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Jan. 6 musn't kill the dream we all once shared

Where were you when the Capitol was attacked? My answer: glued to the television, with eyes wide and mouth open.

How could this possibly be happening in our country, I asked myself as I watched horrified and dumbfounded. I’m sure millions of others were asking the same question. The idea that a sitting president would deny his opponent’s election victory and encourage his own supporters to stop the vote-certification process was beyond imagining, except to those ramming the doors, assaulting the cops, breaking the windows and running down hallways, taunting lawmakers and staff with threats of violence.

They looked — and acted — like animals. Who were these beasts — and how dare they?

To the list of infamous days, from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, we now have Jan. 6 — or J6, as right-wing activists have dubbed the insurrection.

Turns out the majority of those arrested and charged were what might be called regular folks, who weren’t part of an organized wing-nut cult. Some of those groups, such as the Proud Boys and neo-Nazis, were represented to be sure. But studies have shown that most of those charged or arrested were plain-old, unaffiliated, random Americans.

And look what happened. And what might have happened if the really bad guys had shown up? My guess is there are some pro-Trump, anti-government folks out there who are sorry they missed the events that day. FOMO — fear of missing out — is not limited to the younger generation. That another uprising could occur thus seems not beyond the realm of possibilities. And though the Capitol Police Department says it’s prepared this time, it also reports threat levels that are “exponentially higher” than last year.

I believe Trump had for a time planned to insert himself into the anniversary. But earlier this week he canceled his Jan. 6 news conference in Palm Beach, Fla., and said he would instead hold a rally in Arizona on Jan 15. There, he will likely continue his contention that he actually won the 2020 election. He didn’t, as courts, counters and capable election officials have supposedly confirmed.

We all know enough about mobs and combustible crowds to understand that it takes only one impatient troublemaker to turn a normal customer waiting line into a stampede or a peaceful gathering into a mob. Something clicks in one person’s brain, a shout goes out, a fever sets in, and the barbarians storm the gates.

Once contagion catches, there’s almost no turning back. At a certain point, even the angry become afraid, stimulating their fight or flight response and flooding all systems with adrenaline. Five people died as a result of Jan. 6, not counting the four officers who subsequently died by suicide. I think we all know we were lucky the number wasn’t higher.

Not so long ago, Americans shared a common understanding of how things should be. We understood — no, we believed as a first principle — that our problems could be fixed with elections. Yet today, 68% of Republicans think the 2020 election was rigged. We celebrated our democratic traditions and the peaceful transfer of power.

Now, a third of Americans think violence against the government is sometimes justified.

Something has happened to us, and we need to figure it out — now.

Then, maybe we could get back to work pursuing and fulfilling the dream we once shared.

Kathleen Parker writes a nationally syndicated column on politics and culture for The Washington Post.

The sweeping radicalism of Mitch McConnell

Democrats intend to bring their voting rights agenda to the Senate floor this month. One bill they’re backing would restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that have been stripped out by the Supreme Court, making that landmark law’s protections against racial discrimination almost impossible to enforce. The other is the Freedom to Vote Act, which would make voting easier and gerrymandering harder, and would also provide new ways to fight misconduct in counting the vote. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has floated a Jan. 17 vote on an exception to Senate rules dubbed a “carve-out” that would give legislation designed to ensure democracy protection from filibusters, meaning that such bills could be considered and passed with simple majority support.

So far, it still seems unlikely that Schumer can find the votes. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who negotiated the Freedom to Vote bill with other Democrats, has been reluctant to support changes to Senate procedures, at least not without bipartisan support that isn’t going to materialize.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell complained that changing the filibuster rules amounts to “genuine radicalism.” Democrats, he said: “Want to turn the Senate into the House.” The question, however, is who the real radicals are.

Senate procedures have already been changed over the last 30 years, and McConnell has been the most important leader in those changes.

Once upon a time — in the 1980s, say — the filibuster was used rarely, mainly to force negotiations.

That’s changed. Since 2009, minority parties have created a true 60-vote Senate, in which everything is filibustered, which means that almost all regular legislation and even most amendments must clear that threshold. The real radicalism is filibustering everything. Especially doing so to kill bills rather than to gain negotiating leverage.

The extraordinary thing isn’t so much that Democrats can’t come up with the votes to change Senate procedures so that voting rights bills can pass with simple majorities, but that Republicans are simply rejecting any election reform at all. What really should be shocking isn’t just Republican opposition, but that there’s not even any hint of a counteroffer. That’s the radicalism: The filibuster used not to negotiate, but to block.

And what are they blocking? The last time the Voting Rights Act was renewed, in 2006, the vote in the Senate was unanimous. Republicans proudly liked to brag that their party was an important part of the coalition that passed the original Voting Rights Act in 1965 over the objections of Southern Democrats. Now, after the Supreme Court has struck down key enforcement provisions, Republicans are simply against repairing it.

