It is the end of a long and historic day. One that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer likened to December 7, 1941 when he said that January 6th — the day American citizens attacked their own Capitol — “will live forever in infamy.”
Yes, January 6, 2021 has been a day that will be well known for the horrible deed perpetrated by a group of thugs, goons, insurrectionists, domestic terrorists, and rioters. A deed by a mob that was incited by the sitting president of the United States due to this selfish man’s injured pride. A president who was enabled in his lies about a stolen election by a large segment of a political party that has put power above democracy, a media network that has put the convenient lie above the hard truth, and wealthy oligarchs who have put the maintenance and growth of their personal wealth above all other considerations.
It is one more day when the fragility of our democracy and democratic institutions was showcased for all the world to see.
It is a good day to recall that violence and paranoia are part of the American character. Both were on full display today. If you want to see what can happen when those traits get out of hand, it may be a good week to read Joanne B. Freeman’s Field of Blood.
As I wrote in 2019, you will soon be absorbed…
“,,, in the riveting tales of mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests…and that’s just on the floor of Congress! During the turbulent and violent three decades leading up to the Civil War, bowie knives and pistols were regularly drawn on members by other members. Duels happened with alarming frequency, including one that led to the death of one representative at the hand of another. All involved, with the exception of the poor victim, were handily re-elected. Slavery, and its future in America, was the key issue that led to this bullying, fighting, and total breakdown of civil discourse.
The book tells the story of:
- Extreme polarization
- Fundamental disagreements about what kind of nation the United States would be
- Splintering political parties
- New technologies skewing and scattering the news, and complicating politics in the process
- Conspiracy theories being spread, North and South, as the nation’s crisis unfolds
- Panic about the impact of free speech in that fraught environment
- Rampant distrust in national political institutions as well as rampant distrust of Americans in each other
Seeing the Confederate and Trump flags in the hands of the mob walking through the rotunda was one more painful reminder that we haven’t worked through our racial issues in this country. Watching the Capitol police’s restraint in handling the insurrectionists breaking down the doors of our “citadel of democracy” was a reminder that white privilege extends even to the handling of thugs…as long as they are not black.
It was a sad day, and we have much work to do.
Watching the Senate debate on the baseless objections to Arizona’s electoral slate by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — who inconceivably put out fundraising appeals in the middle of the siege — was one reason I have some hope. After the Capitol was cleared and order restored, some of the senators who enabled this president for four years or more seemed to understand that not only the president, but they had crossed a line. History is what told them to take a step back. Lindsey Graham reminded those objecting that the 1877 compromise — which Cruz, Hawley, and others cited as precedent for their objections — led to the trading of the presidency for the end of Reconstruction in the South and the institution of Jim Crow. And Lindsey, of all people, noted that this was a bad incident to cite as your precedent.
Will miracles never cease?
Three other things give me hope. First, the outcome of the special elections in Georgia that will end for a while the stranglehold Mitch McConnell has had on our government. Second, the fact that in the early morning hours of January 7th, Congress returned, did its business, and certified the 2020 election victories of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And finally, the belief that this could be the wake-up call we have been needing to take back our democracy.
But there is no way to put lipstick on this pig; this was a bad day for America. And Donald Trump was only the instigator today. He had plenty of enablers as part of a project that is built on inequality and is now four decades old. As Duke historian Nancy MacLean wrote in her Democracy in Chains, “the extremity of our current situation is in good part due to the outsized power of corporations and wealthy donors over our politics and public policy.” In other words, individuals who put wealth and power over democracy and people.
January 20th cannot come soon enough.
More to come…