They Want You To ‘Move On’ From January 6. Resist.
I spent the morning of January 6 nervous, and it had nothing to do with politics. The night before, I’d watched the results of the Georgia Senate runoff races and celebrated with my fellow Georgians as the races turned in the direction of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, but I couldn’t stay up too late. My father, who is 71 and lives in nearby Winterville, was having sinus surgery at 10 a.m. It was sinus surgery, it wasn’t a triple bypass, but still: It’s a 71-year-old having a three-hour surgery that required him to be put under. Four years ago, his 92-year-old mother went under for a surgery and never woke up. It was still fresh in his mind. I know it was fresh in mine.
Things were unsettled in my own home as well. My wife and my youngest son Wynn had been exposed to Covid, so they were isolated upstairs in our bedroom; my older son William, diligently plowing through the perils of virtual school, stayed downstairs with me. I was worried about my dad, I was worried about my wife and young son, I was worried about whether my kids were actually learning anything or just staring blankly at a screen all day, I was worried about all the things people worry about when their lives have stakes, when they’re not focused on the world outside of their own, when they’re just trying to make it through the day.
I figured I’d do a little work to burn off my anxiety, and I turned the TV in my office to CNN, muting the sound so I could concentrate on whatever I was writing that morning. (Looking back, it turns out it was a column about the Chicago Cubs.) Occasionally I would look up. Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper seemed grave as they previewed the tabulation of the electoral college, the final nail in the increasingly concerning—but still distant and undeniably pathetic—attempts by the former president to deny the results of the election and stay in office. An hour later, I saw that president, looking sort of cold, braying something or other in front of a crowd; I turned away, like I had just about every time I’d seen that very image for the last four years. An hour after that, Senator Mitch McConnell made some sort of speech. Everything seemed to be going accordingly to plan.
The call I’d been waiting on all morning came. My mother said that she and my dad had made it home, that everything had gone well but he was groggy and needed to rest. She asked if I could come by and sit with him, distanced, with my mask on, just in case, while she went to pick up his prescriptions. “Oh, and grab him a milkshake on your way here.” I asked my son how his school was going, he said fine, and then we used the walkie talkie we’d procured to communicate with the quarantined duo upstairs. I told them I was heading over to Baba and G’Ma’s and that I’d be right back. “Grab us a milkshake on your way home!” Wynn yelled into the walkie talkie.
The drive to my parents takes about 20 minutes. I listened to some Wilco in the car on the way over. I came in the back door, milkshake in hand, expecting to see my father in his easy chair and my mother making him some soup or something. But they were both standing and staring at the television. My mother had tears in her eyes.
“Did you see this? Did you see what they’re doing?”
I made my father sit down, and then we stared. The footage was, still is, unfathomable: men in combat gear storming the Senate chamber, a man in a horn hat shirtless where Nancy Pelosi had been just minutes earlier, smashed windows, screaming, rage. It was like a horror film. It was a horror film.
My wife called me. “Oh my God.” I asked her what the kids were doing. The younger one was just reading a Calvin & Hobbes book, but William, done with school, was watching CNN too. He had loved following this election. He would check FiveThirtyEight odds every day, and he loved playing an online game called Win The White House. In the game you personally run for President, traveling from state to state, making speeches about tax policy, or low-income housing, or inflation. He told me wanted to run for President some day. He was good at the game. He planned on winning.
And now he was staring at CNN. He was alone — with his mom and brother upstairs and his father sitting next to a recovering Baba, a veteran of the Air Force who was mumbling things like, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen” and “they better lock every single one of these assheads up and throw away the key.” I would ask my son later that week if he had any thoughts what had happened that day. He began to cry. “That was the worst day of all of this,” he said. “I was all by myself. Those people were so crazy.”
We would learn later that it was all much, much worse than CNN made it look. But we didn’t know that then. What we were watching was bad enough. Do you not remember? It was horrific. And it took hours to clear out, and the President came out and made things worse, and my god, didn’t it feel like it was all in serious danger of coming apart right then and there? Didn’t it feel like maybe the end of everything?
My son hasn’t turned on CNN since, and he doesn’t like playing Win the White House anymore. My dad, it turned out, was still pretty groggy from the surgery; he told me later that when he woke up the next morning, he thought he’d dreamed the whole thing. He wishes he had.
This week, former President Donald Trump will face impeachment for the second time. It is unknown, as of yet, how the trial will go down. There are rumblings that Democrats, not wanting to distract from President Biden’s agenda and pretty certain they don’t have the Republican votes to convict, may try to breeze through the proceedings, not wanting to wade back through the muck again. There have already been arguments that we need to “move on,” that dwelling on the past is somehow “divisive.”
But it wasn’t that long ago; was it even the past? It’s still so easy to remember. It was a thunderbolt of terror, injecting itself into every aspect of our daily world, tearing at the very fabric of everything that American life is supposed to be about. It does not look likely that the Senate will convict the former President, and while I’d like to see him held accountable, if I’m being honest, I don’t care about that part all that much. I just want that day to remain vivid in our minds, still burning bright white, and the culpability of everyone involved to be a permanent mark on their names for the rest of their lives. It was truly wretched, pure awfulness, the worst collective “standing at the television aghast” moment since September 11. We have been implored to never forget that day. We must never forget this one either. I know my family never will. I suspect yours won’t either.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.