Our country was attacked on Wednesday. My country. Your country.
The assailants were not foreign combatants, Leftist provocateurs, or opportunistic criminals. They were supporters of Donald Trump who, having been deceived into believing the election was stolen from them, committed acts of sedition against the United States by violently breaching barricades into the Capitol to stop the peaceful transfer of power by the duly elected representatives of the American people.
All of this happened precisely because Donald Trump has been spreading lies and misinformation for two months in hopes of overturning the results of the election and because he asked his supporters to come to Washington to “stop the steal” and incited mob violence. Trump’s speech to the crowd that morning contained numerous unsubstantiated claims of a deep state effort led by the Left, big tech, weak Republicans, and other supposed enemies. He (falsely) claimed Mike Pence had the constitutional authority to stop the certifying of votes and that his supporters will “never give up,” “not take it anymore,” and “stop the steal”. He then told them to march to the Capitol and promised to join them there (yet another lie).
Trump—who isn’t exactly known for his reticence in expressing his views on Twitter—then watched in comfort and glee as the violence unfolded before the world. Hours later, as blood stained the Capitol floors and rioters continued to wreak havoc, Trump delivered a brief address that focused far more on approval for his supporters’ loyalty than it did a call for peace. Later that day Tweeter suspended his account when he tweeted such acts are to be expected when an election is stolen.
It was Mike Pence—not Trump—who ultimately put an end to the violent incursion by ordering the deployment of the National Guard. The condemnation Trump was unable to muster at the mob who stormed the Capitol was directed, instead, to Pence and to his top aide, Marc Short, who was denied entry into the White House that same night.
The incursion into the Capitol was justified on the delusional belief among a small but loud minority that the results of the 2020 elections were fraudulent. Speaking as someone who investigates fraud for a living, this is complete nonsense. Whether fraud occurred isn’t the question as all national elections have some fraud in the same sense some Wal-Mart cashiers steal from the cash register. The real question is whether systemic, directed, and widespread fraud occurred to such a degree and in such magnitude for the first time in this nation’s history to somehow fabricate millions of votes and deprive Trump of a win.
Donald Trump insists—and insists very loudly—that this has occurred. Yet Trump and his allies and attorneys haven’t offered evidence to substantiate these laughable allegations. Allegations are not the same as evidence. Claiming you have evidence is not the same as evidence. That one time when that one person claimed they heard/saw that one weird thing that might have called into question the vote-counting integrity of a single precinct is not the same as evidence.
The Dispatch has done a superb job relentlessly debunking the false allegations of election fraud, as have many other respectable news and fact-checking organizations. But no fact checker, no matter how unbiased, knowledgeable, or capable, will ever be able to keep up with the daily onslaught of half-truths, lies, and propaganda churned out by those who desperately do not want to believe the reported results of the election. No sooner has the latest allegation of fraud been debunked than here comes another one. Addressing them all is not only impossible, it's pointless when those who persist in believing them are not operating in good faith.
Might I suggest an alternative? After Trump and his allies and attorneys have failed to present adequate evidence of voter fraud that would stand up in a court of law (multiple court cases, many of which were presided over by Republican or Trump-appointed judges), state assemblies and legislatures (many of whom were majority Republican), the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia (who voted twice for Trump), Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr, the Supreme Court (all three Trump-appointed justices chose not to hear the case), and Trump's own Vice President, shouldn't the burden of proof be on Trump to prove he lost the election? If he can't demonstrate that to the people in positions of authority who monitor, count, and preside over the electoral process who were appointed by him, voted for him, and support him, why should the rest of us believe it?
There are some who suggest that this event, while unfortunate and even tragic, was of no consequence in the long run and certainly not the worst protest we’ve seen recently. One woman was shot and died in a hospital a short while later. Four others have died. Many were injured, the Capitol was looted, and an unsavory mob took ridiculous selfies while ransacking desks and offices of elected officials and brandishing Confederate flags. The nation was never in danger of an actual coup, and Congress resumed business later that evening. Other than that, there’s not much more to say.
I disagree. The real damage—the far greater threat—is what this incursion represented. It was a seditious attack on the final step in the century’s-long process of peacefully transferring power from one individual to another. This process—peculiar to most societies and nonexistent for most of human history—is a rare achievement of a select few Western nations. The fact we don’t have a bloody or, at least, chaotic revolution each time another party takes power is not the natural, default setting for humanity, but something we Americans have enjoyed due to a long, proud tradition of respecting the rule of law and the electoral process.
That is, until Donald Trump.
The fact his month’s-long efforts at overturning the vote of the people was unsuccessful is because of our long tradition and the thick institutions that have been built over the centuries that ensure a peaceful transition. This works like the immune system. It can handle much abuse but, once breached, the results can be fatal.
And once the pandora’s box of questioning the results of the election (as is commonplace in banana republics and third-world dictatorships) has been opened, it becomes far easier to breach that barrier again. And again, and again until, at last, the process is so corrupted and unsustainable that an authoritarian seizes control.
Those who marched on the Capitol were not doing so in the name of democracy or the republic or the Constitution or even for some high-minded political ideology or program. They were doing so because of their loyalty to the cult of personality that’s been built up around Trump himself. If people died in the process, if this successfully marked the end of America’s century’s long experiment in self-government, if this tarnished the Constitution, if this made us a laughingstock to the world, then that was all a small price to pay to ensure Trump remained in power. The fact the attempted coup had no hope of success should not overshadow what this represents: the most significant incursion on our nation’s Capital since the British burned it to the ground in 1814.
It is for this reason that comparisons between this attack on our nation and the protests we witnessed during the summer months that turned violent when agitators from Antifa and other Leftist groups and lawless opportunists took to burning cars and businesses represent a category error. The issue isn’t which groups were more violent, what political agendas they advocated, or how widespread they happened to be, but that only one group—those who assembled in Washington on January 6, stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop the election.
The violence enacted on Wednesday wasn’t primarily against cars and businesses, or even against human lives. It was directed at the rule of law; at the ability of a free people to choose their leaders and respect for the democratic process. The rule of law isn’t one of many alternatives, but the rulebook whereby we respect the process and are able to maintain order. That is, the only alternative to the rule of law is tyranny, which is what this group of protesters represented.
Think for a moment of the rule of law that’s applied to criminal proceedings. Specifically, in a trial by jury. It’s quite true that justice is not guaranteed in our system. Sometimes the innocent are punished, sometimes the guilty go free, and often justice is not metered out judiciously. Yet it’s a far superior system to justice by an authoritarian who does not answer to the law, or justice by mob rule.
Now suppose a member of the jury in a murder trial were to become convinced that their fellow jurors had wrongly acquitted the defendant. And, in the name of “justice”, tracked down the defendant after the trial and murdered them. Perhaps they were correct in believing the defendant to be guilty. Perhaps they were not. But, either way, the process whereby we peaceably determine guilt or innocence was circumvented. If this becomes the default behavior of jurists, the entire system comes to an end.
That is what this incursion on the Capitol represents: a lone juror, deceived by half-truths and conspiracies, taking the law into their own hands. These were not patriots fighting for a just cause, but enemies of the American people attempting to destroy our way of life. Were they ever going to be successful either on Wednesday or at any other point in the past two months? Probably not. But how many Donald Trumps and willing accomplices in Congress willing to look the other way and frenzied mobs does it take until the system finally does collapse? I pray we never find out.