Column: We need the truth about 1/6

A large group of people, many with U.S. and Trump flags
A mob of President Trump’s supporters gathers outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

For four years, the United States under President Trump has been bedeviled by unsolved mysteries. Inquiries have been opened and never satisfactorily closed. Doubts exist where none are justified, and legitimate doubts have never been allayed.

The result is a nation in a perpetual state of cognitive distress. Trump’s lies have become earworms that plague even those of us who never believed them. And truths about the president and his enablers have been repeatedly buried. Those who seek truth are bullied, threatened and commanded to move on.

But after the attack of Jan. 6, someone ought to register a new domain: The insurgency by MAGA terrorists simply cannot stand as another fresh insult to the brain that Americans are forced to live with.


For this reason, while the second impeachment of Trump proceeds through a trial in the Senate, the Biden-Harris administration should open up a 1/6 Commission, a fact-finding effort entirely separate from the Justice Department’s and the FBI’s criminal investigations of those involved in the insurrection.

The commission’s work product wouldn’t be arrests but a comprehensive report detailing how and why Trumpite terrorists stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of an election.

Such a commission would not end cinematically with people in handcuffs or stints in Supermax. It would do nothing but inform us. But often bringing facts to light is the highest service to humankind. It’s certainly crucial if we’re to prevent such an attack from happening again — and calm the nationwide distress that is also threatening to undo us.

We need the impeachment and criminal investigations and prosecutions to provide justice, and a 1/6 Commission to supply truth.

It’s not a moment too soon.

Much has been made of how divided the nation is right now, but it’s more accurate to say we’re exhausted. COVID-19 has afflicted more than 23 million Americans; joblessness is double what it was a year ago. But we’re also exhausted by lies. The American public has paid a high emotional tax as we’ve witnessed the burial of truth again and again.

The reckonings have been so few and far between it’s hard to remember all that has slipped past us.


After four years of enabling and normalizing President Trump, Kevin McCarthy now wants Democrats and Republicans to make nice.

Jan. 13, 2021

Just one example: One year ago, a former Ohio State wrestler publicly testified that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pressured him to cover up evidence of sexual misconduct by Jordan’s then-boss, Richard Strauss, who was accused of sexually abusing nearly 180 male students. Jordan issued denials, an Ohio State investigation was inconclusive, but other reporting indicated that coaches knew about the abuse.

On Monday, Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jordan. The end result: zero resolution for the victims while Jordan is tarted up as a Trumpian hero.

This dynamic is all too familiar.

Think of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, accused in a public hearing of sexual assault and lying under oath; the charges were never fully investigated. And of course Trump himself, impeached in 2019 for obstructing justice and lying to Congress, but whose trial in the Senate the next year didn’t include obtaining and hearing relevant testimony and evidence.

And now millions of Americans have been convinced by Trump’s barrage of innuendo and lies, starting as far back as last summer, when he implied that a Biden victory would indicate the 2020 presidential vote was “rigged” and should not be trusted. The president is still spraying skepticism like a germy sneeze about an election that was “regular in form and authentic,” in the antique words of the congressional certification ceremony.

Vast sums of money, time and public attention — and eventually terrorist aggression — have gone toward super-spreading this propaganda, which the historian Timothy Snyder has identified as Trump’s master lie, to which all his other lies are now subordinate.

A 1/6 Commission would focus on that — analyzing the master lie’s invention, amplification, dissemination, and its use in radicalizing and organizing foot soldiers for insurgency.


As the tech companies that have banished both Trump and some of his supporters finally seem to grasp, media outlets can be complicit in the propaganda and incitement campaigns that are the basis of violent attacks. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms will have to figure into the accounting of a 1/6 Commission. Only with that thorough accounting can we improve internet governance.

The commission must uncover how the lie infected those who believe it. We cannot gauge the culpability of QAnon, the Proud Boys, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley until we understand how dog whistles and greenlighting work.

A 1/6 report will not be able to satisfy all of the questions the insurrection has raised, but it can illuminate how lies became systems of thought became aggression became seditious intent became blood.

Our national distress will abate only when we can see and hear a full accounting of this latest Trumpian horror. If we’re to resume American democracy worthy of the name, we cannot go into the future with the Capitol siege marked as a cold case.