With just days remaining before the inauguration of Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States, we had hoped to be able to turn the page on the disastrous four years that thankfully end at noon next Wednesday. But January 6, 2021, a day that will, itself, live on in infamy, has many Americans reflecting on what has happened to this country and one of its major political parties.
Let’s not harbor any illusions about what took place in our nation’s capital last week. President Donald Trump incited a mob to overrun the Capitol building in order to halt a process required by the U.S. Constitution that would confirm Mr. Biden’s election as president. While we’ll never know the motivations of every participant in this attack on America, there is evidence to suggest that at least some within the mob intended to take hostages. Videos of the event recorded participants urging the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence. Windows and doors were smashed in. Offices were trashed and looted. Blood was shed. People died. America was embarrassed before the world because a mentally unstable man could not admit that the American people had rejected him.
Had the perpetrators of this insurrection been more competent, we could have lost it all. Congressional leaders and the vice president could have easily been taken hostage or killed. President Trump could have declared martial law and suspended the Constitution and we’d be just another banana republic under the thumb of a dictator. We were a lot closer to such an outcome than many of us may want to accept. The edifices of government mean nothing without people of honor and decency operating within their halls.
We didn’t reach this point as a nation easily, and it will take time to emerge from this dark age of American democracy. But we believe that the events of Jan. 6 speak to a fundamental failure of the U.S. educational system. A mob descended on Washington because they lacked a basic understanding of how government works.
A citizenry that understands the workings of our electoral process, and the many checks that are in place in each and every state to guard against fraud, would be less gullible in the face of the false claims by a dishonest president and his supporters regarding the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.
Informed and educated Americans would recognize that claims that were rejected more than 60 times in courtrooms across the country, many presided over by judges appointed by Mr. Trump himself, have no legitimacy because they would understand the process by which courts examine evidence and weigh its credibility or lack thereof.
It is the same with the response to the coronavirus and resulting pandemic. Too many Americans lack a basic understanding of science. In too many schools, science is taught as history, rather than as a rigorous method for better understanding the world around us.
People who don’t understand how science operates, how elections function, or how the laws and norms that President Trump so proudly flouts exist to protect us all against abuses of power, are ill-equipped to recognize the dangers of a demagogue like Trump.
Fueled by social media and abetted by cowardly Republican members of Congress, who refused to hold Trump accountable for his lies and abuses of power, millions of Americans found themselves sucked into a rabbit hole of mass delusion from which they could easily be manipulated. It led directly to the mayhem of Jan. 6.
President Trump, without question, incited that mob and deserves ever-lasting ignominy as a result. But members of Congress, including every Republican member of Congress from Minnesota, abetted the mob through their own actions. While Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber ultimately voted to accept the electoral vote count on Jan. 6, he willingly poured fuel on the fire that led to last week’s assault on democracy by signing on to the frivolous Texas lawsuit that sought to invalidate the votes of tens of millions of Americans. By continuing to claim, without a shred of credible evidence, that the election was fraudulent, GOP members of Congress and their mouthpieces in right-wing media lied to the American people in the belief it would boost their political fortunes. It led, instead, to one of the most shameful events in American history.
Clearly, there must be a reckoning. For President Trump, a second impeachment and a conviction by the U.S. Senate, which would bar him from ever again seeking federal office is fully justified. For GOP leaders who looked the other way through four years of Trump’s abuses, real soul-searching is in order. Can the party recover from the Trump cult of personality and begin to stand for something other than his own self-aggrandizement?
Until that happens, even many longstanding Republicans believe their party is no longer fit to govern. The events of Jan. 6 strongly suggest they are right.