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Opinion: A year after Jan. 6, readers sound the alarm on ailing U.S. democracy

Photo illustration of U.S. Capitol building with blue clouds.
(Los Angeles Times)

Highlighting letters this week about the U.S. Capitol insurrection should not leave you with the impression that our readers have only now begun to grapple with the events on Jan. 6, 2021. In fact, since that day one year ago, the violent attempt to prevent Congress from ratifying the result of the 2020 election and keep the defeated incumbent in power has ranked up there with the pandemic and vaccination as the most discussed topics among our letter writers.

What’s different about this week is the greater focus by our readers on the historical context of Jan. 6 and what it means for us that the GOP arguably remains a Trumpist party, and the former president is still more likely than any other Republican to be elected in 2024. Though a very small minority of readers insist that Jan. 6 was no big deal, more than any time since the actual riot readers are expressing worries about the health of our democracy.

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To the editor: I don’t think it’s unreasonable to characterize what’s currently occurring in this country as a “cold” civil war. And unfortunately, there are too many Americans, including some legislators in Washington, who would like to see it become hot.

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As far-fetched as that may seem, it is possible. Voltaire sagely captured this when he wrote, “Any one who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.”

We know from history that fascism in its various forms is ultimately self-destructive, wreaking violence not only on those it opposes, but also on its purveyors.

Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came,” which laments not speaking up for other targeted groups, is worth considering at this critical time in our democratic experiment. It ends: “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

John Beckman, Chino Hills

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To the editor: I read Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism” during the first year of the pandemic, a complicated, convoluted but prescient read for our times.

One of her assertions about the rise of totalitarianism that has stayed with me is that, generally, people have no idea that anything is possible. May we awaken to this truth.

Kris Ockershauser, Pasadena

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To the editor: On Jan. 6, Vice President Kamala Harris listed Dec. 7, 1941; Sept. 11, 2011; and Jan. 6, 2021, as days we should never forget.

The first two were done against our country by foreign actors. The last date listed happened one year ago and was the worst of the three — for it was done by Americans attempting to overthrow a legal election and to install the loser of that election.

Many will try to whitewash the events, as they know what happened was wrong, but acknowledging as much goes against the person who caused it.

Let us never forget what happened on that day, for we must never allow it to happen again.

Stephen Mirkin, North Hollywood

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To the editor: The comparison of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol to Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attack is not only inaccurate, it is disgraceful political opportunism at its worst.

Those who equate these three events are not only ignorant of history, but also grossly disrespectful of memory of the thousands of lives that were lost in 1941 and 2001.

Neal Rein, Westlake Village

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To the editor: Being a descendant of genocide survivors and an immigrant, and having escaped turmoil in the Middle East, I am not surprised to see American democracy threatened.

Psychological research suggests that if a person in power gives the right to ordinary people to hate, attack, punish or kill members of a group considered inferior, most people will follow.

The process starts through hate speech based on untruths. It may end up in genocide if not stopped quickly. People susceptible to this process will follow the perpetrator to an extreme degree without any regard for moral or ethical considerations.

In your Jan. 6 editorial, you mention that 70% of Republicans believe the Big Lie promulgated by the former president. This credulity is a human weakness, and despotic leaders know this and will use it for their benefit. A sizable portion will not follow, but only a small percentage will risk their life and reputation to take action to reverse the process.

We only have education to fight this scourge and reverse the process. Hate speech needs to be controlled at its onset before it goes unchallenged.

I hope we have additional altruistic legislators like Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming to come forward soon to reverse this trend.

Gregory Ketabgian, La Cañada Flintridge


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