The shocking, tragic, and disgraceful events at the Capitol building on January 6th threaten to leave an indelible stain on our nation’s character.
There is no getting around the fact that here in our supposedly stable democracy the Constitutional process of peacefully confirming the results of a legitimate presidential election was interrupted by an unruly mob, egged on by a dangerously self-absorbed president, who refused to concede defeat at the polls until after the mob had ransacked the Capitol building and a police officer was killed.
This might be expected in some parts of the world, but it is not supposed to happen here. And yet it did.
So what will we do about it?
Investigations and prosecutions should follow to assess individual accountability for unlawful actions. This includes both perpetrators and instigators. That would help to mitigate the damage. But we have a deeper problem. Trust in our ability to govern is at stake.
We must restore integrity as a functioning democracy. That vital task begins on January 20th with the swearing-in of a new president who, along with the newly elected and deeply divided Congress, will begin to tackle a daunting legislative agenda that includes ending a deadly pandemic, rebuilding the economy, ensuring social justice and, yes, fiscal responsibility.
Indulging insurrectionist action, fueled by a false belief that the election was “stolen,” will not solve these problems. As Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) put it, “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.”
If there is any solace to be taken from what happened at the Capitol building this week, it is that wiser, cooler, more responsible actions by leaders of both political parties ultimately prevailed. The building was cleared, the vote count continued, and the Constitutional process of transitioning to a new presidential administration was confirmed.
That, however, is a depressingly low bar of success. The only way we can erase the stain of January 6th is to establish that we still know how to resolve differences without violence, that we can distinguish fact from fantasy, and that we honor the rule of law.
We have a lot to prove and it will be a long road back. Let’s get started.