Time for reflection, rededication to a unified America

The storming of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 by unhinged supporters of President Donald Trump is now part of American history.

As Congress was meeting to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College vote victory, a massive throng invaded its quarters.

What happened Jan. 6 was not a spontaneous event. As the Anti-Defamation League warned several days before the imbroglio, the events were “being timed to coincide with a joint session of Congress where Electoral College votes will formally be counted — have been encouraged by President Trump in multiple inflammatory tweets urging his supporters to show up in D.C.”

The gathering was dubbed “The March to Save America” on social media by pro-Trump organizers. Before thousands moved toward the Capitol, the president stoked the crowd’s discontent, saying:

“Republicans are constantly fighting like a boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It’s like a boxer. And, we want to be so nice. We want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And, we’re going to have to fight much harder. …

“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and -women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

The president’s invective was calculated to whip up the sentiment of his supporters, who were building toward a frenzy.

Sadly, the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, invited violence from Trump’s supporters. In calling for a commission to investigate bogus claims of voter fraud, Giuliani said, “Let’s have trial by combat. I’m willing to stake my reputation, the president is willing to stake his reputation, on the fact that we’re going to find criminality there (in voting in states that Biden carried).” 

The melee that followed was an eerie episode. Many protesters were garbed in military fatigues and body costumes. Many in the crowd were followers of QAnon, Proud Boys and other “alt-right” movements.

The seeds of the failed insurrection of Jan. 6 have been sown through President Trump’s tenure in office. Riddled with lies, half-truths and innuendos, President Trump has governed by appealing to the darkest instincts of human nature. Our 45th president’s perverse character flaws have been on display to the nation and world.

Essentially, President Trump schemed against the fundamental structure of our democracy when he insisted that the only way he could lose the 2020 presidential election was if it was stolen from him.

With the benefit of a freshman-year survey course in American history, the president would know that every first-term president risks losing reelection, especially when the economy suffers as it has during the coronavirus. Elections are inherently competitive. As in sports, even the most talented competitors experience loss.

Some presidential contests have been close, such as elections in 1968, 1976 and 2000. This year’s election was not particularly close. Biden garnered more than 81 million votes; Trump received more than 74 million votes. Biden was awarded 306 electoral votes; Trump received 232 electoral votes. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by the same margin in 2016.

The president consistently appealed to right-wing extremists throughout his time in office and in his reelection campaign. Trump is not the first demagogue to capture the imagination of millions of Americans. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long of Louisiana and Gov. George Wallace of Alabama all captured the hearts and minds of legions of followers. Each of their lives bespoke tragedy.

McCarthy drank himself to death. Long was assassinated. Wallace was paralyzed by shots fired by Arthur Bremer May 15, 1972.

While we wish no physical harm for President Trump, he has sown the seeds of his own political destruction.

Now, Congress must grapple with the best remedy for President Trump’s overt support for the storming of the Capitol. The president must be held accountable for inciting his followers to breach Congress. To date, our representatives have not determined the right remedy — impeachment and conviction in the Senate, resignation from office or invocation of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.

Trump must be held accountable for inciting an attack on Congress. An attack on the orderly processes of government is an affront to the fundamental liberties that guarantee our most basic freedoms — freedom of speech, a free press and freedom of religion. Now is the time for deep reflection by all Americans.

On Jan. 20, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated president and vice president, respectively. Let us pray that our nation’s capital will be safe and secure, that the inauguration will be peaceful.

May Inauguration Day begin a new chapter in our country’s history, where we can find common purpose as we create a new beginning.

May those who seek to despoil our democracy be doomed to failure.

May our new leaders be guided by their highest ideals.

Let us seek unity where there has been division. Let us resolve to support and defend our institutions of freedom against those who would destroy them.

As we reflect upon the tortured events of Jan. 6, may there be a reawakening of the decency, civility and respect that represent America at its best. 

A version of this editorial appeared in the Jan. 14 edition of the Jewish Herald-Voice in Houston and is reprinted with permission.

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