The hero of Jan. 6 whose name must not be spoken

President BidenJoe BidenMacro grid will keep the lights on Pelosi suggests filibuster supporters 'dishonor' MLK's legacy on voting rights Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown MORE and Vice President Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris invokes MLK in voting rights push, urges Senate to 'do its job' Voting rights is a constitutional right: Failure is not an option Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE missed a unique opportunity to generate some much-needed national unity when they commemorated the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, 2021. 

They rightly recalled the disgraceful events of that dark day and characterized them correctly as an attack on American democracy, a deliberate attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. The tragic irony is that most participants on the ground had been convinced by the apocalyptic urgings of former President TrumpDonald TrumpSanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown Laura Ingraham 'not saying' if she'd support Trump in 2024 The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement MORE and his coterie that they were the ones defending American democracy against an attempt to subvert it by forces on the left.

The unprecedented measures taken to enable voting during the pandemic provided fertile ground for conspiracy theorists and election losers to manipulate public opinion with charges of fraud.  The arguments reflected a lack of faith in the integrity of U.S. institutions and the fundamental resilience of the American system. It was fed by Trump’s own refusal to accept democracy’s self-correcting capacity through regular elections. For all the rioters’ claims of resisting tyranny, Jan. 6 resembled less a skirmish in the Revolutionary War than a foray during America’s Civil War. The display of Confederate flags showed that some of the Capitol invaders openly welcomed that comparison. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump’s selfish intentions were actually foreshadowed less than 24 hours earlier when Georgia held an election for two Senate seats that would determine the fate of the Republicans’ 52-48 majority. If Trump’s own doomsday rhetoric was to be believed, the fate of the republic was at stake on Jan. 5, 2021, every bit as much as on Nov. 3, 2020 — even more so because by then the House of Representatives and the White House were already destined to be in the hands of progressive Democrats. 

Yet, instead of rallying Georgia’s Republicans to reelect at least one of their GOP senators and keep control of the Senate, Trump spent most of his speech again bemoaning his Nov. 3 loss and the alleged fatal flaws in Georgia’s election process. He managed to depress enough of the Republican vote to squander both seats and give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. 

Trump followed up his Georgia fiasco by repeating his subversion of Republican prospects in Virginia’s gubernatorial election last November. He questioned GOP candidate Glenn YoungkinGlenn YoungkinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Psaki claps back at Youngkin over school mask mandates Why our parties can't govern MORE’s devotion to “the MAGA cause,” and thus his electoral suitability, and even called on Republicans to boycott the 2022 and 2024 elections if his 2020 defeat was not retroactively undone.

After Youngkin won, despite Trump’s belated and counterproductive “endorsement,” and Trump took credit anyway, he circled back to his Georgia obsession. He gratuitously observed that progressive Democrat Stacey Abrams would have been a better governor than Republican

Brian KempBrian KempAbrams treads carefully in relationship with Biden Four states declare states of emergency ahead of weekend snowstorm Stacey Abrams's shocking snub of Biden, Harris signals possible 2024 aspirations MORE, who defeated her in 2018 and refused to obey Trump’s directive to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory. Trump is now supporting a primary challenge to Kemp’s reelection by the same Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueThe hero of Jan. 6 whose name must not be spoken With soaring demand for meat, it's time to fund animal-free protein research Perdue on possible run for Georgia governor: 'I'm concerned about the state of our state' MORE whose Senate reelection defeat he helped cause. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump’s betrayal of the Republican Party pales in significance to his attempted subversion of the U.S. Constitution on Jan. 6, which Biden and Harris greatly relished in reliving — and inappropriately linked to today’s Democratic legislative agenda. But they failed to offer a well-earned grace note that would have gone a long way to advance  the nation’s healing.  

Harris recalled “the resolve I saw in our elected leaders when I returned to the Senate chamber that night … not to yield but to certify the election; their loyalty not to party or person but to the Constitution of the United States.” She did not mention the name of the one person most exemplary of that resolve — former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePences' pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo, dies Pence says both Capitol riot and nixing filibuster are a 'power grab' McCarthy says he won't cooperate with 'illegitimate' Jan. 6 probe MORE, who was uniquely targeted by the rioters and positioned to submit to or defy their unconstitutional demands. He alone held the power to further disrupt, or to restore, the constitutional process. Despite all the pressure from Trump and his allies, Pence refused to abandon or subvert his constitutional responsibilities.  

Harris likened Jan. 6 to other traumatic dates in modern U.S. history — Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001. But she might also have included Nov. 22, 1963, April 30, 1968, and June 4, 1968, when John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, respectively, were assassinated for political reasons. Some of the Capitol invaders were quite explicit in their own murderous intentions, shouting “Hang Mike Pence,” while, as Biden said, “literally erecting gallows to hang the vice president.” Pence did not flinch.and the words Harris used when she introduced Biden — “a public servant with the character and fortitude to meet this moment” — could well have been used to describe Pence’s unwavering stand.

Biden’s speech made a passing reference to “some courageous men and women in the Republican Party … trying to uphold the principle of that party,” but like Harris, he failed to credit Pence for his brave defense of the Constitution. Biden could have reminded the country that just as he performed his vice presidential duty in 2016 and declared Trump’s electoral victory over Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket A year into his presidency, Biden is polling at an all-time low MORE, Pence carried out his constitutional responsibility to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. Biden and Harris could have noted that no vice president in the history of the nation has had to perform that normally routine function under more difficult and extreme circumstances, with intense pressure not only from a mob threatening his life but also from the president himself.

Oddly, Biden instead seemed to claim personal credit for the stand that Pence took, as if he, rather than Pence, had been the man in the arena on Jan. 6: “I did not seek this fight brought to this Capitol one year ago today, but I will not shrink from it either. I will stand in this breach. I will defend this nation.” That’s what Pence actually did. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Biden stated: “To me, the true patriots are the heroes who defended this Capitol. Congressmen,

Democrats, Republicans stayed. Senators, representatives, staff — they finished their work the Constitution demanded. They honored their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Chief among them was the unmentioned Vice President Mike Pence. Biden and Harris would have served the country well had they singled him out for special appreciation. But like some of the Trump bitter-enders to whom Pence is now anathema, his name is not to be uttered.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and a member of the advisory board of the Global Taiwan Institute. Follow him on Twitter @BoscoJosephA.