On January 6th, 2021 the American Republic saw an entire political party cross the Rubicon — we may no longer claim that there was a “peaceful transfer of power” between our 45th and 46th Presidents. The failed attempt at an armed-takeover of a branch of U.S. government resulted in the deaths of Americans — all in pursuit of a false reality propagated, animated, and reinforced by one political party in a desperate attempt to retain power.
I watched in horror as an angry mob of Trump #MAGA supporters — exactly the people that Hillary Clinton warned us about in 2016 — received their disjointed, hate-infused, and thinly-veiled marching orders from their commanders before they made their way from the White House to the U.S. Capitol on the same day the Congress was fulfilling its ceremonial duty to certify the presidential election. Among others, Mo Brooks, Rudy Giuliani, Don Jr., and the Insurrectionist-in-Chief himself did what they’ve been working toward for months now — but this time instead of political rhetoric and first amendment protected speech, their words translated into violence, murder, and vandalization to our nation’s most sacred building.
I was shocked, disappointed, saddened, and angry at these events unfolding on television — but I was not surprised they attempted it. The deplorables have been telegraphing their plans for weeks— the only surprises were that the mob was deranged enough to actually go through with it and how astoundingly easy the physical access of the Capitol was breached.
I’ve lived and worked in Washington almost 15 years now. The Capitol is a sacred place to patriotic Americans. It’s as “holy” a site as it gets in modern, secular politics — it’s literally the People’s House as the physical seat of our duly elected representatives in the first branch of government. It was so important to our Founders that it was given special prominence not just physically on Jenkins Hill in the District of Columbia but also as the first Article in our founding documents. And that spirit lives on today for any visitor lucky enough to make the pilgrimage and gaze up at Washington inside the grand Rotunda. Even to this day when I visit the Capitol grounds, my eyes are drawn upward to see Lady Freedom gazing toward sunrise in the East in the hopeful promise that we’re all going to continue working together in this grand experiment that is America.
I’ve toured the building and given plenty of ad-hoc tours myself oftentimes for visitors. I’ve recited the Pledge of Allegiance on the House floor, stood behind then-senator Barack Obama’s desk on the Senate Floor, and watched in anticipation many a consequential vote from the galleries. I’ve attended war protests and raised my voice or my flag, shaken my protest sign, petitioned my disappointment, levied my opinion, and exercised my agency either in support or against many an item under consideration in those halls. That’s what our Capitol, our representatives, and our robust national dialog is all about — we can get loud and proud, but there is — or there was — an implicit understanding that we are all working toward a better America.
The Capitol is the people’s house where the peoples’ business gets done. It’s messy and it’s glorious. But above all, it is sacred for any who have the opportunity to visit or the privilege to serve within it.
All of this flashed through my mind when I saw images of deranged right-wing terrorists waving and wearing TRUMP 2020 flags and banners — some in wannabe weekend warrior garb straight from the clearance rack at the local Army Surplus — charging up those steps and swarming my beloved Capitol building like a horde of Zerglings. We protest a lot in DC — and we’re pretty practiced at it. But events of January 6 were something else, something beyond dialog, they were rooted in violence and intolerance — a disregard and a disrespect for the people, the offices, the institutions of government. They were the logical conclusion of a rank undercurrent of selfishness that has come to embody the modern Republican party under Trump.
In October 2018, I saw tens of thousands of angry and pissed off women and allies raise their voices in sharp, loud, vocal disagreement with Mitch McConnell ramming through a court justice nominee who was clearly unfit for the bench. I mention this because it was the first time I’ve seen such a sheer wave of bodies literally surge up to the steps on the East Front of the Capitol to “occupy” that space in front of the columns. But even with the palpable rage, sadness, and disappointment that electrified that particular crowd, no one ever dared breach the perimeter — it just isn’t done. That’s a line we do not cross. Within progressive circles at least, there are usually trainings and a short briefing for volunteers willing to get arrested for their cause. They understand the limits and the consequences of occupying those spaces or pushing those boundaries — but never…NEVER have we suggested breaching the internal security perimeter or harming a U.S. Capitol Police officer. Never. It is not done under any reasonable definition or expectation of a protest or first amendment activity.
