Today, Wednesday, January 6, 2021, has been a day that Americans will not soon forget. Since the founding of the Republic over 240 years ago the primary characteristic that has distinguished us from all other countries has been that we are a nation of laws. We have this remarkable document called the Constitution, which reigns supreme. Whenever there has been disagreement among different factions we generally settle them with debate, not violence. We may disagree, but we generally treat the opposition with respect. If we don’t approve of a government representative or his policies we vote him or her out. We are not a “banana republic.” We are not Soviet Russia. We are better than that.
That is what made today’s events so disturbing. The sight on tv of hundreds of thousands of protestors gathering at the Capitol and some of them even breaching the Capitol, itself, was something I had never seen before and never thought I ever would. The crowd was mostly peaceful, but, some got violent, and tragically, one demonstrator was killed. The threat of additional violence was omnipresent. The situation was beyond embarrassing.
The House and Senate had been in session fulfilling their constitutional duty to certify the electors from the November election as required by Article 2 of the Constitution. They were in the midst of debating the merits of a challenge to the validity of the electors in some of the states. These challenges had been brought by a group of senators and representatives who were alleging election irregularities and fraud. They were forced to recess and shelter in place for their own protection, “subject to the recall of the Chair.” Additionally, Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Grassley, the VP, Speaker and President pro tempore, respectively, were sequestered in an undisclosed location. The Capitol, itself, was put on “lockdown.” As I write this Congress is back in session, and as Mitch McConnell said it will fulfill its duty and certify the chosen electors.
The genesis of the protests was that approximately 40% of voters are convinced that the 2020 presidential election was not free and fair. In their minds there is ample evidence that the election was “stolen” from Mr. Trump. Several examples of “irregularities,” if not outright fraud, have come to light since the election, which I have detailed in previous blogs. Many of these have been supported by affidavits, videotape, and eyewitness accounts. Trump and his supporters have been pursuing these in various venues, but have been thwarted at every turn. The Supreme Court has declined to even hear the case, not on the merits, but on the basis of lack of standing. To most people who are not constitutional lawyers, this distinction without a difference has only served to fuel the anger, frustration and the sense that they are being denied justice and fairness. Remember, our system of government only works if the people believe the elections are free and fair.
These people needed to vent their anger and frustration. In addition, they wanted to show their support for President Trump. I believe that Trump went a little overboard with respect to this protest. He encouraged his supporters to march on DC to demonstrate. Fair enough. That’s what Americans do. But, he went too far. He issued several tweets that served to inflame the situation. Moreover, he attacked several prominent GOP supporters who had always been in his corner, such as Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell. Thus, in a few short weeks he has destroyed much of the legacy he has built up in four years. At the moment, he looks like a spoiled, petulant child who is “acting out” because he did not get his way.
By vowing to “never concede” and continuing to insist that he really won the election he is doing what he criticized Hillary Clinton for doing after the 2016 election. He has taken this as far as he can. At this point, it is apparent he is not going to prevail in the courts or anywhere else. Further action will only lead to false hope. Now, he should concede graciously. He should thank his supporters for their loyalty and advise them to “stand down.”
The “fat lady” has sung. In another context the late Yogi Berra once intoned sagely that “it ain’t over ’till it’s over.” Well, sorry to say, it’s over.
All that said, let’s not forget about the 40%. Our government leaders have to deal with their feelings. They cannot just say, “the election’s over; forget it and move on; stop complaining; shut up and go sit in the corner.” People feel they are being victimized by a do-nothing Congress that once elected does not follow through on campaign promises, a corrupt, biased media that does not print the truth, and by autocratic tech oligarchs that censor social media postings arbitrarily. They are frightened by the pandemic and frustrated by their leaders’ response to it. Many of them have lost their jobs and their businesses and are at the end of their rope. Those same feelings of anger and frustration and sense that they are being ignored will not just go away. They will fester, and at some point they may explode again. I am reminded of the scene from the movie, Network, in which the lead character says he is “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” That feeling has to be dealt within some equitable and reasonable way. People need closure for what is bothering them. They need to feel that their leaders care about them and will protect them.
I remember that after the JFK assassination when a goodly portion of the people were convinced of a conspiracy the government sanctioned an independent investigation headed by Earl Warren, a much respected former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Warren Commission’s report helped tamp down the feelings of conspiracy (although not entirely). Something like that might help. Another suggestion would be a sincere attempt at meaningful election reform, so that at least people would have confidence in future elections.
There may be other good ideas out there. I will leave it to people smarter than me to deal with it. The one thing our leaders cannot do, however, is nothing. Unfortunately, though, doing nothing is something at which the government is very good.