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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

January 5, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

On January 6, 2021 I was on deadline, glued to CNN, waiting for the certification of the 2020 election to go through so I could write the story. It was a formality, the certification. But since the election, President Trump had been mostly in seclusion, refusing to concede the election. The GOP had, for the most part, followed his lead, refusing to acknowledge that Joe Biden was the president-elect. It was disturbing and ahistorical, but on Jan, 6, it was about to be ended — the certification would make Biden’s win official, regardless of Trump’s petty silence.

Pennsylvania had played a pivotal role in ending the presidency of Donald Trump. Philadelphia had won the state for Biden-Harris, allowing Biden the lead, 50.01% over Trump’s 48.84%. So when Pennsylvania cast its votes for certification on Jan. 6, it would be a declarative moment.

Back on Nov. 7, 2020, reporters had converged on Philadelphia as the ballot tally continued under the watchful eye of then-Commissioner of Elections Al Schmidt. The importance of the vote in the city was evident by threats to poll workers and Schmidt himself. As Schmidt told CBS’s “60 Minutes,” he had received so many death threats he had to get security for his wife and children. “From the inside looking out, it feels all very deranged,” he told the news magazine.

Deranged it was. I’d detailed the role of Pennsylvania for months for numerous outlets and explored how Pennsylvanians — not just Schmidt — were combating voter suppression from the GOP and even Trump himself.

But on Nov. 7, 2020, an unusually warm and brilliantly sunny day, CNN announced that Biden had won the state and was thus president-elect. There was literal dancing in the streets. Despite the pandemic, despite months of protests over police violence and curfews imposed by the Mayor, despite four years of increasingly authoritarian and punishing policy from the Trump administration, the end was near. Biden-Harris had won, Trump had lost and a new day was soon to dawn.

I had written hundreds of articles about the Trump administration and dozens on the 2020 election. Nov. 7, 2020 felt like a day to exhale after holding our collective breath for a year, a day that would change the course of history for the better for all Americans, but particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Then came Jan. 6, 2021.

It was surreal then and remains surreal today at the one-year anniversary. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called that day — Dec. 7, 1941 — “a day that will live in infamy.”

That is how I view Jan. 6, 2021: A day that will live in infamy. Watching the attack on the Capitol take place in real time on TV was the most frightening event since 9/11. And just as unfathomable. Growing up in Philadelphia, having a grandfather who headed the Society for the Preservation of Landmarks and the Pennsylvania Historical Society, majoring in history in college, reporting on politics in and around Washington for over 30 years, during which I had walked those Capitol hallways many times, I have a keen sense of American history. It’s in my blood and it’s my passion.

What was happening was terrorism of the sort I had only covered in other countries. The screaming, mayhem, rampaging, violence; the men climbing the walls of the Capitol, Trump flags waving like a takeover by an insurgent, domestic, ISIS-like mob; it all had a medieval aspect to it that sent a frisson down my spine. The chants through the Capitol of “hang Mike Pence,” and “kill Nancy Pelosi” were like scenes from a political thriller. The make-shift gallows erected on the Capitol lawn with the noose swaying in the breeze was a grim backdrop to those calls to hang Pence, there at the Capitol with his family for the formal transition of power as he certified the vote.

How was this happening in the U.S. over a simple certification — a mere formality — of the vote? How were there men defecating in the halls of the Capitol, banging on doors, attacking Capitol police, waving rope and zip-ties to take hostages?

Throughout the year since the insurrection and attempted coup against the American government, devastating details have been revealed about that day. The range of Trump’s attempts to overturn the free and fair 2020 election have been exposed by a multiplicity of sources, including via secretaries of state in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Various books by Trump loyalists have illumined just how involved Trump was in the events of January 6. Subpoenas from the January 6 Committee have elicited documents that explicate in chilling detail how involved Trump was and how even those closest to him, including his oldest son Don Jr. and daughter Ivanka, had called for him to do something to stop the attack on the Capitol.

But he didn’t. We now know Trump watched the attack avidly on TV, seemingly excited by what he viewed as a defense of his indefensible position that he’d won an election he very clearly lost by seven million votes.

On New Year’s Day the New York Times published a chilling 1,500 word editorial titled “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now.” It was a call to action and to accountability.

The lack of accountability worries the Times; it worries me; and it should worry every American. It should especially concern those of us in marginalized communities and marginalized cities like Philadelphia, where 70% of the citizenry is people of color, a third are living at or below the poverty level and one in six identifies as LGBTQ.

If you think the manner in which this country addresses January 6th doesn’t impact you, think again. On January 4, 2021 the election for Speaker of the House was held. Nancy Pelosi won over Kevin McCarthy by a mere eight votes. On Jan. 6 House Minority Leader McCarthy led 145 House Republicans in refusing to certify the election.

What would have happened had he been Speaker? What would McCarthy have done? In the year since the insurrection, McCarthy has continued his fealty to Trump and refused a bipartisan call for that January 6 House investigation. The same Republican leadership that held 10 hearings on Benghazi refused to hold one on an attack on American democracy.

Take that in.

If Democrats lose the 2022 midterms, McCarthy will be Speaker and the 2024 presidential election will be at risk.

On Jan. 4 McCarthy railed against the Voting Rights Act. On Nov. 19, 2021, McCarthy gave the longest House floor speech in history to delay Biden’s Build Back Better vote. McCarthy’s agenda is clear.

On Jan. 4 Sen. Ted Cruz, who also refused to certify the election and who intends to run for president in 2024, said that he will move to impeach Biden should Republicans win in 2022.

This is where we are a year later. On Jan. 5th, 2022, 62 Pennsylvanians were awaiting sentencing in the insurrection. Over 700 people have been charged. These are massive numbers. Most of Trump’s inner circle has been subpoenaed. The January 6 Committee is preparing a summary for Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But as we head into midterms with a pivotal Senate run in Pennsylvania and an equally critical gubernatorial race, nothing has been resolved about that day that will live in infamy. Former VP Pence recently referred to it as “one day in January” even though he and his family could have lost their lives.

A Dec. 30, 2021 poll showed only 21% of Republicans believe that Biden won 2020. The rest believe that it was a stolen election. GOP members of Congress perpetuate that Big Lie. And white nationalist groups — all of which are virulently anti-LGBTQ and harrowingly racist — that were involved in the insurrection continue to gain traction.

The country is in a cold Civil War. January 6 was the opening salvo. If Democrats lose 2022, that day may look mild in comparison with what comes next. We can’t be complacent. We can’t forget. It was indeed a day that will live in infamy — and we must ensure that it never, ever is repeated.

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