The noose and gallows.
The Confederate Army revivalists.
The White power hand gestures.
The new Lost Cause
One way to understand January 6 is through the lens of US mythology.
An analogous discourse has been underway in the months since January 6, as people on the political right — from lawmakers to shock jocks — seek to portray as the “true” Americans those who, at Trump’s exhortation, stormed the seat of US government in an effort to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Hakeem Jefferson, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University whose research focuses on the role identity plays in shaping political behavior, echoed some of Darby’s sentiments. He stressed that January 6 was a racial reckoning — against the multiracial coalition that installed Biden in the White House, and against the presumed strength of Black voters.
“When we think about January 6, we can’t disconnect it from the claims by Trump and other Republican elites that there was voter fraud in predominantly Black cities,” Jefferson said. “January 6 was an attempt by a dwindling White majority to maintain political power — irrespective of the means.”
Part of a broader attack on democracy
Indeed, it’d be a mistake to view January 6 as a singular event, or as separate from the rest of the political maneuvering defining the current political season.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have failed to pass legislation that might protect access to the franchise.
What the country saw on January 6 was “a battle over the place of White people, and what appears to be a shifting racial hierarchy,” Jefferson said. “It’s the fear of that change in status that formed the basis of January 6. But it’s also formed the basis of the other, less vivid attacks on democracy that come by way of Republican legislatures’ attempts to subvert the will of the people.”
Darby put it in equally blunt terms.
“January 6 is something that people can hold up as a Lost Cause and talk about from a symbolic standpoint,” she said. “But it’s also part of a wider war. Thinking about it that way, to me, is really the only way you can get the full picture of where we are and where we’re headed.”
Where does the US go from here?
Is it possible to rein in these darker forces — the White rage and resentment that fueled January 6 and that, certainly at present, sustain the Republican Party? It’s hard to say.
For one, in many state elections, the GOP doesn’t require the buy-in of multiracial coalitions, so it can hew to the preferences of the most conservative White voters.
“It’s one of the unfortunate pieces of US politics,” Jefferson explained. “Because the Republican Party doesn’t believe itself to be a party in need of Black support or the support of other racial and ethnic minorities on any serious level, it can organize a political and rhetorical program that’s really in line with the interests of ultraconservative, racist voters.”
Jefferson went on: “My fear not as a partisan but as somebody who cares deeply about this country is that the Republican Party is going to continue, for the foreseeable future, to bank on this kind of politics of resentment and White grievance.”
Eliminating the Senate filibuster, curbing partisan gerrymanders, prohibiting state officials from corrupting the vote-counting process: These are some of the ways to push back against the current crisis. Another: breaking with the two-party system.
What the US needs, Drutman added, “is transformative electoral reform: proportional representation that will open the door to new parties, and guarantee that an illiberal minority can’t gain majority power.”
Reform of this degree might seem unlikely, given the US’s fierce political divisions, but it may well be one of the country’s few hopes for charting a path forward.