Even at the height of the Iraq War protest era, I’ve seen young men jump barricades and climb trees or elderly ladies who dared to step through the bike rack barriers get arrested, dressed down, and hauled away to be processed. So you can imagine my horror when I saw on live, wall-to-wall television, the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight actually INSIDE the Capitol.
And that’s where the Republican party crossed our proverbial national Rubicon — the unthinkable, yet logical end to their increasingly hostile and violent rhetoric happened. We transitioned from a robust, vocal, loud democracy that argues and screams and reasons and cajoles and pokes fun and sorts out our disagreements in the public square fairly to something else — something I hadn’t considered they’d follow through on: overthrowing the government.
I don’t use that phrase lightly — it’s something that feels more comfortable in the context of my time at the State Department describing other small, far away countries and their struggles under tinpot dictators. It doesn’t happen in America — the shining City on a Hill for democracy — does it? Well it did — and now we can never go back. In fact, the more we learn the worse the situation gets.
Last week, these events transcended party politics and even raucous “First Amendment Activities” as we call it in DC when there’s a protest event. Normally we’re pretty good at giving people time and space to petition the government for the grievances — but this crossed a line we can not come back from. A group of domestic terrorists, with support from their political leadership, assaulted our sacred Capitol with the sole aim of disrupting the business of the people in the process of certifying an election that their preferred candidate clearly lost. Their aim: to overturn the will of some 81.2 million people in 50-states and territories because they didn’t like the outcome. And they did it with guns, flagpoles as de-facto spears, tactical gear, bear-spray, and flexicuffs meant for the taking of hostages.
I think they were surprised as the rest of us when they actually breached the Capitol so easily. That’s another question for another time: how did they managed to do that and why weren’t the Capitol Police properly staffed to prevent it? Was their failures of state/local/federal government? Were people charged with protecting the building and the congress who were complicit? We must have answers to those questions in time.
But more immediately, we must reckon with attack and realize that this is no longer about Democrats and Republicans, it has transcended that framing. This is now about preserving America and her democracy and those who would seek to overthrow, disrupt, and break her. This is about people who have no respect for government or value for its place in society or support for those who make it work on a day to day basis. They are insurrectionists who seek to tear-down through violence and anger rather than build up through cooperation and collaboration.
By the grace of god and quick action on the part of the small police force who literally converted the House and Senate chambers into panic rooms, there was no congressional member killed. Watching those videos of Capitol Police being crushed between the mob and the doors of the building, or physically holding back an oncoming mob and deftly leading them away from the chambers were members were huddled in fear are heartbreaking. Make no mistake, the terrorists came for blood: that was their aim. They came armed. They came to hurt public servants. They declared it proudly, they waved signs about it, they posted on social media for it, they even built a gallows to demonstrate it. And they would have followed through on it if given the chance.
Despite her stature as a giant among House Speakers, Nancy Pelosi is a frail and small grandmother in physical stature. Had she been in the Rotunda with light security when that gate fell instead of presiding over the electoral college certification, you can’t convince me that this angry mob wouldn’t have snatched her and hurt her — probably killed her — on live television.
The second person in line to the presidency in close proximity to the third in line to the presidency — the Vice President and the Speaker of the House had to be evacuated to a secure location because an angry mob broke down the doors of the Capitol upon orders from a sitting President of the United States. Party no longer enters into this discussion and the decisions we must make now. It doesn’t matter what their names are or which letters are beside them on the ballot — they are American government officials discharging the duties of their offices which they were duly elected to. And that’s it. The mob tried to prevent that duty from being discharged in an angry and violent terrorist insurrection. We must now treat it — and punish it — as such.
