Welcome back to 101PC. Initially, I wanted the first post of this year to be a primer on what to expect policy-wise over the next 12 months. This has been pushed to next week. Instead, I wanted to share something else, a reflection on events from this week.
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In an effort to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, a violent mob broke into the Capitol building in D.C. to interrupt the process. Lawmakers, aides, staff, and reporters were forced to shelter in place and later evacuate.
Those who entered the Capitol, radical supporters of President Trump, did so on the pretense of “stopping the steal,” waving American, Trump, and Confederate flags, and wearing other far-right symbols for groups like QAnon and neo-Nazis. They broke into offices, occupied the floors of the House and the Senate, and directly confronted law enforcement. Throughout, they posted live on social media to claim victory to their peers, stole items, and directed threats at lawmakers, police on the scene, and the media. Nooses and gallows were tied and erected. Masks weren’t commonly found among the rioters.
One woman, trying to enter the Capitol through a window, was shot and killed by police. Three other rioters died following “medical emergencies.” Elsewhere, pipe bombs were found by law enforcement at the offices of both the Democratic and Republican national committees. Several state capitols, including those of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Utah, and Oregon were also assailed by pro-Trump groups.
There’s still a lot of information not known, and there’s (of course) a fair amount of framing from outlets. (A lot of which is good and fair, I should add.) Still, I wanted to clearly define and outline what happened and share some thoughts after doing so.
All of this is plainly terrorism—the mob sought to prevent a democratic process through intimidation and violence.
All of this was prompted by President Trump. He explicitly called for then-protesters to dial up the pressure at the Capitol while continuing to share lies about the election results. When the domestic terrorists had stormed the Capitol, Trump prevented the deployment of the National Guard. He shared a video later in the day that was supposed to calm the mob but nevertheless doubled down on his assertions about the election and praised these terrorists.
But the invasion into the Capitol shouldn’t surprise anyone. The boulder has been rolling downhill and picking up speed for years. Trump has not only failed to condemn far-right groups and actors, but has often courted them in hopes it would help him remain in office. (“Stand back and stand by.”) He’s praised authoritarian world leaders like Putin, Orbán, and Erdoğan, models for the type of leader he would like to be. He demands unwavering loyalty from those in his administration and party, punishing those who fail to meet this standard by firing them, subverting their efforts to uphold the Constitution, and doxxing them online so others can make their lives hell.
He’s had help along the way. Members of his party, including some leaders, have tied themselves to Trump in hopes of maintaining their own grip on the levers in D.C. and state governments. By giving credibility to challenging the certification of the election results despite no evidence to back up Trump’s claims, members like senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and a majority of the House GOP showed they’d quickly throw our system of democracy away if it meant they can preserve or improve their own stocks. They’re all culpable in this, even those that reversed after the act of terrorism and decided not to challenge the results as well as members of the Trump administration that have resigned.
Watching all of this unfold online and on T.V. was nauseating for me personally. Seeing images of the Confederate flag and Nazis in the U.S. Capitol, watching smoke billow outside the building, hearing accounts from legislators, staff, and reporters regarding how utterly terrifying the episode was—these will stick around for some time.
I did not find this surprising.
Of course this had been building up for years. Of course the response by law enforcement was a far cry from their violent response to real protests (i.e., not terroristic riots) like those for Black lives. Of course only several dozen people have been arrested following the riot, as opposed to the hundreds of protesters arrested following a march for justice this summer. Of course some lawmakers who helped stoke this were raising money off the insurrection. Of course the phrase “this isn’t who we are” was tossed around all day like a beach ball at a music festival. Of course some senators and a majority of the House GOP stuck with challenging the results despite their colleague’s and their own lives being put in danger directly because of their actions and those of our president.
Though not a full representation of what makes the U.S. what it is, all of this is a part of who We are, “We” being the American people as a community and country. We’re an imperfect and fragile democracy in a perpetual tug-of-war between people who can at least acknowledge what the Constitution really is (a severely flawed piece of paper that also holds the key to a more perfect union) and people who care only about themselves and the power they hold. The conflict between these two sides, though their forms have changed time and again over the years, is in our bones.
That said, We do have a history of at least acting like We’ve dealt with this inner turmoil. That’s why the events of this week were surprising to our international peers who have publicly shared their concern. After all, how could “the oldest living democracy in the world” (a misnomer, really) descend into this type of chaos? How could the Capitol—a building that is supposed to be one of the most secure in the U.S. if not the world—be so easily breached by terrorists?
How couldn’t other countries be concerned after a failure like this?
We aren’t who We say We are; Wednesday’s unmasking should remind us that whatever successes in democracy we’ve seen are fragile and reversible.
How do We move forward?
We start by removing President Trump, preferably immediately through the impeachment process or by invoking the 25th Amendment despite the imminence of his last day in office. The next administration should also move forward with investigating these events and others of interest that took place during Trump’s term. All of this would help set a badly needed precedent. It needs to be clear that you simply cannot foment antidemocratic insurrection without facing severe consequences.
But We also need to do more. President Trump embodies a lot of what is wrong with the U.S., from the implicit racism and selfishness to the lack of respect for the office he holds. He has never had an interest in upholding the laws of the Constitution nor fulfilling his obligations to every American. Instead, he’s used his position to increase his own personal wealth and improve his corporate brand. Still, as you have undoubtedly read countless times over the past four-plus years, Trump isn’t the root of our national cancer like he is for Wednesday’s events.
To better confront this gross nationalism and fascism, We need additional solutions that a) show actions like this will not be tolerated and b) restore trust in our system of government. That includes censuring or even expelling members of Congress that supported this act of terrorism, clamping down hard on misinformation shared online and through media outlets, and improving how We elect our president by abolishing the Electoral College and expanding voting rights.
These aren’t easily achievable solutions, they aren’t the only ones We should take and they also don’t directly address all of the societal issues that played a part in this act of terrorism. (Here are some more.) But despite the frighteningly large chunk of Americans who support the insurrection this week, there’s also an ever-growing hunger for something better—President Trump was rejected at the ballot box, after all. These are where We should start.
Anything short of this is a failure to acknowledge who We are as well as who We should be. So let’s be who We should be.