Seventy-nine years ago last month, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in an unprovoked attack on America.
The nation was never the same after that day. President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress to declare war, drawing the United States into World War II. In one of the most quoted lines in presidential history, Roosevelt remarked that December 7, 1941 – the day of the attack – was a “date which will live in infamy.”
One could argue that January 6, 2021 is the 21st-century equivalent of that day – except instead of a foreign power attacking the United States, it was an attack from within.
For months, the defeated outgoing president attempted a soft coup, hoping to overturn a free and fair presidential election through frivolous lawsuits and other machinations that one could only dream up in a poorly-written fiction novel. Trump bullied and threatened state officials – many of them Republican allies – to do his dirty work for him. Thankfully, these efforts went nowhere; Republican state officials, like Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, held their ground.
When those attempts failed – including a futile effort to have Vice President Mike Pence disregard the will of voters and the certifications of several states – the desperate aspiring dictator turned to his supporters in a long-shot push to cling on to power. At a rally filled with lies where he trashed his own vice president and allies in Congress, Trump riled the crowd into a frenzy and directed his supporters to head to the Capitol.
The mob breached the Capitol’s inexcusably (and perhaps intentionally) lax security, damaged federal property, and forced lawmakers convened in a joint session of Congress into hiding. At the end of the historic day, five people were dead, including a police officer.
The consequences of this day will not be known for some time, but it is safe to say that – like after the attack on Pearl Harbor – our country has changed forever. What happens in the days, weeks, and months to come – including decisions on whether to invoke the 25th Amendment or impeach the president – will be consequential. The legal and professional consequences for the insurrectionists, co-conspirators, and their enablers in Congress and elsewhere may well determine whether there are future attempts to violently thwart American democracy.
If this brazen attack on our democracy goes unanswered in the waning days of the Trump presidency and the early days of the Biden presidency, there almost assuredly will be a repeat of this day not far down the line – and that coup attempt may very well succeed.