The violent mob that stormed the Capitol last week broke more than just windows and doors. In their desecration of the seat of national pride, the insurrectionists cast a hard blow to our ailing democracy. They disrupted and undermined a peaceful transition of power, one of the core tenets of the Constitution. The harmful images of guns drawn on the House floor, staffers blocking doors, members hiding in their offices, and the noose hanging outside will cast a dark shadow across American politics.
In terms of their immediate goals, the rioters failed. Members of Congress returned to the Capitol to affirm the election victory of Joe Biden, in spite of the trauma they faced. In a series of powerful remarks, members made clear that they would not be intimidated and that our democracy would endure. Some members of Congress who led the challenge to the 2020 results, including Senator Kelly Loeffler, retracted their calls to create a commission to investigate numerous baseless allegations of fraud.
The assault on the Capitol has sent shockwaves through our system. The raid prompted a series of resignations by members of the administration of Donald Trump. The new plans to examine the role and structure of the Capitol police are welcome and overdue. Most notably, the assault on the Capitol elicited an admission from Trump that Biden would become the next president in a video posted on his now banned Twitter account.
But as we attempt to make meaning and draw lessons from the events of last week, the actual words employed by Trump in this video present a lens from which to view what happens next. He described his attacks on the 2020 election results as an attempt to “defend” our democracy. He called for greater barriers to voting, including stricter identification rules. He admitted that a new administration would be inaugurated, but he also refused to name Biden or declare he conceded. He told his base, some of whom were in the mob, that their “incredible journey” is just starting.
The assault on our democracy that fomented into real violence last week is far from over. Since issuing that video, Trump has continued to use his brand of politics which places himself above country and his supporters above the law. He made clear he would not attend the inauguration, the first break in tradition since Andrew Johnson, and played to his base.
Even after the attack on the Capitol, over 100 representatives and several senators objected to certifying the clear victory of Biden in Arizona and Pennsylvania, doubling down on efforts to undermine the election results. For an interview, Senator Ted Cruz said of these objections, “I think that would have enhanced faith and confidence in our democratic system, as there are serious allegations of election fraud with this last cycle.”
It is perhaps naive to believe the leaders who incited the violence would reach a moment of clarity, to rethink their decisions, and voice regret for their role in fueling all the chaos at the Capitol. However, even if such a broad reckoning occurred, it would still be insufficient. In order to truly confront the events of last week, we must acknowledge and address the vulnerabilities of our institutions and norms that led this insurrection.
This means holding members of Congress accountable for undermining the election and evaluating the way that social media pushes dangerous falsehoods. This also means rebuilding our election infrastructure and creating mechanisms to enforce campaign finance rules. As we turn our attention to the business of governing, it means seeking truly bipartisan coalitions dedicated to restoring trust in Congress and committed to a democracy worthy of our faith. It is time to chart a new path forward.
Meredith McGehee is executive director of Issue One based in Washington.