Talking Points

Democrats lumping normal Republicans in with Capitol rioters is deepening divisions

A great deal will be said about the anniversary of the Capitol riot, much of it true. The events of last Jan. 6 were embarrassing to the country, reflective of a deeply dysfunctional political culture, and had the potential to be even more deadly and destructive than the melee that transpired. It was fueled by lies about the election that few, if any, leaders in the Republican Party have the credibility to combat effectively, possibly moving the Overton window in a troubling direction.

But the elevation of Jan. 6 into a day of 9/11-like import may obscure as much as clarifies. Applying the war on terror model to domestic political extremism could easily do more to injure civil liberties and ensnare peaceful people with eccentric views than to combat the more dangerous trends in American politics, especially at a time when fact-checkers and gatekeepers are frequently wrong. Conflating legitimate debates about mail-in voting and ballot harvesting with hyperbole about voter fraud, bizarre conspiracy theories about Venezuela, and falsehoods about voting machines may serve the interests of the Democratic Party, but not our troubled polity.

The GOP's inability to reckon with former President Donald Trump plays an undeniable role in why commemorations of Jan. 6 take on such a partisan hue. But voters may also sense the hypocrisy in pundits' seemingly selective rejection of questioning election results or political violence, which does as much as any Trump tweet to undermine calls for unity on this day. There are voters who would never storm a government building or assault a police officer who nevertheless view the conflation of normal debates about electoral procedure with violent extremism as an attempt to discredit their politics, undertaken in part by a president who won a mere 51.3 percent of the popular vote.

To many who opposed Trump, and a nontrivial number of people who reluctantly cast ballots for him, Jan. 6 will forever be seen as the culmination of his inability to detangle his personal political interests from the public good in a way that spoke to his fundamental fitness for higher office. It was also a day that reminded us words have consequences.

But the brokenness in our politics transcends any one man or faction, and pretending otherwise will do little to calm the passions that, for several hours last year, transformed the people's house into a house of horrors.