What we witnessed yesterday at the U.S. Capitol was an assault on our democracy. There’s really no other way to say it.
And the tragedy of it all is that our president helped to incite it.
The images on TV and social media of pro-Trump supporters breaking through police barricades to intimidate and disrupt Congress’ counting of the Electoral College votes came after two months of unsubstantiated claims that the presidential election was somehow rigged.
They broke windows, assaulted Capitol police and pushed their way onto the Senate floor and into some offices. Lawmakers were evacuated, some given gas masks, and one person was shot and killed.
Chaos turned into an armed standoff. Explosive devices were found, and police from Maryland and Virginia were called in, as were National Guard units. A 6 p.m. curfew was issued by the D.C. mayor.
If these were acts committed by foreign agents, we’d likely be at war today. Think about that for a moment. Years from now, this will be remembered as one of the darkest days in American history.
But these were American extremists doing the damage, fueled by a false narrative spun by the president himself that he has been cheated out of another term. Despite dozens of court cases that he’s lost and a growing concession from members of his own party, the president has failed to uphold the most basic tenet of our democracy — the peaceful transition of power.
Just hours before the assault on the Capitol, the president said he would never concede and would continue the fight. He then urged his supporters to march to the Capitol to “cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” followed by “because you’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength, you have to be strong.”
This is where the words of a leader matter — because some of his supporters took that fight far too seriously.
Earlier in the day, before the assault, none other than Sen. Mitch McConnell, a staunch supporter of the president, told Congress to reject the claims of a stolen election. Though he first supported legal efforts — something the Trump campaign had every right to try — McConnell pointed out that dozens of court cases across multiple states were rejected by Democrat and Republican judges alike.
In essence, it was time to move on. Time for that peaceful transition of power.
“We will either hasten down a poisonous path where only the winners of elections actually accept the results, or show we can still muster the patriotic courage that our forebearers showed not only in victory but in defeat,” McConnell said.
In contrast, a few hours later, when we needed calm the most, the president released a recorded message that began with his repeated false claims that the election was stolen. Only then did he tell his supporters to go home, to respect the police.
It was President-elect Joe Biden, saying the uprising bordered on sedition, who offered a contrasting message. He reminded us that “the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.”
For the sake of this nation, we hope he’s right. In two weeks, Biden will be president, and he’ll have an enormous task in trying to unite this country.
What happened in D.C. yesterday won’t make that easy. What happened yesterday is a scar on our nation that will take a long time to heal.