The United States has withstood many perils in its history, from British soldiers sacking the White House to civil war, to even an armed attack on the Capitol by Puerto Rican nationalists in 1954.
But it has never seen the Capitol stormed by an angry mob egged on by a president of the United States.
The passions that fueled Wednesday’s disgraceful moment in U.S. history have been building among the ideological fringes for years. They are strong on the left, as well, as evidenced by Trump administration officials who were accosted and harassed in various public places and by mob rule that has recently occupied portions of Seattle and Portland.
But President Donald Trump has been stockpiling fuel on the fringes of the right for weeks now with his unsubstantiated, fictional claims that the election was stolen. He urged a rally in Washington on Wednesday, knowing, as any observer did, that violence was likely.
Then, on Wednesday, he tossed verbal matches on that fuel with a speech that urged a mob to march on the Capitol.
It was a shameful moment, one every American must work to overcome through a renewed commitment to the systems the Founding Fathers established.
Trump used the language of violence, urging the mob to give Republicans “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
The country doesn’t need taking back. It belongs to the people, as it has since the Founders ratified the Constitution. The system they set up was on the verge of ratifying the 2020 election Wednesday morning, the results of which have been thoroughly vetted and adjudicated by democratic institutions, empowered by the people.
Then that venerated, traditional process was interrupted violently by the mobs Trump ignited.
Trump, in his speech, said “Third World countries” are more honest than those in charge of the recent election. And yet what he set in motion was reminiscent of the types of coup attempts regularly seen in the Third World.
Photos showed lawmakers hiding behind seats as Capitol Police, with guns drawn, tried to defend the doors to the House Chamber. Not everybody agrees with the outcomes in a democracy, but the United States has a proud history of defeated parties peacefully conceding for the good of the nation. Now we see what the opposite is like: Mobs storming the halls of liberty, while the president is strangely quiet.
After President-elect Joe Biden gave a speech correctly calling this, “an assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: the doing of the people’s business,” the president finally spoke. It was disappointing, belying, and even downplaying, the seriousness of what he set in motion. He half-heartedly told people to go home while repeating and perpetuating the fiction of an election fraud, characterizing his loss as a landslide victory.
One thing must be clear: The United States is a nation of laws, not people. People cling to power. People invent crises to build the false narrative of an emergency that requires violence.
Laws establish processes that are safeguarded by rules and requirements. Laws are reinforced by checks and backups that allow for appeal, including the right to challenge outcomes in courts or to petition duly elected representatives. Laws allow for peaceful protest, giving voice to those who feel themselves aggrieved, while keeping the peace. Laws have kept the United States free and mostly safe through centuries filled with threats and dangers.
Those laws and processes worked beautifully in the wake of the 2020 elections. Lawsuits were filed and dismissed. Evidence was not sufficient to overturn outcomes.
It’s up to lawmakers now to quickly ratify the Electoral College vote and put an end to the nonsense. It’s time for all Americans to eschew what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday and to return to traditions that honor the rule of law even above the wishes of a president who claims he was wronged.