Updated at 9:55 a.m. ET on March 29, 2021.
When Nancy Pelosi was asked “Why bother?” with Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, given that he was no longer president, the speaker of the House replied: “You cannot go forward until you have justice.”
It was a simple but powerful statement that Americans understand in a personal and visceral way after the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill. Trump may have been acquitted, but accountability is still being pursued through the trials of the Capitol rioters, and 69 percent of Americans view those prosecutions as “very important.”
Pejorative comparisons have been made to other countries, in disbelief or in jest—one analyst has even questioned whether the Republicans are turning into Lebanon’s Hezbollah: “a political party that also has an armed wing to coerce other political actors through violence.” But as Americans pause to survey the damage and worry about the continued erosion of democratic norms domestically, they should also take a moment to understand what lessons the events of January 6 offer for America abroad.
What did the previously unimaginable experience of watching an attempted coup unfold in Washington, D.C., bring to Americans’ understanding of the fragility of democracy anywhere and, crucially, the quest for accountability everywhere? If America cannot go forward until there is justice, can other countries? Bypassing accountability in the name of “moving on” will not succeed—should not succeed—in the United States, in much the same way that making compromises overseas in the name of stability has failed to deliver either justice or stability.