No American alive has seen an assault on American democracy quite like the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. News footage carried the harrowing vision of protesters climbing the walls, breaking into the building and forcing the nation’s elected representatives into hiding.
This is the kind of action that takes place elsewhere and not in the beacon of freedom that is the United States of America. But now it takes place here, too, and all Americans must share in the shame of witnessing a violent attempt to overturn a presidential election and shred the nation’s fundamental democratic traditions.
Let’s be clear: For four years, Americans were routinely lied to by their president. Following his defeat by Democrat Joe Biden, President Donald Trump continually escalated the lies about the election outcome, repeatedly and baselessly claiming the election had been stolen from him. Rather than stand up for democracy, enablers in his Republican Party let these lies take hold among the president’s supporters. Then, having fostered distrust, some Republicans claimed an electoral challenge was necessary because of the very distrust they had sown.
Thus opened the way for the “unprecedented assault,” as Biden put it in his address to the nation. Biden’s remarks were presidential, but he is not president yet. He called on Trump to “go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege.”
Minutes later, a video carried the president’s remarks, in which Trump repeated his baseless accusation about the election. This took place hours after the protesters had breached the Capitol, with Trump finally telling them they should “go home in peace.”
This is where we are at the moment, with the deadline for this section of the newspaper looming an hour after the 6 p.m. curfew imposed on Washington.
It was a day in which a mob interrupted Congress certifying a new president, replacing the procedure with insurrection and chaos. A day in which lawmakers had to be evacuated or had to shelter in place in their offices. A day when members of the National Guard were mobilized to assist police. A day that was horrifying to behold.
All because of a self-serving president unwilling to accept reality, and a coddling political party that for far too long has been unwilling to challenge him and stand up for democracy.
There will be much more to be said about this day. We have faith that America and its democracy will survive, but this is the darkest of dark hours, and that survival is going to depend on serious introspection and serious reckoning.