On January 6, 2021, at one in the afternoon in Washington, the United States Congress opened a processing session to read aloud the count of the presidential elections and legally certify Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. An hour later, the congressmen had to suspend the plenary session to take refuge in a bunker, because thousands of violent Trump supporters walked armed through the corridors of the Capitol after attacking the police and breaking doors and windows. They had gotten there encouraged by Trump himself. The assault on the seat of sovereignty lasted four hours, until military forces arrived at the building. Five people died, 140 policemen were injured. Biden’s victory was certified after three in the morning.
In two and a half centuries, the United States has elected all kinds of characters as presidents, some of them of low human or political quality. None, however, resisted leaving power when the ballot box or the law decided to do so. Until Donald Trump arrived. It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the precedent, which is to reject the outcome of the election. The ultimate expression of that challenge to democracy, that afternoon, is a watershed in the history of the United States whose consequences cannot yet be measured. President Joe Biden decided to commemorate the date with a solemn speech from the Capitol in which he vindicated the “truth” against the “lie”, as the basis of democracy. It was the institutional response necessary to prevent Trump and the majority of the Republican Party from trying to reduce the facts to an anecdote taken out of context. The vast majority of Republicans, direct victims of the attack, were absent from the commemoration for fear of snubbing Trump, which has rendered Lincoln’s party unrecognizable.
The assault on the Capitol was an attempted self-coup. This is not an expression lightly. It was a violent rebellion with the unequivocal objective of forcibly subverting the constitutional order and hijacking the institutions to establish a government against the preference of the majority, freely expressed at the polls. Failure does not make it less serious. It is of the utmost importance that President Biden spoke of “armed insurrection” and made the facts clear. Because it’s not about how January 6 should be remembered this year. It is about how it will be remembered a century from now. President Biden was speaking for the story, and he was right in the tone and precision of his speech.
Beyond the theoretical plane, there are concrete executors and instigators. The former will be easier to find than the latter. The Justice Department is looking one by one for all those involved in the assault: there are already 725 defendants and 71 convicted. The power of the American judicial bureaucracy should not be underestimated. It is too early to be frustrated by the lack of a clear indictment against Trump and his entourage. Today it is clear that there was a plan to reverse the election and that is what the investigation should focus on. A special committee of the House of Representatives will establish a public account of the events.
If oblivion or a divided account of what happened is allowed, as Trump claims, the rift that is dangerously opening in the country will never be closed. It depends on whether the assault on the Capitol is remembered as an end, that of Trump’s presidency, or as the beginning of something even more serious.