For nearly two and a half centuries, Americans have become overly complacent about the peaceful transfer of power every four or eight years and pride themselves on having a “government of law, not of men,” as Gerald Ford memorably said after his takeover oath of office after the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
But it wasn’t until Wednesday, when the recalcitrant and delusional President Donald Trump led the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, that many Americans realized just how thin the Constitution is: the grace and integrity of the person in the Oval Office.
Indeed, much of what made American democracy work was not the Constitution per se, but the fortune and purpose of Americans had to bring such people into office – starting with George Washington, who himself began the tradition of limiting presidents two terms. And John Adams, the first resident of the White House, all too aware of the fragility of the young republic and fearful of demagogues. Shortly after moving in, Adams wrote a letter to his wife asking for heaven’s blessings and saying, “May only honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” His prayer was later inscribed on a mantle in the White House.
Or even think of Nixon, who is considered one of the most corrupt presidents and, as Vice President, graciously directed the certification of John F. Kennedy’s victory over him in 1960, even though Nixon knew that Kennedy’s gossamer victory might have come from fraud. Nixon declined to ask for a recount – although he could have – and said in a short speech that the election was an “eloquent example of the stability of our constitutional system.” Then-Vice President Al Gore did something similar in 2000 despite winning the referendum and falling victim to a much criticized Supreme Court decision. He urged his followers to accept President George W. Bush, stating that their “disappointment must be overwhelmed by our love for the country. “
Peaceful presidencies and transitions, in other words, have worked primarily not because of words on parchment, but because of the quality of the people who are called upon to enact them and obey constitutional rules. Part of it was sheer luck: choosing people of good will. Almost heavenly luck to have men like Abraham Lincoln before the Civil War, Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression and World War II, and Kennedy overcoming the Cuban Missile Crisis on the spot. As the 19th century German statesman Otto von Bismarck is said to have remarked: “God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America.”
But that’s the thing about luck: at some point you’ll run out of it. In Trump, Americans chose a pathological narcissist whose worst traits – though often revealed in his four years – are most dramatically expressed in the last days of his presidency. With no sign of fraud, Trump restarted his election delegitimization movement by urging protesters to march on Wednesday while Vice President Mike Pence fulfilled his constitutional duty to monitor the election count, including treating others falsely brought forward by a number of Republicans Objections Senators and Representatives.
Many Trump supporters – he won 74 million votes – were upset, but few Americans thought things would come to such an unprecedented place.
That American complacency was in full swing on Wednesday when Pence disappointed Trump by saying he would not interfere in the vote count – thus ensuring Joe Biden’s certification as president – thousands stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and forcing them Police pull weapons and practically take control of the building. The small contingent of Capitol Police, never before faced with anything like this, were overwhelmed by the first direct attack on the Capitol since the 1812 War. Pence and members of Congress were evacuated, and rioters fell into Speaker Nancy’s office Pelosi one and the house chamber. Many people were injured and one woman was shot. Three other people are also believed to have been dead as Washington remained under curfew.
It all started at a rally near the White House when Trump encouraged protesters to go to the Capitol and support the offending members of Congress. He later further instigated the uprising by tweeting that Pence “did not have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our constitution”.
And even after the violence got out of hand, Trump combined a call to “stay peaceful” with repeated claims that the election was fraudulent and that he had “won a landslide,” telling the rioters, “We love you, you are something very special. “
All of this was evidence that, like the President of the United States, upholding the Constitution – as he swears it – can do terrible damage if he will. Especially when it comes to riots. Under any other president, the National Guard would have been called up quickly and “no one would have come close to the Capitol,” he said Michael Greenberger, former federal civil servant and law professor at the University of Maryland.
Some lawyers believe that Trump is now vulnerable to indictment of incitement to riot and may have to try to apologize to himself. Both Houses of Congress resumed the process of certifying Biden later Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, and Trump appeared to have fewer Republicans on his side after the violence. “You tried to disrupt our democracy. They have failed, ”said Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate majority leader, a former presidential ally who opposed Trump-led objection to the voting certificate. “You weren’t trying to get in the way of Congress. This failed uprising only underscores how important the task that lies ahead is for our republic. ”
The threat of insurrection seemed to alarm some others in the Republican Party and turn them against Trump. “Since George Washington’s presidency, insurrections have been put down by the president, who is constitutionally and legally empowered to use all federal military and law enforcement powers to take responsibility for responding to an insurrection.” Greenberger said.
“What has never been considered since the Republic was founded was that the President would start the insurrection and have no real interest in crushing it. It is a national historic first. “
And Americans can’t be so complacent anymore.
January 6: This article was updated with the resumption of the Congressional debate.