A lengthy New York Times editorial over the weekend has set the stage for this week’s Jan. 6 anniversary coverage. “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now,” declare the Times editors, warning that Republican lawmakers in 41 states “have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters — not by breaking laws but by making them.”
The argument itself, that tweaking state election law is somehow a subversion of democracy, is absurd and incredibly lazy. But it’s important to note, if only because it will serve as the baseline narrative for the entire corporate media’s Jan. 6 coverage this week.
Their message — they will all have more or less the same message — is simple: all Republicans are insurrectionists, the GOP is the enemy of the people, and the only way to preserve American democracy is to ensure that only Democrats can win elections.
To make this case, the Times’ editors had to stage a kind of linguistic insurrection. Lawful, constitutional efforts by elected representatives to change state election laws amount, in the Times’ telling, to a “bloodless, legalized” insurrection that “that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court.”
That’s no different than saying “speech is violence.” It’s nonsensical. By definition, there’s no such thing as a “bloodless, legalized” insurrection, any more than there could be a “mostly peaceful” riot. That said, the Times editors are wrong about one thing: state laws, including state election laws, can and often are challenged in court.
But the nonsense here serves a purpose. If the Jan. 6 riot can be conflated with perfectly valid GOP-led efforts to shore up state election rules, then perhaps those efforts can be wholly undermined, regardless of what voters in red states want. The irony is that it isn’t GOP lawmakers trying “to wrest control of electoral votes from their own people,” as the Times editors charge; it’s the Democrats and their media allies.
Consider that last year, 44 states enacted some 285 bills related to elections. In blue states, those bills tended to loosen certain election rules and requirements, especially for mail-in and absentee ballots. That makes sense given that Democrats tend to vote by mail-in ballot far more often than Republicans. Making mail-in and absentee voting easier is merely a way to boost Democratic votes in any given state. It’s simple.
By contrast, Republican-led states tended to pass laws limiting or more strictly defining the rules for mail-in and absentee voting, on the theory that absentee balloting is inherently less secure and more susceptible to fraud, especially when paired, as it often is, with practices like ballot-harvesting.
Republican lawmakers’ motivation here was to prevent a repeat of the free-for-all of the 2020 election, which saw a raft of last-minute changes to mail-in and absentee voting rules, justified on account of the pandemic. Many Republicans rightly felt that judges who overruled state legislatures and re-wrote state elections laws by fiat (as happened in Pennsylvania), undermined the integrity of the election.
By passing such reforms, Republican lawmakers were responding to actions taken by Democrats, unelected public health officials, and Democrat-friendly judges to overhaul state election rules ahead of 2020. If you wanted to be disingenuous about it, you could argue that Democrats staged a “bloodless, legalized” insurrection before the 2020 election even took place.
That’s why the Times and the rest of the corporate press want so badly to talk about Jan. 6 instead of getting into the nitty gritty of what these Republican-passed election reforms actually do. You’ll notice the media always describe these laws as “restricting voter access,” even when they do no such thing. The entire conversation is a bit of legerdemain, nothing more. That’s why you’ll never read a piece in the corporate press about how Georgia’s new election law, which President Joe Biden called “Jim Crow on steroids,” actually makes voting easier than it is in Biden’s home state of Delaware.
Remember that when you read breathless remembrances of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol this week. Yes, the riot was bad and should have been put down with overwhelming force — just as the riots all throughout the summer and fall of 2020 should have been.
But the actions of a relatively small group of rioters that day have absolutely nothing to do with the perfectly valid efforts of GOP lawmakers to ensure that election rules are not changed at the last minute by unelected judges or public health officials. Equating the two, pretending they share a common cause and motivation, is a way to discredit the valid arguments of Republicans, smear them as “insurrectionists,” and eventually justify efforts to silence them.
John Daniel Davidson is the Political Editor at The Federalist. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Texas Monthly, The Guardian, First Things, the Claremont Review of Books, The LA Review of Books, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter, @johnddavidson.