A Shameful Attack on Democracy Itself

The divisions in our country did not start with Donald Trump, but as president, he has poured gasoline on already raging fires. This is where it has brought us.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021.
Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The divisions in our country did not start with Donald Trump, but as president, he has poured gasoline on already raging fires. This is where it has brought us.

A Republican faction openly trying to overturn the results of a presidential election and install President Trump for a second term, in defiance of the public will. Trump in the backyard of the White House urging supporters to protest free and fair election results. A mob of Trump backers assaulting security staff, storming the Capitol, and forcing the emergency lockdown of the seat of representative government in America.

“It’s not protest,” President-elect Joe Biden said. “It’s insurrection.”

This shameful attack on democracy itself is where we found ourselves on Wednesday, after dozens of Republicans in the House and Senate tried to thwart the election of Joe Biden and block the president-elect from taking office January 20.

Specifically, these Republicans sought to derail what is normally a formality—the ceremonial counting by Congress of the Electoral College votes submitted by states—by calling for what Texas senator Ted Cruz described as a “tribunal” to examine election processes and outcomes in several key swing states that Trump lost. 

The effort was doomed to fail because Democrats and a majority of Republicans in both houses were poised to stand up for constitutional democracy. A failed attempt to overturn our elections, though, is cause for concern, not relief.

The partisan effort was backed by several thousand Trump supporters. Urged to action by the president himself, some stormed the U.S. Capitol, assaulted and overwhelmed police and overran metal barricades, forcing the emergency recess of Congress and temporary lockdown of the Capitol.

The lawless and dangerous disruption was encouraged for weeks by Trump, who took to the grassy Ellipse behind the White House to issue an angry call for supporters to march on the Capitol in protest of the election results.

“We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump told a crowd of supporters, shortly before rioters—many of them wearing helmets and paramilitary vests—breached the security perimeter and forced their way into the Capitol.

Ironically, these unprecedented attacks on our democracy unfolded on a day when the voice of the people triumphed elsewhere, electing the Reverend Raphael Warnock, the first Black candidate Georgia has ever sent to the U.S. Senate. That’s progress we all should be celebrating, and it sends a powerful and unmistakable message about the change sweeping the country, at a time when addressing racial injustice, in all its forms, must be central to our larger task of building back better.

Newly elected Senators Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff
Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

And the election of Jon Ossoff from the same state shifts control of the Senate to Biden’s party, giving him the congressional support required to enact an agenda focused on urgent action to tame the pandemic, get our economy humming again, advance racial equity, and confront the climate crisis. 

That’s how democracy is supposed to work. It is not where Trump, his congressional enablers, or his violent mob would take us. So let’s be clear about three things:

First, those who act to subvert the will of the people and the law of the land are in breach of their sworn oath to protect the Constitution. They’re unfit to hold public office. 

Second, the sanctity of U.S. democracy depends, absolutely, on public confidence in the legitimacy of our elections. These actions are meant to erode that trust, by asserting claims without evidence. 

Finally, the effort to disenfranchise voters who opposed Trump is deliberately aimed at preemptively delegitimizing the Biden presidency, undercutting his ability to govern and restore unity to the nation.

Instead, in a country riven by partisan divisions, a large and growing segment is being led to a fight over whether we continue to be governed by the consent of the governed or give way to a tyrant’s rule.

No one, of course, is contesting the legitimacy of elections in the states Trump won. The ringleaders of this attempt to seize power are trafficking in unproven allegations meant to sow doubt in the legitimacy of election outcomes in selected states like Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin—swing states that Biden won.

The truth is, these elections and their outcome were, and are, legitimate. Biden won the election fair and square, by a popular vote margin of more than 7 million votes and, in the Electoral College, by a margin of 306 to Trump’s 232. 

That’s what state election officials have certified, no evidence has been presented to the contrary, and more than 80 state and federal judges have affirmed as much in rulings in some 50 different cases

Trump’s backers aren’t trying to prove that these officials and judges are wrong. There’s no case to be made that they are. This is all about feeding anger and fueling distrust in the hearts and minds of the Trump supporters who simply refuse to accept the election results, largely because Trump spent months, in advance of the elections, priming them to reject any outcome other than victory.

What must be rejected, though, is the effort to drown out the voice of the people with the rage of a political mob. Our vote is sacrosanct, the foundation of our democracy, and we will not sit quietly in the face of rogue attempts to overturn free and fair elections.

The divisions in our country did not start with the Trump presidency, nor will they end with it. As president, though, Trump has taken every opportunity to use the bully pulpit to pour gasoline on already raging fires, to embolden and empower those who seek to attack the very people our systems have already made the most vulnerable. This is where it has brought us.

We have a lot of work to do. And a lot of healing. Even more so after Wednesday.