On the evening of January 3rd, I sat down to pen a letter to Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. Just that evening I had learned of a discrete set of plans by members of his caucus, the Republican caucus, to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote which had occurred on December 14th.
I had known that some of Romney’s fellow senators and representatives might take umbrage with what they unduly see as a rigged process (Sen. Tommy Tuberville had been among the first to make such declarations) but I was frankly shocked by the numbers that the anti-certification movement was marshaling. By some counts, as many as 14 senators and 120 representatives were prepared to perpetuate the lie, roundly rejected by courts and election commissions and Republicans and Democrats alike, that Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the November 3rd presidential election.
I spent a few days revising my letter, and finally satisfied I marched down to my local post office in the wee morning hours of January 6th to mail it to Sen. Romney’s Washington office.
Little did I know that some 14 hours later that very office would be ransacked in the worst anti-democratic display of political aggression since the Civil War.
(It should be noted that there have been violent attacks at the United States Capitol before, but none that quite rise to the breadth and spectacle of what was on display January 6th.)
In my letter I wrote of just that. I cautioned Sen. Romney that the actions of his fellow Republicans would “undermine American democracy in a manner that has not been fashioned on this continent since the bloody days of the Civil War.” I warned that “reason has crumbled at the foot of madness” and that except for the principled few, “there is nothing that stands betwixt this nation and total twilight.”
I hate that I had to endure such a short wait before my words were proven right.
And frankly, I’m not sure what else there is to say about the events of yesterday afternoon and evening. There is not much left to say that is not either encapsulated in those brief excerpts from my letter or that hasn’t already been said by news outlets or in Twitter feeds the world over.
I watched helplessly, as I’m sure did many Americans, still clad in my pajamas curled up on my living room sofa, as the insurrection unfolded on my TV screen. I watched helplessly as rabid Trumpists scrabbled up the steps to one of America’s most austere buildings of power. I watched helplessly as a woman on ABC’s live broadcast appeared to give a Nazi salute to the camera, as a man clad in a brown vest and hoodie paraded the Confederate battle flag past the gentle repose of Charles Sumner’s 148-year-old portrait.
I watched a thousand miles away, and yet the desecration I witnessed felt as intimate and personal as if it were my own house that had been mobbed.
The rioters were keenly shouting throughout the encounter, “this is our house.” Indeed, the term “People’s House” has often been a popular reference throughout American history to denote the sense of personal ownership that American citizens rightly lay claim to when it comes to their elected government (this has often been applied to the White House as well as the House of Representatives). During the broadcast even ABC’s Martha Raddatz confessed when met with cries of “the People’s House” that she could not argue with it.
And yet, if we are to tell the truth (as Sen. Romney urged his compatriots to do in a scathing speech delivered once Congress had resumed its business) I think those words do need to be contested. Because if “we the people” are really to have a collective stake in the hallowed space of the US Capitol, mustn’t that truly mean all of us? To the average Trumpist, does “People’s House” include the Black Americans who for so long were openly considered Untermensch by our shared national culture? What of the women who were disallowed from learning or working or God forbid voting well into the 20th century? What of the more than 80 million people who voted for Joe Biden? Does the average Trumpist realize that “People’s House” means people beyond himself?
This not to say that women are meek and incapable of violence or that only White people can operate in this savage manner, but the potency of Trumpism has long rested on axes of race and gender, and this ignominious assault has only codified those divisions.
Where do we go from here? I confessed to Sen. Romney in that letter that I did not know. I encouraged him to leave the Republican Party as I have done, but I am doubtful the good senator will heed the words of a Midwest nobody. Even that action would hardly be the most appropriate response in light of this failed immolation of our republic. Resignation (as has been the option exercised by many within the Trump administration) would truly be too little, too late.
48 hours ago, it would’ve been melodramatic to say I do not see a path forward for a unified American republic unless Donald Trump is put in chains (despite the fact that I expressed exactly that sentiment to a close friend on Sunday evening after reading a BBC release about Trump’s failed extortion of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger). Now the necessity of that indictment, conviction, and removal seems all the more imperative.
If Trump is afforded no punishment for what he has done to this nation, what becomes of the next tyrant? It’s a thought that has been difficult to process but made all the more necessary given that Trumpist goons were mere steps away from seizing the levers of government. What will happen when the next despot plays his cards more smartly, marches into the Capitol with a true revolutionary guard, and spells the end of American democracy?
If Donald Trump is jailed and held accountable for what he has done to us it will send the only message that will provide a cure: tyranny will not be tolerated in the United States and it will be met with swift and decisive consequence. Bear this in mind regardless of your political persuasion: this sort of treason is not confined to rightist circles. If there is a day 10, 50, 100 years from now where a leftist dictator succeeds where Trump has floundered, red-blooded, legitimate conservatives will only have to look to their own lineage for precedent.
In 13 days, Joe Biden will become president. What happens between then and now is anybody’s guess. We can only pray that it looks nothing like the insurrection that defined January 6th. We can only pray we are kept from the reality of total twilight for a bit longer yet.