Robert Reich: The Danger of Collective Amnesia

At the risk of being the skunk at the picnic, I feel compelled to warn you that if we forget and move on from the tragedies of this past year, we’re setting ourselves on a dangerous path. Of course I understand the desire to forget all the unpleasantness and start a new chapter. But if we do, we’re inviting greater tragedies in the future. 

Let me remind you: Donald Trump lied about the results of the last election. And then – you remember, don’t you? – he tried to overturn the results.

Trump twisted the arms of state election officials. He held a rally to stop Congress from certifying the election, followed by the violent attack on the Capitol. Five people died. Senators and representatives could have been slaughtered.

Several Republican members of Congress encouraged the attempted coup by joining him in the big lie and refusing to certify the election — even after the mob desecrated the halls of our democracy.

This was in January of this year, yet we seem to be doing everything we can to blot it out of our memory. Meanwhile, those responsible for instigating the attack haven’t been held accountable in any respect — including by the media.

The Washington Post hosted a live video chat with Missouri Republican senator Josh Hawley, a ringleader in the attempt to overturn the results of the election. Hawley had even made a fist-pump gesture toward the mob at the Capitol before the attack.

But the Post billed the interview as being about Hawley’s new book on big tech. It even posted a biography of Hawley that made no mention of Hawley’s sedition, referring instead to his supposed reputation “for taking on the big and the powerful to protect Missouri workers” and as “a fierce defender of the Constitution.”

CBS This Morning interviewed Florida Republican Rick Scott, another senator who tried to overturn the election by not certifying the results. But there was no mention of his sedition, either. The CBS interviewer confined his questions to Biden’s spending plans, which Scott unsurprisingly opposed.

Senators Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also repeatedly appear on major news programs without being questioned about their attempts to undo the results of the election, or their continued promotion of Trump’s lies.

The media is supposed to serve as a crucial check on those in power. But in its breathless desire to cover the “news” it is failing to remind us of our recent past.  

The consequences of this failure are dire. 

Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and that President Biden is not legitimate, is not disappearing. A majority of Republican voters believe him.

That big lie is being used by Republican state legislatures to justify an all-out assault on the right to vote. 

Hours after Florida enacted new voting restrictions, Texas’s Republican-led legislature pushed ahead with its own bill that would make it one of the hardest states in which to cast a ballot.

The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate launched a private recount of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County – farming out 2.1 million ballots to GOP partisans with no experience in ballot counting or election monitoring. At least one person involved in the recount participated in the Capitol attack.

The Republican Party even purged one of its leaders, Wyoming representative Liz Cheney, for telling the truth about the election.

Meanwhile, Republican state legislatures are muscling their way into election administration, as they attempt to dislodge or bully local election officials who have always run our voting systems.

Trump’s big lie will continue to flourish unless the lawmakers who went along with it and have failed to renounce it face real consequences. 

That means no book promotions, no cushy interviews, no guest op-eds in the Sunday paper.

What possible excuse is there for booking them if they have not publicly retracted their election lies? If they must appear, they should be asked if they continue to deny the election results and precisely why. 

It also means a thorough independent 9-11 type inquiry into what happened, whether members of Congress were involved, how Donald Trump and others were involved. 

Republican leaders must not duck this. History is watching. 

They must be held accountable to the truth. Otherwise the trauma of 2020 will return — perhaps in even more terrifying form.

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