What is the meaning of #January6th – what is its place in American history?

As of right now, this is an entirely open question. The answer will depend on what happens next. This captures the current moment precisely: American democracy at a crossroads. A reflection: 1/
We now have a fairly clear picture of the attack of January 6 and the events leading up to it. We know that it was not a “spontaneous” protest, but a deliberate assault on democracy, organized and led by far-right militants and white nationalist groups. 2/ nyti.ms/3AfdRZB
The assault on the Capitol must be seen in the context of a larger attempt to disrupt the transfer of power and nullify the result of a democratic election – an attempted (self-)coup, deliberately planned and strategized by Donald Trump and people in his orbit. 3/
The extent to which Trump and those around him had made a violent attack an integral part of their strategy is not entirely clear yet, it seems to me; but in any case, Trump incited the violence and then, when it happened, watched for hours and did nothing to stop it. 4/
Those are the facts of what happened on #January6th. But the question of what it all means, how it will be remembered, and what its historical significance will be is not one that can be answered based on those facts yet. It will be answered by what comes next. 5/
Was #January6th just a miserably unsuccessful coup attempt, a desperate, last-ditch effort by delusional reactionaries? Or was it an important milestone in America’s ongoing and actually accelerating descent into authoritarianism? It is worth grappling with either scenario. 6/
Let’s start with the best-case scenario. No, the country is not going to unite in shock and horror over the events – a clear majority of Republicans considers Biden illegitimate and the attack at least somewhat justified, and let’s not pretend that’s going to change. 7/
But even though it hasn’t happened yet, maybe January 6 could still galvanize the pro-democracy forces in America? Get more people – starting with the leaders of the Democratic Party – to grapple honestly with the anti-democratic radicalization of the Republican Party? 8/
In this scenario, the Democratic establishment finally shakes its near-indestructible belief that a return to normalcy is imminent, overcomes the longing for “bipartisanship,” accepts the fact that the Republican Party has made its choice: against democracy. 9/
Democrats finally prioritize the protection of American democracy, they commit to actually democratizing the system and getting rid of its many anti-democratic distortions. And other elite institutions, tasked with defending democracy, finally accept their responsibility. 10/
As more people in positions of influence and power demonstrate that they are as committed to preserving democracy as Republicans are to abolishing it, a pro-democratic popular mobilization follows and puts enormous pressure on the remaining Democratic holdouts. 11/
In this scenario, January 6 is the beginning of the intensified push towards finally realizing the promise of multiracial, pluralistic democracy. Is it likely? I’m more pessimistic now than I have ever been over the past few years. But it is at least somewhat realistic (?). 12/
There is another scenario though – one in which the heroes of January 6 are not the police officers who risked everything to save democracy, but the “patriots” who stormed the Capitol, who answered the call and would not accept the death of “real” America without a fight. 13/
In this scenario, Republicans and conservative activists do not consider January 6 as the catastrophic end of the Trumpian experiment – but come to regard it as a trial run, a blueprint. Oh wait, that’s not a future scenario, that’s just where we already are. 14/
In this scenario, as January 6 fails to galvanize the pro-democracy forces and Democrats remain reluctant to make it the central issue, Republicans manage to run out the clock and take back the House in November – there will be no federal legislation to protect democracy. 15/
While they obstruct Democratic governance in Washington, on the state level, wherever they are in charge, Republicans escalate their authoritarian onslaught and succeed in establishing one-party-rule systems in which they can hold on to power without having majority support. 16/
With that, Republicans have already managed to turn the country into a dysfunctional pseudo-democratic system at the national level while leaving it divided on the state level - into democracy in about half the states, and stable reactionary minoritarian rule in the others. 17/
Republicans also understand that they have to maneuver themselves into a better position to execute the January 6 blueprint more effectively in the future: They escalate their election subversion efforts up and down the country – an all-out assault on state election systems. 18/
They manage to purge election commissions and replace everyone who is a threat to Republican rule because they have demonstrated even a shred of allegiance to democracy and the rule of law by Trumpist loyalists. They are close now. 19/
Donald Trump is soon crowned the Republican Party’s next presidential nominee: The base wants him, GOP elites stand with him, the American Right in general is united behind the Trumpist political project. They are ready. 20/
As the institutions that are tasked with upholding democracy and sustaining a democratic political culture do not possess the strength and/or will to mount an effective defense against Trump, it has become impossible to halt the accelerating slide into authoritarianism. 21/
In this scenario, January 6 is a harbinger of things to come – an important milestone in the quest to prevent the country from ever becoming a functioning multiracial, pluralistic democracy; not a failure, but a crucible, a rallying cry for defenders of “real” America. 22/
I do not dare assess the exact probabilities of either of these scenarios – or the many other possible future fates of American democracy – actually becoming reality. The important part is: It could absolutely happen here. It is already happening. 23/
“But history will judge…” No. Stop it. That’s not how it works. What “history” will have to say about #January6th and today’s Republican Party depends to a large degree on what happens here, now. “History” is not coming to the rescue of American democracy. That’s up to us. 24/
Whatever “history” will have to say about the present won’t be the result of some higher power making a moral judgement. There is always a chance that the “history” future generations will teach might differ significantly from the judgment we desire. 25/
There is a version of the future in which “history” presents Ashli Babbitt as a martyr. If the ongoing authoritarian assault on American democracy succeeds, the insurrectionists of January 6 – not the police officers defending the Capitol - will become heroes and role models. 26/
This is not just a matter of the victors writing “history” – although there is that too. If democracy ends in 2022, or 2024, or soon thereafter, then even from a purely analytical standpoint, January 6 will have to be judged as an important step in its ultimate demise. 27/
What is the meaning of #January6th? What is its place in American history? We don’t know yet. For now, it is crucial that we accept and grapple with the fact that those are very much open questions – and that we are quickly running out of time to force the answers we desire. /end