The other bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, has plenty of legitimately controversial items in it, including a campaign-finance plan that I’d expect Republicans to oppose. But there’s no alternative Republican voting bill. No offer to, say, add a voter ID provision and subtract out campaign finance and maybe redistricting changes in order to win Republican votes. Nope. They have the filibuster, and they’re going to use it, and that’s the end of the story.

McConnell can say that eliminating the filibuster would be a drastic change. But he — and he’s the one most responsible, even though senators from both parties have gone along with it — has already made today’s Senate almost unrecognizable to anyone who knew it in the 1970s and 1980s.

The best change in the Senate would be to return to a system where filibusters are used rarely, and mainly as bargaining leverage.

But senators seem to have little interest in that kind of reform, and so eventually the filibuster will die and there will be nothing radical about that.

The question now is whether Democrats will start the ball rolling while they could still benefit from it.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy.

It's 2022: An early look at the GOP hopefuls

This midterm election year seems predestined to banish the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. The country senses infirmity in its 79-year-old commander in chief and a new radicalism at the heart of his party — and many worry that our adversaries in China, Russia and Iran sense an opening. Buckle up for 2022; the year in politics is going to be rough, and that’s true even if vaccines and boosters can stay ahead of the variants.

The new year will also see the race for 2024 move into first gear — and beyond.

Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod once proposed that when Americans voted in an open-seat presidential election (and I expect his rule will apply no matter what in 2024), they seek the opposite kind of personality for their next leader. The shadow campaign for the GOP nomination opens this year with a clear front-runner, former president Donald Trump, but he may well choose to preside over the GOP rather than run it. Trump was 70 when he won in 2016; he will be 78 in 2024, and he has watched President Joe Biden age in the White House. Does Trump want to bet that Father Time will skip over him? The indignities of aging in front of the entire world are many, and of the sort Trump is said to hate — the applesauce and pudding jokes — and so I wonder.

The ranks of the top tier among possible GOP presidential nominees, in alphabetical order, are Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

If the world grows even darker and the dangers even more evident, Cotton and Pompeo — two former soldiers — start with some advantages. Cotton can sound like a professor reading Abraham Lincoln’s speech at the Cooper Union, measuring out well-developed arguments rooted in political theory, and displaying an intellectual heft balanced by the experience of leading a platoon of the 101st Airborne division in Baghdad.

Pompeo is the best qualified by experience to deal with the People’s Republic of China, our country’s greatest threat. The senior ranks of the Chinese Communist Party know Pompeo has their number: expansionist, zealous Leninist cadres bent on hegemony, and not just over their neighbors. Great power competition doesn’t faze the top-of-his-class U.S. Military Academy graduate. The former congressman, top U.S. diplomat and CIA director may be the combination America wants after three more years of, well, what 2021 has been.

Cruz has party tradition on his side. He was the GOP runner-up to Trump in 2016, and the GOP has a deep muscle memory of passing the baton to the candidate who has been around the track and won the silver. But that rule applies only when the gold medalist leaves the field and, so far, Trump isn’t disappearing.

DeSantis is the combative populist who has tucked his Harvard law degree (Cotton, Cruz and Pompeo each have one, too) inside his jacket. “Comfortably Smug” is perhaps the most influential of the conservative podcasts, and when its proprietors began referring to the “Free State of Florida,” they gifted DeSantis with a catch phrase of incalculable value. If there’s a pole position, DeSantis has it. (Note: In 2016, that advantage supposedly belonged to then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.)

South Carolina’s Scott is a man of kindness and deep Christian faith — these attributes do not always pair up — and is almost certain to be on the 2024 ticket somewhere. Scott is the promise of reconciliation across parties and colors, which is an almost desperate desire among millions of Americans of both parties. He’s also a gifted orator.

That’s the top tier — and while they sit well below the former president, it’s possible one or more will run whether or not the former president does. Whispers of shocking private polls abound, as they often do at this stage of the race. My bet, with three years to go, is that Trump runs hard.

Just below these five are other familiar names, including both senators from Florida, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Former vice president Mike Pence is beloved by traditional conservatives but hated by the former president’s most fervent supporters. Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and former national security adviser Robert O’Brien hail from central casting, but seem as destined for future Cabinet jobs as Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Kristi Noem of South Dakota.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, increasingly critical of Trump, seems determined to run even if it means a lone, one-on-one battle with Trump.

This race has already begun. The Republican National Committee would make a lot of money by staging early candidate forums featuring some or all of the above contenders. GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel should dictate terms to broadcast partners, and invite four to eight hopefuls to gatherings devoted to flaying Team Biden and underscoring the menace in Asia.

Such orchestrated gatherings would have huge audiences and help every Republican running for Congress in 2022 — and other offices down the ticket.

What is she waiting for?

Hugh Hewitt hosts a nationally syndicated radio show on the Salem Network.