Memories are short, attention spans even shorter.
And on a balmy June night it might be hard to remember a blustery January day — a day when this country came as close as it ever has to losing its grip on the democracy that has sustained it for nearly two and a half centuries.
Reminding Americans just how serious the January 6, 2021, attack not just on the Capitol but on the very heart of our democracy is the task that begins with a prime time hearing Thursday by the House committee assigned to investigate that event — and the days leading up to it.
Connecting the dots so that there can be no mistake that the breach of the Capitol, the assault on a legal proceeding of Congress, and the mayhem and threat to life that occurred that day was no random riot but rather a well-planned effort to halt the peaceful transition of power — that is job No. 1 for the committee. Persuading the persuadable that this was a criminal act is critical in the days ahead. So, too, is laying out the case for the Biden Justice Department that this conspiracy is one that cries out for prosecution that reaches the top of that food chain, and not just footsoldiers like members of the far-right Proud Boys group who were indicted on sedition charges Monday afternoon.
“The committee has found evidence of concerted planning and premeditated activity,” Representative Jamie Raskin, a committee member said in a Washington Post Live interview Monday. “The idea that all of this was just a rowdy demonstration that spontaneously got a little out of control is absurd. You don’t almost knock over the US government by accident.”
Earlier on post-election, President Trump and his team “were trying to materialize votes that didn’t exist and destroy votes that did exist,” Raskin added. “And when all of that didn’t work then they moved on to other plans, including a plan that his disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was involved in to get the military to seize the election machinery and rerun the election.”
Although the committee has been rather tight-lipped about the witnesses it will actually call during six planned hearings, it is expected to show video interviews with Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner as it attempts to piece together the events of that day and the days leading up to it.
Raskin noted that perhaps the most candid and valuable material came from junior staffers who came forward. They include an aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson, who during her more than 20 hours of depositions has reportedly provided testimony about who her boss met with and when and the level of his involvement in plans to delay the Jan. 6 Joint Session of Congress. She also told investigators that Meadows was warned of the potential for violence on that day.
Many of the bits and pieces of this saga have been out there for days or even months — like the very real threat to the life of Vice President Mike Pence and the pressure put on him to halt the certification of votes. But they will remain bits and pieces in the public’s mind without a coherent effort to build and to prove the case that the desired result was a coup. And at the heart of that effort was the one man who stood to benefit — Donald J. Trump.
Tinkering with the laws that might prevent the next would-be despot from misusing them — including the 1807 Insurrection Act, the laws that govern the counting of electoral votes, perhaps even the Electoral College system itself — would be valuable topics for discussion when the committee issues its final report later.
But that is a matter for another day. The issue that must remain at center stage for the committee right now is to make the case that there was indeed a conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election, a conspiracy that reached the highest levels of government up to and including the president himself — to make the case so convincingly that even Republicans will no longer feel compelled to defend its chief architect.
In the end, that’s a case that the Justice Department would also be hard-pressed to ignore. Bringing conspirators to justice — whether they be in Congress or returned to private life — should become an inevitable part of DOJ’s mission. Punishing those who attempted to overthrow this democracy would send the message that this is still, as John Adams, wrote “a government of laws and not of men.”
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.