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More from @tzimmer_history

7 Jan
As January 6 comes to an end, I am filled with a sense of admiration and gratitude for the many academic observers of American history, politics, society, and culture who have put themselves out there, offered their perspective, and for whom this week must have been stressful.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pretend we have the hardest or most important jobs in the world; we don’t. But please, if you’ll indulge me: I’ve only done a few media appearances and interviews this week, a fraction of what many others are doing - and I’m pretty exhausted.
For the vast majority of academic observers, all these public efforts and appearances - while certainly welcome as opportunities to present our work - come on top of the core responsibilities and duties. There’s a syllabus to design, a book to write, a paper to grade…
Read 11 tweets
6 Jan
Went on the @KreuzundFlagge podcast for a conversation about the past and present of U.S. democracy and what is animating the anti-democratic radicalization of the American Right.

I am more pessimistic now than I was a year ago - and unfortunately, @ardenthistorian agrees…
This is part 1 of a 2-part conversation. Here is an incomplete list of the topics we discussed - and I’ll include a few links to previous reflections on the state of American politics to provide some more evidence and receipts (in English):
Why Donald Trump is the favorite to be the next Republican presidential candidate, as the GOP and the American Right in general are basically unified behind him and, more importantly, his political project…
Read 10 tweets
5 Jan
I’m grateful to the @nytimes editorial board for publishing this. After all, the key question in America today is whether or not enough people in positions of influence and power are as committed to preserving democracy as Republicans are to abolishing it.
However, it should also be noted that the NYT - just like other mainstream media outlets - is often complicit in obscuring the anti-democratic radicalization of the Republican Party and the acute threat to American democracy emanating from the Right:
By dissolving everything into a tale of “partisanship” and “polarization” that always implicates #BothSides, thus upholding a “neutrality” dogma that provides cover for extremism and leads to severe distortions…
Read 8 tweets
31 Dec 21
Don’t frame this as “oh, the pandemic is so politicized…”

What’s on display here is the radicalization of the Republican Party. There is no equivalent on the “Left” to an official GOP account propagating vaccine misinformation, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands.
The tweet has since been deleted - but there’s not going to be an apology or any kind of substantive retraction, of course, because Republicans either actually believe this nonsense or consider this type of bad-faith propaganda a legitimate tactic in the war against the Left.
Is there a line? Anything that’s *not* permitted? Anything that’s so extreme, so dangerous that it’s not justified in defense against what they see as the radically Un-American leftist threat? Republicans are giving us their answer every day - and that should terrify us.
Read 6 tweets
30 Dec 21
I get the impulse to just ignore Marjorie Taylor Greene. And if what’s on display here were just the extremist nonsense of a fringe figure, it’d be best to do exactly that. This, however, isn’t just Greene’s extremism - it is increasingly that of the Republican Party itself.
The fact that the Republican Party embraces and elevates Greene and other extremists like her constitutes an acute danger to democracy. We can’t allow ourselves to become numb to how bizarre, how radical, how dangerous these developments are.
And let’s not be lulled into a false sense of security by the clownishness, the ridiculousness of it all. Some of history’s most successful authoritarians were considered goons and buffoons by their contemporaries - until they became goons and buffoons in power.
Read 4 tweets
29 Dec 21
“Parents,” “working class,” “Christians” - in the American political discourse, whenever such categories are used without any qualifier, they basically just mean “white.” Because “white” is still widely seen as normal, as the norm: as what really counts and defines the nation.
People are not necessarily doing it deliberately. When called out, Todd immediately concedes the point. But that only reinforces how pervasive this idea of “normal” America as *white America* still is in the collective imaginary: It just comes naturally to Chuck Todd.
This is important because it fundamentally structures the conversation. Just like @nhannahjones says, Todd’s framing privileges the interests and sensibilities of *white* parents by elevating them to the status of “regular” (read: justified, legitimate) parental concerns.
Read 13 tweets

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