By Tasawwar Rahman (‘22)
January 6, 2021– a date which will live in infamy– the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the President of the United States, aided and abetted by his most violent factions.
But let there be no doubt that this attack, against a coequal branch of government, lies squarely at the feet of the President. A President whom for months has spread a vicious conspiracy that the election was somehow stolen on the mere basis that he did not win. He has misused his position of authority to inflame his supporters’ worst instincts, pedalling in false hopes and fears, yet feigns shock when they’re drawn to act on them.
Even worse, the President expressed glee as he saw these truly horrific scenes unfold at the Capitol and refused to condemn the violence until much later, instead choosing to attack his Vice President who was in the building at the time. In a video message to his supporters, despite the attack, he repeated his false claims about the election three times and concluded by saying “We love you. You’re very special.” Not once condemning the violence. Later, he justifies it when tweeting “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots.” His lies since the election assembled the mob, and his words on January 6th unleashed it. For that he is responsible.
And now what is left? A President with blood on his hands. A Capitol desecrated. And a country divided. Five people are dead, including a capitol police officer, Officer Brian Sicknick, and four of the President’s most ardent supporters. Let us be clear, they did not have to nor deserve to die. Their deaths could have been prevented had this selfish man said two simple words, “I concede.” Yet even that is beyond this President.
Not since the War of 1812 has our Capitol been breached. Then, the redcoats toited the standard of a despotic monarch upon the people of the United States. On January 6th, the red hats usurped the American flag with that of a wannabe tyrant. And never, not even at the height of a Civil War which claimed the lives of 600k Americans, has the Confederate battle flag, a flag of treason, marched through the halls of Congress.
Yet on January 6th, terrorists marched on the Capitol to try and overturn the results of a democratically held election. But they did so because this President led them to believe that it was within the constitutional bounds, it’s not. The idea that the Vice President can unilaterally disenfranchise 155 million Americans is obscene. Though Trump’s apologists in Congress say they want a commission like that of 1876, what they fail to mention is that the Commission ended reconstruction ushering in Jim Crow, and that uniquely, there were competing slates of electors that simply do not exist at present. But it’s not as if Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, both former Supreme Court law clerks, aren’t educated on what history or the constitution demands, they just don’t give a damn.
Senator Cruz says democracy is at risk when millions of Americans believe their votes don’t matter. He is right, but it’s at risk precisely because of him, this President, and his enablers. The President has had his day in court, all 62 of them, yet has failed in each one to win on the merits. So instead he desperately resorts to pressuring state officials, ironically, to commit electoral fraud. Or lashing out at his Vice President because he refused to carry out an unconstitutional legislative coup. Or even entertaining the unconscionable idea of invoking martial law to redo the election. Yet what those who aid this President in his dangerous game are unwilling to acknowledge is that democracy is fragile.
One auspicious night in November 1923, Adolf Hitler attempted a similarly clumsy coup. He and his sympathizers stormed a local pub where the heads of the Bavarian government were meeting and while that coup, much like our own, did not succeed; only 10 years later Hitler declared himself dictator of Germany and just as quickly, a democracy fell. In fueling his rise, he repeated an eerily familiar lie, that Germany had ‘really won’ the war but was “stabbed in the back.”
America must learn the lessons of the past so that they may never become our present. Democracies seldom fall to authoritarianism overnight, no, instead it is the work of carefully dismantling the institutions of public trust that grounds them. For the past four years, we have seen just that. Whether it be retaliation against whistleblowers and claims of a “deep state” to justify it. Or dismissing a free press that would hold our leaders to account as “fake news.” Or undermining confidence in our most fundamental right, the franchise. These are the tools of authoritarians who slowly work to erode the very democratic mechanisms that put them there.
Democracy, a constitution, and laws aren’t only good when your party wins. To claim an election was stolen to save face is the epitome of selfishness and dereliction of duty. So how long, I ask, can the Republican party go on like this? What more– beyond the White House, Congress, and their principles– must Republicans lose before they stand up to this disgraced President? While today, our national nightmare has finally ended, what lies ahead is still uncertain. We are a house hopelessly divided, yet history teaches us that cannot stand. For the sake of every American, I pray we come together, look past our differences, find compromise, and share in our humanity so that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall never perish from the earth.