A national day of infamy, half remembered

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NEW YORK (AP) – Under a pale winter light and glare from television cameras, it seemed hard not to see the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol for what it was. The violent storming of the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump determined to upset the election of Joe Biden was clear as day: democracy under siege, broadcast live in real time.

Yet a year later, when it comes to a time when you were in American history, there is a long way to achieve national consensus.

A Quinnipiac poll found that 93% of Democrats saw this as an attack on the government, but only 29% of Republicans agreed. A poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 4 in 10 Republicans remember the attack – in which five people died – as violent, while 9 in 10 Democrats do.

Such a disparity in memory may be inevitable in our hyper-polarized politics, but it is striking given the sharpness of January 6 then and immediately after. Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Said at the time that “the president bears responsibility” for the attacks. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Then majority leader, said, “They tried to disrupt our democracy. They missed. ”

But since that day, separate versions – one factual, one fanciful – have set in. The Capitol Riot – the violent culmination of an attempt to delegitimize the 2020 election and block its certification – has turned into a partisan “Rashomon,” the classic Japanese murder film told from varying perspectives and contradictory. Indeed, the act of remembering can be a highly mercurial thing, especially when deeply held political views are involved.

“We continue to use terms like post-factual, but it almost feels like there’s national psychosis or amnesia about what happened a year ago,” Charles Sykes said. , a former conservative Wisconsin radio host and founder of The Bulwark website. “It’s not just that we are two nations. It is as if we are living on two different reality planets when it comes to the memory of January 6th.

Nations remember the way people do: imperfectly. Neuroscientist Lisa Genova, author of “Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting,” describes how even the most vivid memories are altered each time they are revisited. An original memory is replaced by version 2.0, version 3.0 and above.

“Outside influences can creep in whenever we revisit and recall a memory of what happened. So for these collective memories, we have a lot of chances to revisit them, ”explains Genova. “Depending on your political perspective, the news channels you watch, what that meant to you, that memory is going to have a different slant depending on the story you tell yourself.”

FILE – Violent insurgencies loyal to President Donald Trump attempt to break through a police barrier on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 6, 2021. (AP Photo / Julio Cortez, File)(Julio Cortez | AP)

And a lot of people worked hard to erase the memory of January 6th. Representative Andrew S. Clyde, R-Ga., Described the headquarters as “a normal sightseeing visit”. Representative Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Claimed the rioters were left-wing activists “masquerading as Trump supporters.” Trump continued to insist that the election – Biden won a large majority, with little evidence of fraud – was the real insurgency.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson attempted to portray the attack on Capitol Hill as a “false flag” operation orchestrated by the FBI. Carlson created a series about the riot that aired on Fox News’ subscription streaming service.

To counter such false claims, other documentary projects have attempted to capture January 6 in a rigorous and methodical manner. Jamie Roberts’ HBO documentary “Four Hours at the Capitol” was motivated in part to firmly establish a visual timeline of that day, with the rampage following Trump’s incitement to his followers to “fight like hell.” .

Roberts interviewed witnesses and participants. Some members of the crowd praised her film only to complain later after seeing Carlson’s series.

“People who were in the movie texted me saying, ‘Why the hell didn’t you put this in your movie? You are liars, ”says Roberts. “What I was hoping for with the project was to bring together some very concrete and quick facts with people who can tell the story from a witness’s perspective. But for some people, it still isn’t going to reach them.

Alexander Keyssar, professor of history and social policy at Harvard and author of “Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?” Believes that a full-fledged commission of inquiry, like the one that followed the September 11 attacks, could have fostered more national consensus on January 6. In May, Senate Republicans used their obstructionist power to block the creation of such a commission. (A House committee is due to release some of the findings of its six-month investigation soon.)

Instead, many Trump supporters have embraced the former president’s denial in the 2020 election. Over the past year, Republicans have passed dozens of laws in 19 states to restrict voting. More electoral battles are looming midway through 2022 and beyond.

“It’s obviously dangerous because it becomes a precedent,” Keyssar said of the Capitol riot. “It has become a prism through which events are seen. The prism for a lot of Republican adherents is that you can’t trust the election result. If you cannot trust the election result, that will be the case in the future as well. It becomes, as the great historian Bernard Bailyn said, “a grammar of thought”.

Instead of stepping back into the past as an unnatural threat to the heart of American democracy, the story of the Capitol Riot is not yet fully written. Some projects are in progress. To tell the story of January 6, the Capitol Historical Society creates an oral history. Some of the stories – such as those of staff members who have since left government and returned home – are particularly haunting for company president Jane L. Campbell.

During this time, the Capitol remains closed to the public. Where visits regularly paraded, only people with an appointment can now enter.

“When people say ‘Oh, it’s never been this bad’, well, we’ve had a civil war. It was bad. It was really bad, ”says Campbell. “But during the Civil War, Lincoln made the decision to finish the dome of the Capitol. We tell this story a hundred times.

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Follow AP screenwriter Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.



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