As the world watched, pro-Trump domestic terrorists laid siege to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, after being encouraged to march to the historic heart of American democracy by President Donald Trump at an earlier rally. One of the pro-Trump extremists was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she breached a Capitol door. A Capitol Police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, died Thursday night from injuries he sustained during the siege. The mob at the Capitol included white supremacists and other right-wing extremists, who sought to disrupt Wednesday’s counting, in a joint session of Congress, of the electoral votes presented by the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Four days after the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, it remains difficult to sort through the wreckage.
There is still so much we struggle to understand.
Why, for instance, have so much time and energy been expended in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., on a settled election when the COVID-19 pandemic demands the full attention of our elected leaders? More than 4,000 people died of COVID-19 in the U.S. on Thursday — the first time that terrible mark had been surpassed in a single day.
A kind of madness overtook our nation’s capital Wednesday. And, inexplicably, relatively few of the domestic terrorists were arrested at the scene.
They damaged and stole federal property, occupied congressional offices, vandalized and ransacked the Capitol’s historic spaces, destroyed a tribute to the late civil rights hero John Lewis and, most horrifically of all, reportedly caused the death of a Capitol Police officer, who died Thursday night after having been injured while engaging with the rioters. Nevertheless, most of the criminals were allowed to stroll out of the Capitol after they had committed their crimes.
“When Black folks are protesting and progressives are protesting peacefully they were tear-gassed, they were arrested, they were shot with rubber bullets. They were shot with real bullets,” Derrick Johnson, president of the national NAACP, told USA Today last week.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, expressed concern to The Washington Post that law enforcement’s lack of preparedness for the violence owed to the fact that the police saw a predominantly white crowd as less hostile. Their bias and “false sense of security” cost them, he said, leading to their “monumental failure” to secure the Capitol from invasion.
The chaos and violence were the result of a series of big lies. The president is a habitual liar. His loyalists embrace and echo his lies, chief among them that he won the November election (he did not).
Democracy and governance rely on a common understanding of the facts. That understanding no longer exists in this country — a reality that Trump both seized on and exacerbated.
If Trump — or any of his loyalists, including Lancaster County Congressman Lloyd Smucker — had the intestinal fortitude to tell the truth to their constituents, we would not be in the predicament we face.
White supremacy and white nationalism are the refuge of autocrats, but contrary to the basic teachings of Christianity and common decency. White supremacy — of the sort that allowed domestic terrorists to roam largely unchecked through the halls of Congress on Wednesday — is also fortified by big lies, among them the falsehood that Black Americans seeking to address structural inequities in society are threatening, while white supremacists pillaging a cathedral of democracy are not.
Contrast the sizable military deployment at the Lincoln Memorial during a Black Lives Matter protest last June, with the images of pro-Trump extremists being ushered in and out of U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Real leaders in a democracy tell the truth, debate the truth, honor the truth. They respect the rule of law. They honor the Constitution.
Some of our leaders, sadly, have chosen Trump over truth.
The continuing danger
So this nation’s problems won’t be solved when Trump leaves office. But because he instigated the seditious insurrection at the Capitol, we believe Trump must be removed from the White House as quickly as possible.
When this Perspective section went to press, that still hadn’t happened. Calls for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, the Constitution’s expedient remedy for removing an unfit president, had gone unheeded. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to impeach Trump — again — as a last resort, and some Republicans, including Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, said he would “definitely consider” articles of impeachment. And Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Friday that she wanted Trump to resign; she told the Anchorage Daily News that "if the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me."
As long as Trump remains in the Oval Office, this nation is in peril. A video released by the White House on Thursday — in which he finally acknowledged his defeat and feigned outrage at Wednesday’s lawlessness — was utterly unconvincing.
In the manner of a hostage robotically reading a script, Trump said he has turned his focus “to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”
Unfortunately, Trump already had shattered yet another norm of American governance: the peaceful transition of power.
He insisted in Thursday’s video that his only aim in seeking to overturn the presidential election results had been to “ensure the integrity of the vote.”
That is ludicrous, of course. There’s no integrity in cajoling and threatening a state elections official to “find” the votes necessary to overturn an opponent’s victory.
There’s no integrity in clinging desperately to power and ginning up anger among voters, urging them to go to the Capitol and instill in “weak” Republican members of Congress the “boldness” that “they need to take back our country.”
And there’s no integrity in helping a president undermine faith in the electoral process.
And yet that’s what Congressman Smucker did by objecting to Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, mere hours after President Trump had incited a violent insurrection because he couldn’t accept that Joe Biden had defeated him legitimately and comfortably.
Smucker could have reversed course after it became clear Wednesday that Republican efforts to subvert democracy had culminated in violence at the Capitol. Other Republicans changed their plans.
But not Smucker. He said raising an objection was “the only time throughout the process I can speak for my constituents in my district” — conveniently forgetting that tens of thousands of his constituents had cast ballots for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
“The point is that everybody, win or lose, needs to be confident that they understand the rules and needs to know the election was conducted fairly and equitably,” Smucker told an LNP | LancasterOnline reporter.
Perhaps people would have that confidence and knowledge if their elected officials had the courage to tell them the truth.
Smucker was among those singled out for scorn by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin on Thursday for having “voted with the seditionists.”
Contrast Smucker’s behavior with that of Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who argued Wednesday that the Constitution enshrined the right of the people to choose their elected leaders.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb of western Pennsylvania said this on the House floor, hours after the violence at the Capitol: “Enough has been done here today already to try to strip this Congress of its dignity and these objectors don’t need to do anymore. We know that that attack today, it didn’t materialize out of nowhere, it was inspired by lies, the same lies that you’re hearing in this room tonight.”
Lamb’s remarks sparked anger among some Republicans. But as he put it, “The truth hurts.”
Local profiles in courage
It hurts, but it’s essential.
So, too, is courage in politics — which we were heartened to learn Thursday still exists.
In a joint letter to the Republican Committee of Lancaster County chairman, East Lampeter Township supervisors Corey Meyer, John Blowers and Ethan Demme announced that they were leaving the GOP.
“The denial of the 2020 election results by members of our party and elected officials in Lancaster County, is outrageous,” their statement read. “Our neighbors voted, those votes became the certified election results and were upheld by our judicial system. Continuing to deny these facts has damaged our system of government and has fomented the seeds of sedition, resulting in violence in our nation’s Capitol.”
They wrote that the “Republican Party we once knew is gone and has left us behind. As a result, we are disaffiliating from the Republican Party and will seek to work as Independents with anyone who strives for good government, decency for his neighbors, and the rule of law.”
This means that Republicans no longer control the East Lampeter Board of Supervisors.
Township supervisors don’t have teams of aides to shield them from their constituents. Meyer, Blowers and Demme likely will have to answer questions as they attend community events — when such events are held in person again — and even shop at local stores. They won’t have party support should they choose to seek elective office again. But they still were willing to take a principled stand despite the political cost in a predominantly Republican county.
We don’t believe that Republicans need to renounce the GOP. But we do believe the GOP should renounce Trump before he further damages our democracy. And we should insist that our elected officials tell us the truth, even when it’s painful.