Today marks the one-year anniversary of a day none of us will, or should, ever forget.
Jan. 6, 2021, was a travesty. A sober reflection of our country's current state of politics and collective moral decline. Whether you're right or left leaning or somewhere in between, the horrific attack on the U.S. Capitol should serve as a wake-up call. Our democracy is at stake, and it's going to take all of us to defend it.
We can begin by holding the Republican Party responsible for what happened that day.
International IDEA's Global State of Democracy Report states that the world is becoming more authoritarian. For the first time, the United States has been designated a "backsliding" democracy. Signs of regression began in 2016, the year Republican candidate Donald Trump was elected president. Our fall from grace solidified with the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Understandably, Jan. 6 made international headlines.
Yet in the thousands of news articles, stories and videos out there, the words "Republican Party" are notably absent from the headlines. Nor has much responsibility been placed on Republican leaders for both enabling, and downplaying, the severity of the event. Kudos to Vanity Fair, which just this week published an essay titled "The Republican Party Is Now The Party of January 6."
In a bizarre twist of irony, some Republicans have tried to falsely blame House speaker Nancy Pelosi for the attack. A PRRI poll shows that over 60 percent of Republicans believe liberal or left-wing activists were responsible for the violence. A new survey from the University of Chicago indicates that as many as 21 million adults sympathize with the rioters. And at least 57 individuals who participated in the day's events, including some who were arrested, are now running for elected office.
The Republican Party—and in turn, our country—has turned upside down.
The failure to directly link the Capitol attack with the Republican Party doesn't reveal the full truth. Even the insurrectionists are simply referred to as "Trump supporters." Yet they were also registered Republican voters.
Here's another truth: The people who stormed the Capitol on that fateful day did so for one reason—to keep the Republican Party in power.
Contrary to many assumptions, the mob wasn't made up of just far-right radicals. Reports from the Chicago Project on Security and Threats show that the majority of rioters were white, employed, mainstream Americans. The crowd of about 800 included business owners, architects, doctors and lawyers. Many were middle-aged, married and with families.
These ordinary citizens came from all across the country to stop an election in defense of who they perceived was the rightful U.S. president: Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Make no mistake, this wasn't just a goal for Trump supporters, but for the Republican Party.
Peter Navarro, former White House adviser, recently confirmed the attempted coup to block the vote certification and keep Trump in office. It included 147 Republican members of Congress voting to overturn the U.S. election, despite its proven legitimacy. Trump and his allies filed over 60 election lawsuits—except for one case, judges determined the allegations were without any merit. Trump also became the first major party candidate to not concede defeat in over 90 years.
This is not democracy.
Unfortunately, the insurrection appears to just be the beginning. It merely laid a foundation for a more diabolical, long-term agenda for the Republican Party to retain power and control. Last year, Republican lawmakers began a national effort to restrict voting access for tens of millions of Americans. So far, 19 states have enacted 34 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote. It will continue in 2022.
This is not democracy.
According to a poll by Morning Consult, while most voters blame Trump for the attack on our democracy, they don't feel the Republican Party bears responsibility. Paradoxically, the same poll states that the party's image has recovered from the fallout, with 65 percent of Republicans feeling the GOP is headed in the right direction. That optimism, paired with waning interest in Jan. 6, suggests Republicans intend to challenge the legitimacy of future elections.
This is not democracy. This is the Republican Party's brand devolution.
Since the 2016 election, the Republican Party, a brand that once stood for American conservatism and traditional values, unexpectedly transitioned into the party of Trump. A brand synonymous with MAGA extremism, conspiracy theories, and faux patriotism (as well as bad reality TV, porn stars, and multiple business failures.)
Politics as usual, right?
Wrong. The Republican Party has sold its soul to Trumpism. While corruption in power has always existed on some level, never before has our political system been in such jeopardy. The Republican brand and the Trump brand have become one and the same.
This cannot be overstated.
A recent national poll found that nearly 70 percent of Republican voters want Trump to run as the Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election. That same percentage don't believe, or strongly doubt, that Biden beat Trump. Many Republican politicians who once merely tolerated Trump are now embracing his brand, sowing outrage as a winning strategy moving forward.
In fact, the Republican Party is looking at the gubernatorial election in my home state of Virginia as a blueprint for the upcoming 2022 midterms and beyond.
Republican candidate and political newcomer Glenn Youngkin pulled out a win by successfully winning over die-hard Trumpers, old-school Republicans, and credulous independents. The American businessman had a privileged upbringing, a long career in the private sector, and no prior political experience. Sound familiar?
Oh, and his underage son tried to vote twice in the Virginia election.
Make no mistake. Youngkin, who often campaigned in a waspy plaid shirt and fleece vest, doesn't signify the return of a more palatable Republican Party akin to the George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan eras. It just means Trumpism is better disguised.
A $17 million spend on campaign efforts also contributed to Youngkin's victory.
Unsurprisingly, his ads tapped into white conservative fears which he soothed by attacking "critical race theory" and promoting a policy of banning books such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved by American novelist Toni Morrison.
Youngkin's out-of-home advertising featured his name emblazoned in white type on a red background, strategically reminiscent of Trump's iconic MAGA hat. And no, I don't think it's a coincidence that a post-election billboard featured the words "Let's Go" in massive letters, a nod to the vulgar Republican catchphrase that surely amused #FJB fans.
It pains me to know there are actual creative people behind these initiatives, leveraging their skills to develop a disingenuous brand alongside advertising that not only distorts the truth but aligns with a movement that is ultimately contributing to the downfall of our democracy.
The founding motto of McCann Erickson, where I once worked, dates back to 1912 and is still in use today. I've always admired it: "Truth Well Told."
Whether you're in advertising or not, I believe all of us must find ways to ensure the truth is not only well told, but prevails. Whether through conversations or social media posts or any other means, we must claim the narrative of Jan. 6, 2021.
Republicans have already tried to remove the insurrection label from that day in an attempt to control the brand story.
Don't let them.
We must speak the truth of that day, stating what it was, clearly, boldly and consistently: a failed mission in defense of the Republican Party.
It's been said that when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross. The quote, often misattributed to American writer Sinclair Lewis, has been interpreted and repeated in various ways over the years. Sinclair's wife, journalist Dorothy Thompson, had her own version:
"No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument—the Incorporated National Will … When our dictator turns up, you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American."
Indeed. America has been here before.
After World War I, when fascist leaders took power in Italy and Germany, a contributor to the The New York Times wrote that "the future of democracy is topic number one in the animated discussion going on all over America." (Source: The New Yorker.)
History is repeating itself, and we should take note. The insurrection wasn't a random, one-time fluke. It was a foreshadowing of what's to come if we don't stop normalizing—or worse, ignoring—what's happening in our country.
It's time "we the people" make it known that the Republican Party is Trumpism. And Trumpism is not democracy.
Pay attention. Be engaged. Take action. Commit to small ways you can create change and motivate others. Because the future of our nation quite literally depends on millions of people doing just that.
And it's going to take every single one of us to ensure the truth—and our democracy—prevails.