The unprecedented, shocking and disgraceful violent attack on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday as lawmakers met to certify Electoral College votes shows that the foundation of America’s democracy is at risk. We are deeply divided and in peril here at home, and this puts America at a heightened risk from our adversaries abroad.
We can rightfully blame President Trump for inciting his followers to storm the Capitol with the intent of jeopardizing the democratic process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s legitimate election victory. Trump has done our country a great disservice through his unrelenting efforts to sow doubt about the integrity of our elections in the absence of proof.
Four people died as rioters swarmed the Capitol — a woman shot by Capitol Police and three people who died as a result of medical emergencies, authorities said.
Trump finally took the important step early Thursday of acknowledging in a statement tweeted out by an aide that there will be an “orderly transition” of power. But we have to view this statement in the context of the president’s encouragement of the riots Wednesday, when he urged his protesting supporters — who had come to Washington at his request — to march on the Capitol to demand that he be declared the winner of the November election.
And the president at long last released a video message Thursday night in which he said on camera for the first time that he will be leaving office Jan. 20.
“Congress has certified the results. A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20th,” Trump said. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
The president added that he was “outraged” by individuals who participated in the violent attack on the Capitol and said those who broke the law “will pay.”
These comments are of course greatly welcome and substantially ease the crisis created by the attack on the Capitol. But it is still hard to forget that the president took a very different stance just a day earlier.
Fortunately, Vice President Mike Pence is honoring and supporting the Democratic process and our Constitution. On Wednesday he rejected Trump’s calls to refuse to accept the electoral votes of several states that voted for Biden in November. Once Congress finally accepted all the electoral votes Thursday morning, turning back challenges from some Republicans, Trump ran out of options to challenge his election loss.
Even Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. — who sought to keep Trump in the White House by rejecting some Biden electors, and whose position I couldn’t disagree with more — decried the violent attack on the Capitol. Hawley said the place to resolve issues with our electoral process is first in the courts and then in Congress — but never with violence.
To that end, some have likened the Wednesday rioting to what we witnessed this summer in major cities across the country, when racial justice protests in the streets turned violent. Buildings and cars were set on fire, stores were looted, and law enforcement officers were attacked when the protests got out of control and embraced criminal activity.
At the time, many Democrats were more interested in explaining the violence by discussing America’s long history of systemic racism and advocating for defunding the police than they were in decrying lawbreaking and supporting lawful government and policing.
To be clear, I do not see equivalence here. But I do understand the concerns of those on the right who believe that those on the left have, when it has suited them, been willing to put our democratic values and public safety at risk for political purposes.
Indeed, the right is not wrong to say that the left has acted in anti-systemic ways in the past. But the attack on the Capitol — the first since British troops attacked during the War of 1812 — was certainly more serious because it was armed insurrection.
This was an attempted coup to keep Trump in power despite his election loss. And disgracefully, the president initially incited and applauded those who marched on the Capitol before pulling back and telling them in a video he tweeted out to be peaceful. But that call for peaceful protest did not come until after rioters successfully stormed the Capitol.
Without question, the rioting and violence in our cities and in the Capitol were both wrong. But the lawless mob that invaded our Capitol put our democracy in jeopardy.
Being so close and so partisan, the results of the U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia that were held Tuesday clearly fed into the passions and suspicions of Trump voters. Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock won those two races, giving Democrats a razor-thin majority in the Senate.
As a result of the Georgia elections, Democrats and Republicans now each hold 50 seats in the 100-member Senate, enabling incoming Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote to give Democrats control. Democrats retained their majority in the House of Representatives in the November election, although their majority is now slimmer.
Once Biden and Harris are inaugurated as president and vice president Jan. 20, they and Democrats in both houses of Congress will have a responsibility to govern in a moderate way. They will need to reach out to soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to make it clear that our country is deeply divided and has to be brought together by both parties.
This means all sides must make it clear that they will not tolerate extreme behavior on the left or the right. Biden rightfully decried the violence at the Capitol Wednesday and called for a de-escalation of violence for the “work of democracy to go forward.”
On Thursday Biden denounced those who attacked the Capitol as “a riotous mob” and “domestic terrorists.”
Importantly, with Democrats set to control the presidency and both chambers of Congress, they must not allow the radical left to encourage or condone violent protests and should reject calls to defund the police.
The larger challenge now is to move beyond this moment in our nation’s history and get our country back, because we are at risk from threats we face at home and abroad.
As I argue in my most recent book, “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat,” our authoritarian adversaries like Russia and China grow stronger as Americans’ faith in our democratic processes erodes and as more of our own citizens lose faith in their institutions and their government.
In order to confront threats from our adversaries, the U.S. needs to show that we stand for democracy. Sadly, as rioters overran the Capitol on Wednesday, it looked as if America stands for nothing.
Ultimately, the attack on the Capitol was deeply upsetting moment for our country. All patriotic Americans should rightfully be profoundly troubled by what transpired.
But right now, it is of the utmost importance that lawmakers from both parties commit to peaceful resolution of our differences and to a bipartisan approach to ending the coronavirus pandemic with mass vaccinations, additional economic stimulus and economic recovery, improved health care, and ultimately national reconciliation and revitalizing our sense of purpose. Nothing is more important.