George Will: I'd like to see January 6 burned into the American mind as firmly as 9/11

He should have chosen a different analogy, as people are losing their minds on social media over the fact that he’d dare compare 3,000 Americans being slaughtered to the Capitol riot. What a grotesque moral equivalence!

But I don’t understand him to be drawing a moral equivalence, any more than I would if he’d said that 9/11 and the Kennedy assassination were both grievous national traumas. His point was that the insurrection should shock the country’s civic conscience the way 9/11 or JFK’s murder shocked its moral conscience and sense of invincibility. None of those scars are the same, but they’re all scars, and they all run deep.

At least, they should run deep.

Analogizing to the assassination would have been better. In both cases, outside agents used violence to try to influence who occupied the presidency. Oswald targeted the sitting president for death, the insurrectionists tried to block the incoming president from having his victory certified. Oswald succeeded, the insurrectionists failed. But they got pretty close, 60 seconds or so, to having a chance to assassinate the sitting vice president of the United States before he could certify Biden’s win. And some who were in the building seemed to have that on their minds.

Americans should be irate, Will believes. They should be galvanized to see pitiless justice done to those who would dare try to overturn an election by force and those in the political class who incited them in a way they haven’t been galvanized since 9/11 or JFK. A half-assed putsch is still a putsch and the world’s greatest democracy should be ruthless about putsches.

But Americans aren’t uniformly irate. In fact, they can’t even agree on who was primarily responsible:

Fifty-four percent of Republicans at least somewhat agree that the Capitol riot was led by left-wingers hoping to make Trump look bad. (Nearly the same number, 53 percent, believe Trump is the “true president” right now.) Of course, if left-wingers had actually led the insurrection, the politics of the January 6 commission in Congress would be scrambled. The reason all Democrats are for the commission and nearly all Republicans are against it is because both sides in Congress know which who was responsible, and also know that the more investigation is done, the clearer that’ll become.

Will’s point, simplified, is “Where’s the outrage?” He made a poor analogy in service to that point but don’t miss the forest for the trees. Where is the outrage? Why are “stop the steal” enthusiasts running for statewide office instead of exiting public life in disgrace, newly unelectable from coast to coast?

I’ll leave you with Liz Cheney, Trump’s biggest antagonist in the GOP, being put on the spot by Axios reporter Jonathan Swan. Do you support the spate of election reform laws that Republican-run states are passing, he asked her? Sure, Cheney said. But how can you do that knowing that those laws are being driven by the same “stop the steal” propaganda that led to the insurrection which she’s denounced repeatedly, he counters? For Cheney, each law has to be considered on its merits. Does the Georgia law actually restrict voting in ways tailored to meet the concerns of Republicans who believe the 2020 election was rigged? Not really, no. Earlier drafts of the law did but it got watered down during the legislative process. For Swan, though, you can’t separate the impetus for the law from its content. Clearly Republican lawmakers are fiddling with their states’ election rules because Trump seeded a belief on the right that he couldn’t have lost unless some procedural chicanery was afoot, and now state legislatures need to feed that appetite. So in that sense, by endorsing these laws, Cheney herself is subtly echoing Trump’s claim that Biden’s win was defective in some way. Ironic.