These are not the words I intended to write today.
Comparing the disputed election results from 2020 and 1876, either a potential crisis for America, is still important. There are lessons there, not the least of which is we should be optimistic about the future of our democracy.
It just seems trivial, in light of the deaths, the terror and the violence in our Capitol this week, to dig through books about 145-year-old history. I’ll return to that, but I can’t look past the brutal reality of this week. At least, not right now.
Now there’s a rush to fix blame for the damage and the dead. The real punishment, of course, has already been inflicted, on those who died and on the survivors who were traumatized by the invasion of the Capitol building.
Next will come the legal penalties that are certain to fall on individuals who violated the law by attacking the police and breaking into and vandalizing the Capitol building. Can you guess who, with even greater certainty, will not be penalized for the mayhem? Let me answer for you. It is the people most directly responsible.
The mob that rushed an inadequate assembly of Capitol Police and unarmed national guardsmen did not appear by magic. They had been convinced, over months and years of listening to lies and phony conspiracy theories, that they were victim patriots.
Clever manipulation of television news and social media to earn corporate profits had told them that anyone who disagreed with the lies they were being fed lived solely to hate America. Only by turning up in person on the Capitol Mall, during a deadly pandemic, could this small band of intrepid heroes save the country from the evil of people who believed differently than they did.
Finally these presumably rational, responsible citizens — they were mostly middle-class, white Americans with enough money to travel to Washington, D.C. — gathered. They listened to our president’s personal lawyer and fixer call for overturning the result of last November’s election. They could do it through “trial by combat” with Democrats. They heard the president’s son threaten congressmen, “We’re coming for you,” if those elected representatives did not try to overturn the Electoral College vote for President-elect Joe Biden.
Then they heard the president himself, one more time, tell them that the disputed election had been “stolen” from him. And, calling the election he lost, “an assault on democracy,” the president invited them to, “walk down to the Capitol,” with him. He, of course, did not join the walk.
In the few minutes that walk took, the thus-primed crowd of people had become a violent mob. Now one of that mob is dead.
She was a 14-year Air Force veteran who embraced QAnon conspiracy theories and strongly supported Trump. She was shot by a police officer.
Four others including a police officer are also dead — of reported “medical emergencies.” Whether they were crushed, or trampled, by the invading mob, or experienced some other distress is still unclear.
Some on the left, and on the right, are publicly calling for the immediate removal of the president. That would be, they say, accomplished by Vice-President Mike Pence and a majority of the president’s Cabinet invoking the 25th Amendment.
That’s unlikely to happen. Given his personal political ambitions it isn’t clear Pence would even do it. There’s also the matter of getting a majority of Trump’s hand-picked Cabinet, selected not for their intelligence, judgement or wisdom, but rather for their personal loyalty, to even agree with such an act.
Besides, to argue invoking the 25th Amendment is to view the current situation far too simplistically. Trump did not act alone. No tyrant, no dictator, no sociopath with great power ever does evil entirely by himself.
If there were one constructive act that might have come from the events on Wednesday, it would have involved Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. They led the plan to “object” to the Electoral College votes for Biden and gave false hope to those who believed the election would be undone. Hawley and Cruz needed to have gotten down on their hands and knees in that Capitol hallway, in front of that shattered doorway window, to wipe up the blood.
I cannot think of any other means of communicating to them, and symbolically to the more than 100 representatives and a dozen other senators, and all the others who enabled the president, the reality of how constant loyalty to a cult of personality can have such tragic consequences.
Dave Finkelnburg is a long-time Idahoan, a former newspaper journalist, and is currently semi-retired from an engineering career.