Last week our democracy was assaulted — again. With the urging of the president himself, who with his family and political allies baited the crowd with lies and then unleashed them on Congress. Insurrectionists stormed the Capitol building, smashed windows, ransacked offices, and threatened members.
This was more than political dissent. This was domestic terrorism.
Unsuccessful at winning the vote, unwilling to accept his loss, and unable to produce any evidence that the election was “rigged,” Donald Trump sought to seize power, first with propaganda, then by compromising the courts, then by force.
The consequences last week were grave: five people dead, many more injured, scores more under arrest or investigation, and weapons and explosive devices confiscated. Coordinated violence that same day laid siege to multiple statehouses and government buildings around the country.
Donald Trump must be held accountable. Whether by impeachment or criminal prosecution America must show him, her citizens and the world that no one is above the law.
Trump’s assault on democracy is not new. He has attacked and undermined it consistently for four years, each occasion followed eventually by a collective political shrug. He inspired the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, the killer who massacred worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the vigilante who shot peaceful protesters in the streets over the George Floyd killing, and the thugs planning to kidnap the Michigan governor.
While last week’s storming of the Capitol may have been the first in more than 150 years, the assault on our democracy has been ongoing. And Republicans have been leading it.
The rise in hate crimes, white supremacist activity, and even excessive police force can all be traced to him. After four years of such shock and lawlessness, especially with only days left before he leaves office, I understand the wish to turn the page on Trump or the risk of making him seem a martyr in the eyes of his followers. But four years of failing to hold him accountable surely encourages more of the same dangerous excesses.
The president’s enablers in Congress should be held accountable as well. Many of the Republican members who — in the absence of evidence — vigorously promoted false claims of widespread fraud in the recent election are the same who — in the face of actual evidence — derided the proof of interference by Russian interlopers in the 2016 election.
Representative Cori Bush was right to file legislation to remove members of the U.S. House who supported the election fraud fantasies that led to last week’s attacks. Representative Jim Clyburn is also right to demand an extensive investigation into the origins and planning of the attack.
While last week’s storming of the Capitol may have been the first in more than 150 years, the assault on our democracy has been ongoing. And Republicans have been leading it. Hyper-partisan gerrymandering to tilt representation toward the extremes. Voter suppression through onerous registration rules, limits on times and places to vote, purging voter lists, even poll taxes. Gutting the Voting Rights Act. Removing the limits on dark money in campaigns. The influence of lobbyists on legislative action or inaction. Each of these maneuvers has been about ensuring Republican power, at the expense of democratic principle.
A friend of mine says that we have treated our democracy for decades like it would tolerate limitless abuse without breaking. Last week we all got to see how close our democracy is to breaking.
[W]ithout democracy reform the many other worthy policy objectives of the new administration ... will be up for grabs.
So along with holding Trump and his congressional enablers accountable, democracy reform must be a priority of the incoming Biden administration and Congress.
Instead of shrugging over the allies who fund and the media who defend the insurrection, let’s fix our democracy so that Americans can have a fair competition of ideas and the chance to elect and to hold to account responsible public leaders. Indeed, without democracy reform, the many other worthy policy objectives of the new administration — from health care to clean energy to a fair tax system — will be up for grabs.
America still has a chance to show the world that an inclusive democracy based on civic ideals can succeed. That vision of American democracy is worth defending. But it won’t happen if there is no accountability for Trump and his enablers, and no reform of the flaws in our systems that make the rise of such demagogues so easy.
That’s why the greatest threat to our democracy right now is inaction.
This segment aired on January 12, 2021.