To function as intended, American democracy requires a healthy two-party political system offering a competing set of ideas and principles. Right now, that is not happening. The Democratic Party runs the levers of government in Washington, D.C., while the Republican Party is stuck in a civil war centered around the events of Jan. 6.
Before the GOP can offer a compelling alternative to the Democratic status quo, it must confront the deadly events of that day. The healing process starts with an independent, bipartisan commission to uncover the facts of those events, and that is why I am urging my Republican colleagues to get behind such an effort.
The horrifying images of Jan. 6 are forever seared into the memory of Americans. Watching the walls of the US Capitol — the people’s house — breached by a mob of unlawful rioters is not something we are ever supposed to see. They are scenes reserved for action movies, dictatorships, and banana republics — not the United States of America.
Immediately, I was taken back to my days as a US senator working alongside many of the people whose lives were endangered. Throughout our nation’s history, the Capitol has been a symbol of stability and the epicenter of our representative government.
On Jan. 6, those principles were cast aside. It was clear that the rioters were armed, dangerous, and determined to wreak havoc on America’s monument of government. They were not part of, as Republican Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia said last week, a “normal tourist visit.”
To be sure, Republican wariness of any commission being pushed by partisan Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is understandable. For the effort to succeed, it must be a serious-minded, fact-finding mission — not politically motivated grandstanding. But under the leadership of Republican Representative John Katko of New York, who negotiated and supported the bill, the GOP sought — and received — important concessions, including an equal partisan split and influence over subpoena power. The commission is not perfect — nothing is when the other party runs the government — but that should not halt all progress.
Failing to move past Jan. 6 will cast a shadow over many of the legitimate accomplishments of the Trump administration. As Donald Trump’s appointed ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, I saw firsthand how his hard-line stance toward China made a difference, especially in the vast territories of the Indo-Pacific. In fact, the Biden administration has kept in place Trump’s tariffs on China in order to strengthen America’s position in trade talks. Similarly, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was another shared policy of both Trump and Biden.
Above all else, Republicans must be crystal clear that the rule of law matters. The insurrection was the abhorrent exception, and in no way the norm. In my new role as the dean of New England Law Boston, I encourage students to respect their peers’ conflicting viewpoints, but we teach them that the law is the ultimate authority. It is a lesson that elected leaders must adhere to as well.
The list of challenges facing our country right now is long and complex: a post-COVID reopening, fears about inflation, soaring energy prices, and the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip. These are complicated issues without easy solutions, and they require input and leadership from the Republican Party.
But to offer a way forward now or in the future, we must put the past to rest. That starts with a full, fair, and bipartisan commission into the events of Jan. 6.
Scott Brown represented Massachusetts in the US Senate from 2010 to 2013, served as the ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa from 2017 to 20201, and is currently the president, CEO, and dean of New England Law Boston.