With the rioting at the Capitol on January 6th by extremist supporters of President Trump, our nation has come full circle in six-months of unchecked violence too often dismissed as protected civil discourse. No amount of parsing the legitimacy of complaints and grievances that animate extremists of all stripes can justify the attacks we have witnessed throughout the nation these past terrible months. Whether it’s mob destruction in our major cities, Antifa arsonists torching an historic church, or other extremists attempting to breach the White House or storm the Capitol, these acts simply must stop, and the perpetrators must be caught and prosecuted.
Sure, there are grievances and societal inequities that are reasons for protests, but we can’t continue a cycle where partisan factions refuse to concede the legitimacy of elections. The harm this does to the Constitution and the nation are incalculable.
The right’s denial of the legitimacy of the election results is a repeat of 2016 when the left refused to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s election and mounted the “resistance movement” that even before his inauguration called for his impeachment. Hillary Clinton refused to concede and even today claims Trump’s election was fraudulent. Now, abetted and disgracefully encouraged by Trump, the right cries foul and weaves a path of destruction through the halls of Congress.
How do we get past this crisis in our democracy, to whom do we look for guidance, wisdom and leadership? Certainly not our current partisan political leadership. It’s not Mitch McConnell who just lost his senate majority or Chuck Schumer who will take McConnell’s job. And it most certainly is not Nancy Pelosi who has abetted those refusing to accept the legitimacy of President Trump at every turn. She shamed herself and demeaned the House with her childish behavior in tearing up President Trump’s State of the Union speech. She continued that behavior throughout the Russian collusion investigation and the politically-inspired impeachment proceedings of 2020. And, perhaps worst of all, she politicized the Covid-19 crisis by refusing to allow the House to vote on a relief package for Americans hard hit by the pandemic. She admitted as much when asked by reporters if she made a mistake in prohibiting a vote before the election but of allowing it now. And, finally, she rushed through a one-day impeachment proceeding against Trump which I fear will sidetrack the early days of the Biden presidency and further divide the country.
Pelosi’s self-serving actions and arrogance would stand as unique monuments to ego if not for the existence and behavior of President Trump. How we survived the past four years of this attack on our democratic institutions stands as testimony to the strength of that democracy.
And while one of these miscreants has at least temporarily left the political stage, the other–Pelosi–remains behind as a reminder of all that was wrong in those four years. By the skin of her teeth and by endangering the health of 435 House members by allowing those who had tested positive for Covid-19 to vote on the House floor for her reelection as Speaker, she will be the voice of congressional Democrats for two more years. I’m afraid the Democrats will regret not having the moral courage–the guts–to send her to the back benches now. If not for the sake of the country, then for their own political survival as their slim majority looks to be threatened by a “red wave” in 2022.
So, who is going to step forward to be the conciliator, the person who is willing to risk the wrath of the extremists in both parties by creating bipartisan coalitions that breach the current doctrinaire chasms? From all accounts, there are a few who are willing to step into this void. Those mentioned are Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney. Led by Senator Manchin they already have come together to develop and pass the recent bipartisan Covid Relief legislation. With a 50-50 split in the Senate, these four stand to be power brokers for good government and as common-sense legislators that our new common-sense President can look to for help in threading the needle of a fractured political comity.
It would be a sad commentary, indeed, if all we had holding the middle against the tide of extremists populating both parties, were four legislators and a 78-year-old President who will be forced to summon every ounce of energy a man of his age can summon to bridge the philosophical differences that so divide us. And they will stand alone if we, the people, don’t stand with and in support of them.
Following the ugly episode at the Capitol and the violence elsewhere in the country, the vast center of our populace must give President-elect Biden a real chance to dissolve the recriminations, the anger, and, yes, the hatred that have come to represent the face of the American polity. Uniting the factions that exist in our country may not be possible but eliminating the venomous hostilities engendered by self-centered politicians, a ratings-obsessed media and extremists intent on destruction is a worthy and, hopefully, achievable goal.
With my historical bent, I tend to look to the past for moments that mirror the present. Such a moment is the day of August 9, 1974, when Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from a disgraced Richard Nixon. The country then, too, was riven by dissent and violence. Nixon was hated with a vehemence that Donald Trump doesn’t experience on his worst day. Vietnam still raged, marches on Washington were common and the bombing of the Capitol by the Weather Underground was in the recent past. Into this morass stepped Gerald Ford.
Ford, much like Joe Biden, was a creature of Congress. Like Biden, he was well-liked, respected as a hard worker and an honest broker, whose word was his bond. He was not seen, however, as of presidential stature. But when thrust into office at that turbulent moment, he rose to the occasion. In a speech to the nation that day, Ford conveyed a message of hope and conciliation that Joe Biden would do well to emulate.
Ford said: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over” … Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule…As we bind up the internal wounds…more painful and poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process and…purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.” And, most appropriate to the current moment,“ … so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers.”
Joe Biden looks to me to be cut from the same cloth as Gerald Ford. But, he can’t bridge what divides us alone. It is we who must recognize the humanity in others, who must break free from acrimony and stubborn partisanship. It is we who must purge our hearts of “suspicion and hate.” It is we who should pray for Joe Biden’s success. Either we unite for the common good or we will surely perish in the muck of discord and division that now soils our society.