A charitable reading of those involved in the atrocities of January 6 is that they believed they were acting in the best interests of the country. Given the facts, as they proclaimed them, they were striving to protect the nation from an election that had been illegally stolen.
The trouble is these facts are false.
The country faces a divide between those who inhabit a common world of truth, and those who are willing to proclaim a fantasy universe of conspiratorial illusion. To act from patriotism in the Donald Trump universe is to commit base betrayals in the world of actual facts. The events of January 6 illustrate why no democracy can survive without a commitment to truth.
People fall into delusions for many different reasons. Internet bubbles and hyper-partisan media certainly contribute to the problem. But at root, the capacity to distinguish fact from fiction turns on self-discipline. A commitment to truth saves us from the temptation of confusing our wishes with the world. Because we are frail, we require norms and institutions (such as courts) to encourage and incentivize truth-telling.
Congress certainly ought to be such an institution. It was thus shocking to witness 139 House Republicans rely on Trump’s lies to question the 2020 election’s result. These 139 representatives, who came from districts with large Republican majorities, sought to cancel the votes of 81 million people in order to “stop the steal.” How could this happen?