By now, everybody has had plenty of time to think about the fact that U.S. Capitol building was, fairly easily, taken over by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters on Wednesday.
Members of Congress, meeting to accept the Electoral College results confirming Trump’s loss in the November election, had to duck and cover, and scramble to safety. Guns were drawn by security officers; one of the insurrectionists was shot and killed and a Capitol Police officer died later from injuries.
Smirking invaders posed in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office, and where the speaker and the vice president normally sit to preside over the House and Senate.
Somehow, only 13 arrests among the crowd of white protesters were made during the takeover, turning this incident into a political billboard for the concept of white privilege.
How should we react to this assault on the seat of American democracy and, considering that the mob’s wish was to overthrow a presidential election, democracy itself?
One option is the kumbaya response, a call for unity and community, reaching out to all sides despite the harsh divisions in American society.
President-elect Joe Biden has done a bit of this.
“And this godawful display today, let’s bring it home to every Republican and Democrat and Independent in the nation, that we must step up,” Biden said as the Capitol occupation was ongoing. “This is the United States of America. There’s never, ever, ever, ever, ever been a thing we’ve tried to do that, when we’ve done it together, we’ve not been able to do it.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, in a beautiful speech as the Senate met to shoot down objections to the Arizona election results hours after the Capital had been cleared of invaders, also made comments in this category.
“… I want to beg you – don’t let the screamers who monetize hate have the final word,” Sasse said. “Don’t let nihilists become your drug dealers. There are some who want to burn it all down. We met some of them today. But they aren’t going to win. Don’t let them be your prophets. Instead, organize, persuade, but, most importantly, love your neighbor. Visit the widower down the street who’s lonely, and didn’t want to tell anybody that his wife died and he doesn’t have a lot of friends. Shovel somebody’s driveway. You can’t hate somebody who just shoveled your driveway. The heart of life is about community and neighborhood … .”
But the “can’t we all get along” line, alone, is nowhere near sufficient for this moment.
The sitting president of the United States, addressing a huge crowd of supporters early Wednesday, incited a mob to move on the Capitol, where Congress and Vice President Mike Pence were scheduled to formally accept Electoral College vote in Biden’s favor. For months, starting well before the election, Trump had been spreading lies and bizarre conspiracy theories contesting the validity of American elections. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat” at the president’s rally. All of that was fuel for the subsequent sad events that put an end to the hallowed American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power.
So, anger, not just pleas for shared purpose and good ol’ American mores, is the most important response to the Capitol takeover.
And the anger needs to be directed at Trump and those in powerful positions who’ve enabled or indulged his attacks on the election, not just the Trump fans who believed his bogus claims and who invaded the seat of national government.
Biden, of course, has gone beyond his “I don’t see red or blue states, I see the United States of America” theme. In no uncertain terms, he has condemned the Capitol attack as insurrection and Trump for his part in it.
Sasse, also, was angry. “Today, the United States Capitol – the world’s greatest symbol of self-government – was ransacked while the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard – tweeting against his Vice President for fulfilling the duties of his oath to the Constitution,” Sasse said in a statement.
But it was Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois who maybe best expressed the fury mandated by the Trump-incited riot.
He told the Senate during debate over the validity of Arizona’s electoral votes, “This is a special place. This is a sacred place, but this sacred place was desecrated by a mob today on our watch. What brought this on? Did this mob spring spontaneously from America? No, this mob was invited to come to Washington on this day, by this president for one reason: because he knew the Electoral College vote would be counted this day. He wanted this mob to disrupt the constitutional process. This mob was inspired by a president who cannot accept defeat.”
Durbin also appropriately took shots at Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who in recent days had compared the Stop the Steal crowd to soldiers in famous Revolutionary War battles.
“There is no evidence whatsoever of this rigged election and fraudulence,” Durbin said.
“The vote we’re going to have here is a clear choice of whether we are going to feed the beast of ignorance or if we are going to tell the truth to the American people,” he added. “We saw that beast today roaming the halls. Let’s not invite it back.”
Mitt Romney, the Republican senator from Utah who was the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012, was angry when he was heard yelling at Cruz as senators were hurried out of their chamber as the mob moved in. “This is what you’ve gotten,” Romney shouted, according to news reports.
Romney also gave the best speech of Wednesday night’s debate over electoral votes, during which Cruz proposed creation of a commission to perform a whiz-bang 10-day audit of election results as a salve for those who don’t believe in them.
Romney said, “No congressional-led audit will ever convince those voters, particularly when the president will continue to claim that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership.”
Our country, of course, now must move on from the Trump years and try, somehow, to create a less divisive political society. Maybe some day we’ll sing “Kumbaya.” But, right now, being angry – righteously angry – is entirely appropriate.