There’s been tremendous carping and quarterbacking on this issue but I put hands to keyboard to say that there can be no going back now. There are many elected officials and people in media now laughably calling for unity and healing. But there are only two sides of this national struggle: those who would see America retained and live up to her mandate and highest ideals, and those who would attack her and see her destroyed from within because they no longer respect the cooperation demanded by her.
For the latter group: there must be justice and accountability. Too often we have been asked to look away, to demure, to put tumultuous times behind us, and “move forward for the good of the country”. Not this time. Nixon, Bush 43 — even the first Trump impeachment — they were all expeditious political solutions to very ugly and dark undercurrents of our democracy that we must look directly in the eye and say: “no more.” The cult of Trump is a cancer on our country that is so much worse that these prior examples. It is a strain of domestic terrorism and now violent insurrection that believes it’s okay to accept foreign influence in our sovereign elections — so long as that works in their team’s favor. It believes it’s okay to threaten violence against your fellow citizens because of their political beliefs. That believes it’s okay to keep the entire country in an uproar for four long years to accomplish your political gains. But most importantly: it believes that it’s okay to discard 244 years of hard-fought processes, laws, norms, and standards that have guided us since our founding — all for the sake of continuing to prop-up a candidate and a man devoid of patriotism, morals, character, or respect for the rule of law and the people it’s derived from.
It stops now. There will be no moving on as a country until we have dealt with this. There can only be healing on the other side of accountability and consequences.
Donald J. Trump must be removed from office. If he doesn’t resign, the Vice President — whose life was also threatened by the mob — and the cabinet must remove him by way of the 25th Amendment. If they can’t find their spines and resolve to do that, the House should impeach Trump for a second time — and the Senate should move as swiftly as the emergency threat to national security and the health of our democracy warrants — to remove him from office and ensure he is disqualified from serving ever again.
Those who are complicit in the congress and the media should bear a heavy price as well. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and James Lankford are just a few who were symbolically using their political power to achieve the same aims as the armed mob: they were actively frustrating the will of the people, seeking to overturn the duly sworn electoral votes from the various states who have long since made their decision on who should assume the presidency. They should be considered for expulsion by their various deliberative bodies and an up or down vote put forward on their continued opportunity to have the privilege of governing.
And if those efforts fail — states should mount their own recall elections. These political figures who continue to prop up these lies and remain willingly complicity must pay a heavy price for the blood on their hands and the damage they have done to our Republic. They cut a deal with Trump — a man they knew was dangerous to our democracy — to use his demagoguery to remain in power — and this is what it should now cost them. They knew who he was as early as 2015 — there is no excuse for their failure to remove him when they had the chance, for four years of enabling him, and for stepping to chamber floor to support his insurrection against the people of the United States.
Finally, the mob itself must be brought to justice. Every person in that crowd shares the blood of the dead on their hands. At any moment they could have chosen to step back and yet they swarmed through doors and broken windows, stormed the Senate gallery, stole property and vandalized offices — and as a fitting symbol to the disdain they hold for our institutions they smeared feces on the walls of the Capitol — literally desecrating our shrine to democracy — on their way to destroy it and tear it down.
They must — each and every one — be brought to account. Their livelihood, their hate speech, their physical agency and freedoms must be punished for the irreparable harm of attempting to overthrow our government. They are domestic terrorists — they are insurrectionists— and they should be treated as such.
This is going to come into conflict with our national tendency to want to move on and President-elect Biden’s desire to unify the country. But we can do those things and still hold the terrorists accountable too. The time for choosing has passed: it’s either America or Trump and his enablers. If people chose Trump, as Peggy Noonan said this week, they should bear the “extreme dishonor” of that allegiance to the man instead of the Constitution.
Throw the book at them — lock them up. If we don’t, we only entertain this nightmare happening again — and we risk them being better organized, better armed, and achieving more bloody outcomes the next time.
“…a Republic if you can keep it,” said Franklin. Now for the moment, a few brave Capitol Police officers have allowed us to keep it — the next steps are up to us.