Let’s not mince words: The deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol by a riotous mob was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States, who is emotionally incapable of admitting he lost an election.
That’s not an original thought. It’s exactly what many members of President Donald Trump’s own party had to say, perhaps most eloquently by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has some experience with losing an election.
By inciting this riot that attempted to delay the constitutional process of affirming the election results, and then praising the rioters, Trump violated his oath of office to “faithfully execute” his duties. For that, he should be removed from office—either through the 25th Amendment (co-authored by former 6th District Rep. Richard Poff) or through impeachment. Neither will likely happen but it’s important to lay down a marker for future generations about what kind of behavior is acceptable. The burden here is on Congress, all of whose members swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Trump gave aid and comfort to domestic terrorists and they should be treated as such. So should he. The fact that his tenure is now numbered in days is irrelevant. A man who cannot be trusted with a Twitter account cannot be trusted with the nuclear codes. Members of Congress who do not take action against a president who incites violence to disrupt election results are violating their own oaths.
Trump is not the only one to blame here for the violence in Washington—so, too, are all the members of Congress who indulged his fantasies of electoral fraud. Sadly, that includes all four Republican members of Virginia’s House delegation—Ben Cline, Bob Good, Morgan Griffith and Rob Wittman. They did not light the match, but they did help pile up the straw. This vote will be a black mark on their records that will follow them into history.
Some Republicans—most notably Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas—said the electoral challenges weren’t really meant to overturn the election but to call attention to all the ways that some states changed their election rules. That would be a compelling argument except for one major catch: Context. It’s certainly true that after the 2004 election, two Democrats objected to the results in Ohio, carried by George W. Bush over John Kerry. Their goal wasn’t to flip the election to Kerry but to talk about what they considered voter suppression in the Buckeye State—overly long lines in heavily Black precincts.
Here’s how these objections were very different. Kerry conceded the day after the election—some Republicans thought even that was too slow—and didn’t spend the next two months spreading untruths about the election results. The electoral challenges that some Republicans signed onto this year had the inadvertent effect of stoking the violence that we saw Wednesday. It was akin to the proverbial example of shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater. They should have known better. Wednesday’s storming of the U.S Capitol did not come out of the blue. There is a direct line from the deadly 2017 white nationalist march in Charlottesville (where Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides), to the men charged with plotting to kidnap and execute the governor of Michigan (and perhaps Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, as well), to the mobs who have stormed the state capitol in Oregon, to Wednesday’s riot in Washington.
These people claim to be “patriots.” They are not. They are the exact opposite of patriots. Let’s be generous: The Republicans who signed on to those electoral challenges may have honest motives—to raise technical questions about election laws—but they had the effect of emboldening domestic terrorists. If these Republicans did not see that coming, then they are simply out of touch. There is, of course, an argument to be made that a full-fledged congressional debate over the election results would help release some of the tension that’s been building up. That’s an appealing argument; however, the events of Wednesday prove exactly the opposite.
The congressional Republicans who challenged the Electoral College results aren’t the only ones to blame. So, too, are three Republican members of the Virginia General Assembly. Dels. Dave LaRock of Loudoun County, Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County and Ronnie Campbell of Rockbridge County signed on to a ludicrous letter asking Congress to set aside Virginia’s results pending a “forensic audit.” Their complaint—they say that some of Virginia’s new voting rules are unconstitutional. They have failed their civics. Just because these legislators say the state’s laws are unconstitutional doesn’t make them so. No judge has found them unconstitutional. If they really think the state’s laws are unconstitutional, march down to the courthouse and file suit. They didn’t. They, in their own way, helped stoke the paranoid conspiracy theories that fueled Wednesday’s violence. Shame on them.
Republicans do have a legitimate point—perhaps there should be a national debate over election laws, particularly now that many voters have “voted with their feet” and indicated a decided preference for early voting. However, for every loosening of election laws they want to complain about, Democrats will have an equal but opposite objection about restrictive voting laws in places such as Ohio and Texas. In any case, we don’t have a national election law; the constitution leaves that up to states. For Congress to rule on all those is the antithesis of the conservative precepts of federalism.
The larger question, though, is how we got to a place where some Americans have simply lost faith in democracy—in December we saw state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, call on Trump to declare martial law. Liberals are not blameless here. They were the ones who spent four years insisting that Trump “is not my president” and styling their opposition as “the resistance.” Here we have some people on the other side who take that somewhat more literally.
We’ve spent a lot of ink here decrying certain Republicans, which is unfortunate. America needs a viable conservative party to advocate for smaller government and lower taxes. Alas, Republicans have let themselves come infected with a dangerous cult of personality and on Wednesday we saw its logical conclusion. The Book of Hosea foretold all this long ago: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”
The Roanoke Times