Yesterday was an historic day and not in the way we would like. Sadly, in addition to a pandemic that has killed more than 362,000 people- one out of every 1,000 Americans- the horrific event of thugs taking over our nation’s capital and controlling it for hours will be in our history books. To make sense of it all, I compiled some of the stories and links to images in my comments below. I hope you will spend some time reviewing my comments and the links I am sharing:
I never thought I would see a day in our country like yesterday. My husband and I were in Nigeria in 1975 when a coup took place there, but it was nothing like yesterday’s coup attempt in my own country. Nigeria’s coup was peaceful, and no one died. There are now reports of four people dead and numerous people injured after yesterday’s insurrection.
The videos and images of thugs storming the Capitol building, attempting to replace the American flag on the Capitol with a Trump flag, sitting in the seat Mike Pence had just vacated, and lounging at Nancy Pelosi’s office desk seem unreal. The images of a noose outside the Capitol and White Power symbols are quite jarring, but possibly the image of the man carrying the Confederate battle flag through the halls of Congress stands out the most to me. That flag represents insurrection that failed. It never reached Washington, DC during the Civil War, and as a minor battle flag during the actual Civil War, it only became a symbol of resistance to racial integration in the 20th Century. As a Southerner and social studies teacher, I see it as a symbol of bigotry and ignorance of our true history.
There is no doubt Trump incited the crowd. He invited protesters to DC on the sixth telling them it would be “wild.” Before Trump took the stage earlier in the day, Rudolph Giuliani called for “trial by combat” against the Democrats. Donald Trump, Jr. said “We’re coming for you.”
Trump then took the stage to falsely claim the election was fraudulent and that it was stolen. He instructed his cult followers to go to the Capitol building, and he told them to “get rid of the weak Congress people”. He said, “this is the time for strength” and that he would “never concede.” Even Republican lawmakers have said he incited this seditious rampage.
The situation at the Capitol complex was dire. The mob used a “chemical irritant” to overcome the Capitol police as they broke windows and pushed through barricades to enter the Capitol building. For approximately four hours, they roamed the hallowed halls of our seat of government, smashed benches, turned over offices, and put MAGA hats on statues. One left a threatening message for Nancy Pelosi.
More serious, however, was the threat of physical harm to individuals. Staffers barricaded themselves in offices while angry rioters banged on their doors attempting to get in. Lawmakers and aides were terrified. Most heartbreaking were the stories I heard from two women lawmakers who said they called family members to tell them they loved them because they thought they could die in the U.S. Capitol.
This outstanding podcast by New York Times reporters who were forced to remain in the Capitol building conveys the chaos and some of the fear staff and elected officials felt during that time.
As the violence continued, Trump remained in the White House, watched what was happening and Tweeted unhelpful Tweets. One official described him as a “total monster” as he refused to condemn the violence. The video he finally posted after others insisted that he act told his followers to go home, but he ad libbed lies about election results and told the thugs who had stormed the Capitol building, “We love you; you’re very special.” After months of his misinformation, Twitter and other social media sites decided to lock Trump’s accounts. Facebook has now banned Trump indefinitely.
- Despite these criminal acts, Congress did what it was going to do all along: They certified Biden’s win. After the brief occupation of the Capitol building, some members of Congress who said they were going to participate in the stunt to challenge votes decided not to do so. They knew all along it was going to fail because they did not have the Constitution on their side.
- Trump has supposedly agreed to an “orderly transition of power,” but he is mentally incapable of admitting he lost a fair election. He continues to believe or to lie about the election results even though 62 court decisions, some by Trump appointees, determined there is no evidence to support overturning the votes of over 81 million voters. Frankly, I am concerned about January 20th.
- There will be criminal charges against too few of the insurrectionists, but using the images from staffers, police body cams, and social media posts by proud pro-Trumpers, prosecutors have a lot of work to do. Because federal property and interference with government function were involved and because their actions resulted in a death inside the Capitol, some of the individuals will face strong criminal punishment.
- There are calls to invoke the 25th Amendment and/or impeach Trump again to remove him from office for the last few days of this failed presidency.
- Some staff members have resigned saying they cannot continue considering this flagrant breakdown of law and order. One of those was Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former chief of staff who was serving as special U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland.
- Leaders of foreign countries reacted with shock and condemnation. Most of them indicated their belief that Trump was responsible. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “I very much regret that President Trump has not acknowledged his defeat since November.” She also said his comments created the atmosphere that led to yesterday’s events.
- France’s Emmanuel Macron released a video, mostly in French, in which he talked about democracy in our two countries. He ended in English saying he wanted to express his friendship and his faith in the United States. He said, “This is not America.” Then, he added, “We believe in the strength of American democracy.”
- China, on the other hand, is enjoying the spectacle. When this is happening in our own capital, it is hard to condemn the conflict between China and Hong Kong.
This is a dark chapter in American history. People who have followed me know I have ranted about Donald Trump for more than four years. I am saddened by yesterday’s events, but I am not surprised. Trump’s love of dictators, his narcissism, his casual relationship with the truth, and/or his fragile grasp of reality caused this.
But those people who have enabled him are just as responsible. The elected officials who did not stand up to him when they knew he was wrong, the media figures who gave him a platform to spew hate, division, and misinformation, the religious leaders and average citizens who recognized his immorality but decided he would give them what they wanted helped to create an atmosphere in which our very institutions were placed in jeopardy.
I don’t know what will happen in the next few days. As I finish writing this, I see that newly-elevated Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment. I read that Pence was furious yesterday, so I do not know what he will do. With Pence’s years of adoring glances, it is hard to imagine he will do much.
I want to believe that America is better than this. I want to echo Macron’s comments that “I believe in American Democracy,” but that democracy is more fragile than I had hoped. I am convinced it is up to all us to make sure this does not happen again: pay close attention, check the facts, stand up to lies and abuses of power, support people who have the best interests of the country at heart, take action when necessary, and refuse to give in to hate and division.
That is what will truly make America Great.