As a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, a report on one of the 24-hour news channels stated what should be obvious. Ambassadors from foreign countries were saying that, if this had happened in their countries, the U.S. Congress would be alarmed and discussing action.

A photo showing capitol police, guns drawn and pointed toward the doors to the House chamber, with members of Congress ducking behind chairs, underscored that concern. Then came the photo of an unnamed protester sitting in the chair of the Senate president.

This happens in banana republics, not the United States. This happens where people and personalities rule, not in a nation of laws.

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But then, the United States typically hasn’t had an outgoing president hyping the fiction of a stolen election, putting his loyal vice president in a position either to take extra-constitutional action to overthrow the election or to become a scapegoat for angry mobs.

Let no one doubt who was responsible for this sad moment in American history.

“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical Democrats,” Trump told a red-meat rally ready for action earlier in the day. “We will never give up. We will never concede. It will never happen. You don’t concede when there’s death involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.”

Later, he said, “We will not let them silence your voices,” before calling on the vice president to do his bidding, saying, “if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”

Those comments put the subsequent storming of the Capitol in the narrative of a coup. 

As the mobs stormed, as they sat in the chairs that represent the power of the people established by the Founding Fathers, President Trump tweeted, asking for peace and calm. 

It was like a child trying to put out a wildfire he had started by playing with matches.

No one should be surprised by this. The frightening encounter between self-proclaimed “patriots” and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney at an airport and onboard a flight this week was the latest manifestation of mounting tensions. To be fair, the tensions have been on both sides of the aisle. Two years ago, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., called on people to hound Trump cabinet members wherever they could find them.

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But there is a huge difference between a message from a member of Congress, who was roundly criticized by members of both parties, and one from the commander in chief of the Armed Forces who is refusing to leave office.

A recent survey by Pew Research Center found that, just prior to the 2020 election, 89% of Trump supporters said they believed a Biden win would “lead to lasting harm to the U.S.” On the other side, 90% of Biden supporters said the same about what a Trump victory would mean.

But this culture of intimidation isn’t confined to national politics. In Utah, protesters angry about mask mandates have in recent months gathered outside the homes of both Gov.-elect Spencer Cox and state epidemiologist Angela Dunn.

Snarky petulance on the ideological fringes naturally leads to violence and sedition. The step from harassing politicians seen as enemies and violence is a small, almost inevitable one. Everyone involved in such actions, big or small, is partly responsible for what happened Wednesday.

Let no one doubt who was responsible for this sad moment in American history.

Fortunately, the institutions the Founders established are resilient enough to withstand even this. But that resilience will require political courage. It will require those who supported the president and wanted further investigations into an election that has been vetted and adjudicated endlessly to stand up and say, “Enough!” 

It will require Congress to reconvene, somehow and somewhere, to certify the Electoral College vote without further dissent.

That would set in motion an inauguration that transfers control of the military to Joe Biden, whose job now is to somehow unite the nation.

Optics can be misleading. While the storming of the Capitol was massive and disturbing, it does not necessarily portend civil war. It does mean the fringes, fueled by the president, have taken their discontent to a new level. That’s serious, but the world’s most important democratic-republic will, despite what banana republics around the world may think, survive. In this nation, the rule of law is more powerful than any one person.