A full year has passed since our nation suffered a historic assault on our democratic republic. The peaceful transition of power is a hallmark of American democracy, and when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, they did more than violently attempt to prevent the certification of what has been proven to be a legitimate, free and fair election. They undermined the very integrity of our democracy, deepened the divides between us, and displayed the real danger of misinformation.
Most importantly, they showed our country just how fragile our democracy can be, and why all elected officials have a responsibility to rise above politics, demand accountability and speak truth — especially when it’s politically tough — to protect it.
The insurrection of Jan. 6, of course, did not happen by accident. Years of stoked resentments, distortions and lies spread by partisan news networks and on the internet laid the groundwork. Ironically, at a time when we have quicker and easier access to information than ever, misinformation has twisted our politics and been weaponized by opportunists seeking political and financial gain.
But only by officials legitimizing fringe conspiracy theories — either by embracing them in a dangerous game of politics, or by ignoring them and minimizing their effect — do we arrive at a point when supporters of the former president were willing to launch a deadly assault, including sacrificing their own lives, for a lie.
The danger of Jan. 6 didn’t end last year. A coup attempt that inches us further toward authoritarianism continues. The former president and his enablers still persist with baseless claims of voter fraud. Some connected to the plot have flagrantly refused to respond to congressional subpoenas. Elected officials around the nation have also been complicit, enacting laws restricting voting rights and replacing impartial elections officials with partisan appointees. And the voices we most need largely remain silent.
We are grateful to the U.S. House of Representatives and to the federal agencies working to hold accountable those responsible — both those who stormed the Capitol and those who worked behind the scenes or publicly to incite them. But we all bear some responsibility to create the change that is necessary to stop the crumbling of our democracy.
It’s incumbent upon all of us — and particularly leaders and influencers — to take responsibility for our actions and words. We all must stop spreading false narratives for politically expedient reasons. Creating or even just sharing explosive content that cannot be verified is irresponsible — and as we’ve seen, dangerous.
We also must seek opportunities to step out of our social circles and truly listen to individuals from other parts of the political spectrum. When you hear only the messages of like-minded people, you lose valuable perspective, and inevitably become blind to the reason, and even the humanity, of those with whom you disagree politically.
True leaders must responsibly use their power, including the power of communication, and not stoop to using manipulative tactics to further our goals. Restoring — or more accurately, earning the public’s trust — will require intentional work. Those of us at the state level are particularly well-positioned to do that work, since we often know a great many of our constituents personally. Every one of us — Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike — must do his or her part to distance ourselves from inflammatory rhetoric and lies perpetuated to divide Americans.
Because protecting our democracy cannot be a partisan issue.
Rhode Island state Senator Dawn Euer is a Democrat representing Senate District 13. R.I. state Representative Brandon Potter is a Democrat representing House District 16.