January 6th: A Story Mistold .

Trump supporters on the day of the insurrection. Shay Horse/Getty Images

Humans understand the world through stories. These may be ones of heroism, failure, or both; regardless, it is not sober facts that inspire action in us, but narratives. The events of January 6th, 2021 show a disturbing tale believed by some Americans.

In a “Save America” rally that day, Trump told his supporters to “fight like hell” to, well, save their country. This was the story that thousands of right-wing militia men, real estate agents, and veterans told themselves: the election was stolen, Trump is our president, and we must return him to power.

Fight like hell, they did. After the rally, the mob stormed Capitol barriers; attacked officers with their fists, pepper spray, and a flag pole; and entered the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” All of this, of course, to interrupt the proceedings of an election formality so uninteresting most Americans were unaware of its existence.

In the aftermath of this insurrection, new stories were spun by conservative pundits and politicians. These stories either downplayed the significance of the events (“they were peaceful protestors!”), or blamed the violence on left-wing infiltrators, not true Trump supporters. One story, told by former Trump campaign aide Matt Braynard, portrayed that day as “America’s Tiananmen Square.”

Regardless of the particular story one believes in, they climax with lawmakers finishing certifying the 2020 election. Though we cannot see this as a triumphant win for democracy. The story that inspired the insurrection — the “Big Lie” — still lives with us. In a recent poll, a majority of Republicans stated that they believe “voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.”

After 9/11, the slogan “Never Forget” became in vogue. In the case of January 6th, memory is not the issue; it is which story which we remember. Here is the story I would like us to believe: cynical politicians inspired a Trumpist mob to overturn the election, officers fought to protect the Capitol and the lawmakers inside, and some craven individuals like Tucker Carlson and Senator Josh Hawley refuse to admit what happened.

This story, though, has not ended, for January 6th could happen on November 5th or whichever day a few right-wing extremists decide on. It is for us to pick the heroes, villains, and ultimate outcome of this story. Choose wisely, for the stakes of this story could not be higher: the survival of American democracy.


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