There are very few uncontroversial takes on what happened on January 6, 2021.

Perhaps the only one is that that tumultuous day gave Americans a rare glimpse into what their republic looks like when its institutions fail.

On the right, this would be taken to mean that the US election system, made up of fifty different state election regimes, failed to secure the ballot and that the mainstream media refused to report on obvious issues with the franchise. Even the judiciary, flush with judges appointed by President Trump, didn't hear the people.

On the left, the same events...

There are very few uncontroversial takes on what happened on January 6, 2021.

Perhaps the only one is that that tumultuous day gave Americans a rare glimpse into what their republic looks like when its institutions fail.

On the right, this would be taken to mean that the US election system, made up of fifty different state election regimes, failed to secure the ballot and that the mainstream media refused to report on obvious issues with the franchise. Even the judiciary, flush with judges appointed by President Trump, didn’t hear the people.

On the left, the same events are evidence that elections ought to be federalized to protect the vote, and that the Fourth Estate as a pillar of democracy requires buttressing against “disinformation” and outright sedition. The plan to defend and protect Washington, DC also exhibited major failings, as hours passed between the breach of the Capitol and the arrival of the National Guard to reinforce an overwhelmed Capitol Police force.

But the largest institutional casualty of the day was most assuredly the peaceful transition of power and the integrity of the “loyal opposition.” Conservatives who usually venerate institutions have failed to see the decay inside their own tent.

And the rot is legion.

It wasn’t so long ago that the conservative movement was beating its chest over the campus culture war, aware that anti-speech illiberalism was threatening academic rigor. To the minds of most conservatives today, curricular terrorists are waging jihad on western civilization, and after graduation they will go on to use the same tactics as HR managers and equity officers to dismantle merit-based capitalism.

Yet when actual terrorists bearing enemy flags mobbed the Capitol campus bent on interfering with the peaceful transfer of power, many conservatives failed to see the danger to the republic.

This lack of self-reflection within the Republican Party, itself a proud American institution, should be the priority for conservatives. Before they can remove the splinter from the eye of America’s left wing, they must see clearly past the beam that currently blinds them.

The same fragility that the American right perceives in college students demonstrating on campuses can be seen in the video footage captured on January 6. The wild-eyed frenzy of a mob motivated by its own victimhood is a familiar meme in conservative social media channels. Self-righteous social media scolds preach that perceived injury is no excuse to throw a fit. They say kids have gone soft, can’t handle disagreement, and insist that students be exposed to opposing viewpoints and hard truths. Anything less would be to coddle students, doing a disservice both to them and civic institutions. This is the patriotic and intelligent position that conservatives have staked out.

That is, until it became clear that the American right wanted similar coddling. Conservatism’s pundits seem to have abandoned the same intellectual curiosity, tolerance, and pluralism they once championed.

After the 2020 election, the conservative base refused to admit electoral defeat, choosing instead to live in a fantasy land where intricate conspiracy theories triumphed over straightforward legal decisions, feelings became facts, and dissent became heresy. Most remarkable of all was that elected Republicans in Congress went right along with it.

Most probably thought they would launch some token protest on the House floor, similar to Maxine Waters’ and Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to object to electors in previous years, and then move on. It’s true: procedural tools and taking votes are the way to “fight” in Congress. And perhaps most members can be forgiven for thinking they could object, lose the vote, and then go on about their business in the minority.

But once it became clear that President Trump’s loyalists were doing violence at their leader’s behest, it was time to bypass trigger warnings and give their constituents the truth. Instead, they created a “safe space” for conspiracy theories and 1/6 truthers who would rather blame BLM or Antifa than take accountability for their destructive behavior.

Conservatives used to face setbacks with stiffer spines. Now any mention of 1/6 is met with derision by those who have resolved the cognitive dissonance of that day by leaning into the comfortable habit of blaming Democrats for everything. It’s a “Beltway issue,” a “liberal talking point,” and “not a big deal in the scheme of things.”

Surely many Republicans and some who voted for Trump are annoyed that their movement has been tarnished by an event they didn’t attend. But that is all the more reason to be honest about what it means that a sitting president set an angry mob on Congress while it was carrying out a solemn duty — and failed to do anything for hours to meaningfully quell that mob.

While coddled college students might get clicks and shares, it’s coddled conservatives who might be the most immediate threat to democracy, not because they are inherently violent, but because the absence of a mature and principled conservative movement might be all progressives need to carry out their radical agenda. What we saw on January 6 is all the left needs to convince Americans that Republicans can’t be trusted — especially when they have trouble admitting to even the most basic facts of the day.

Let’s hope that conservatives shun the coddling that led them here and rediscover the founding principles of a once-proud institution.