the heads of some of the biggest corporations in the United States, many have sounded the alarm about the disturbing message it sends to allow such actions to go without consequences.

On the day of the insurrection, Apple CEO Tim Cook took to Twitter to share his frustration about the lack of accountability in regard to the Capitol insurrection.

“Today marks a sad and shameful chapter in our nation’s history. Those responsible for this insurrection should be held to account, and we must complete the transition to President-elect Biden’s administration. It’s especially when they are challenged that our ideals matter most,” Cook tweeted.

Democratic lawmakers along with Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) are working diligently to ensure there are consequences for the insurrection. As of Friday, June 10, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged more than 800 individuals in connection with the insurrection. However, it remains unclear whether or not everyone involved will be held accountable.

Phillips argues that it is imperative that they are. He concluded with a clear emphasis on what needs to occur as a result of the House panel's hearings as he believes America's democracy depends on it:

All those who aided and abetted Trump’s insurrection should face the full force of the laws that are designed to protect the multiracial democracy that the majority of Americans want. The fate of democracy in America is quite literally at stake.

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