When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt called it a day that would “live in infamy.”
The phrase that wartime president coined would later be applied to Sept. 11, 2001, the day when the worst terrorist attacks on American soil were perpetrated.
A third day in our nation’s history — Jan. 6, 2021 — has more recently merited that ignominious distinction.
A year ago on that day, the U.S. Capitol and more than two centuries of an American tradition were violently assaulted. On that day, a mob of hundreds tried, with the encouragement of a sitting president, to stop the certification of his winning challenger. On that day, the expectation was lost — perhaps forever — that no matter how close or how divisive a presidential election campaign might be, if the incumbent or the incumbent’s party were defeated, there would be a peaceful transfer of power.
There are some — not just Donald Trump and his stalwart supporters, but even some congressional Republicans who feared for their own safety that day — who are trying to whitewash what occurred. They say it wasn’t really all that dangerous, even though five people died and hundreds were injured, including scores of law enforcement personnel, during the attempted insurrection. They say it was a righteous protest of a dishonest election result.
Those are all fabrications that will not survive as long as there are history books and newspapers and other media outlets worth their salt. No matter who says it or how often, such blatantly dishonest revisionism will be relegated to the fringes. With time, the Jan. 6 quasi-deniers will be taken no more seriously than those who still call the American Civil War the War of Northern Aggression and who claim the conflict that took an estimated 750,000 soldiers’ lives was about states’ rights, not slavery.
Time and history will also be unkind to those in power who, because of their political cowardice, are countenancing such lies by their silence or their own duplicity. They will not be able to say they didn’t know the truth. Many were there when it happened, and the rest soon will learn what a monthslong investigation by a House panel, headed by Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, has uncovered.
On Jan. 6, American democracy was under attack. A defeated president was trying to retain power, unleashing the furies after all other efforts — baseless lawsuits, badgering state election officials and arm-twisting his own vice president — failed to overturn the result. That Trump watched the chaos from the safety of the White House rather than marching with the mob that descended on the Capitol does not exonerate his responsibility for inciting a riot.
There is widespread speculation that Trump will run again in 2024. If he does, it’s possible that the American electorate is divided enough and forgetful enough that he could win. But even such an outcome won’t change the truth of what took place on Jan. 6, 2021.
Facts are stubborn things, as the saying goes. You can deny them. You can ignore them. You can try to wish them away. But eventually they will win out. And they will win out even in an electronic age where it’s become exceedingly simple and common to peddle a lie.