The dawning of a new year is traditionally a time for personal resolutions, and the first week of 2021 feels like a time when our whole nation needs to take a deep breath and decide which way it wants to go.
On Wednesday we saw the direction we’re headed, and it was ugly.
The morning began with President Donald Trump calling on his loyal vice president to violate the Constitution and throw out the Electoral College votes from a half dozen states. Trump, speaking to a huge crowd of supporters he had summoned to Washington, D.C., to “stop the steal” of an election that he falsely claimed was rigged, then urged them to head to the Capitol itself.
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump told the crowd. “You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
While many of his supporters stayed peaceful, a violent fringe, energized by Trump’s fiery repetitions of his bogus claims of a rigged election, rushed the layers of protective fencing around the U.S. Capitol as Congress debated inside.
Capitol police couldn’t hold them back despite deploying tear gas. Our Capitol was overrun.
One police officer, Brian D. Sicknick, 42, was hit in the head by a fire extinguisher during the melee and died Thursday of the wounds he sustained defending democracy. One of the protesters trying to violently overtake the Capitol was shot and killed. Three other protesters in the vicinity died of medical issues sustained during the morning’s chaos.
After hours of these shocking scenes, Trump released a video repeating his false claims of a landslide victory. He then told the invaders to go home and added, “We love you. You’re very special.”
Despite Trump’s endorsement of the protesters, supporters of the “Stop the Steal” effort have tried to claim that the insurgent force was really a “false flag” operation by opponents of the president (they decided to blame members of Antifa, the loose-knit affiliation of opponents that has become Trump’s favorite boogeyman.)
In fact, countless photos of those who broke into the Capitol have already been identified as longtime vocal Trump supporters from across the nation. The guy dressed in a bizarre fur suit and wearing horns, for example, is a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory cult who has worn his strange costume while demonstrating for Trump at all manner of events across the nation. A man photographed in the chair at the head of the Senate chambers is a Trump supporter from Idaho.
Here in Washington state, while the nation’s Capitol was being ransacked, protesters stormed the gates of the governor’s mansion, forcing their way onto his lawn and demanding he come out.
As they filed onto the property, they could be heard repeatedly chanting “Loren Culp.”
Culp, whose candidacy for governor was popular in Lewis County and other rural areas, took 43.3 percent of the vote in November, losing to Gov. Jay Inslee by over a half million votes.
Still, like Trump, Culp has stuck to outrageous claims that the election was invalid.
When I was a kid, we called folks like that sore losers. It was seen as a bad look. Now some people wear it like a badge of honor. I guess that’s their choice.
But the problem comes when they repeat and spread their baseless lies about a stolen, rigged election. Those corrosive, fact-free claims are like acid on the smooth marble face of the Lincoln Monument, or sand in the gears of the vintage made-in-America vehicle that we have all been sharing since 1776.
It’s tragic and infuriating that a legacy of the Trump presidency will be to leave many of our citizens with unfounded but enduring doubts about the basic fairness of our election system based purely on his untrue assertions. Beyond that, to keep himself in power, Trump went to places that no American president has ever gone — secretly pressuring local elected officials to “find votes” and overturn the decision of the electorate. Only time will tell how much damage he did.
Courts across the nation, including judges appointed by Trump, heard his lawsuits — then rejected them as lacking even the most basic evidence of their claims.
Were there ways the election was imperfect? Sure, as is in every election. By all means, let’s learn from 2020 and continue to work to improve our systems. But our voting ballot-counting process worked even under the strain of the pandemic. Election workers across the nation should be praised, not scapegoated.
Despite many irresponsible claims, there is no credible evidence of any kind of systematic election fraud — and certainly not at a level that swung the election in even one state, let alone a half dozen of them.
“Calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Stephanos Bibas (a Trump appointee), when he ruled against the president’s lawsuit to reverse Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania.
In Washington state, the Republican Secretary of State confirmed that Culp, her fellow Republican, indeed lost, and lost overwhelmingly.
Sure, it hurts when your side comes in second. Elections have winners and losers, but fortunately, politics isn’t a zero-sum game.
America’s political system is elaborate, even complicated. Power is shared between federal, state and local authorities with a variety of elections and power structures.
That can be maddening at times, but it also means that we have local elected officials who listen.
Have you ever reached out to your elected officials? I have. I’ve met several of them. They are good people. While our local Republicans are in the minority in Olympia, they are well-respected and do have influence. For instance, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, who entered public life as a library board trustee, is now the Senate minority leader. He is an honorable conservative legislator who has the ear of the Democratic majority.
It’s frustrating to be in the minority, but it’s not necessarily a permanent condition. The pendulum swings. The proper response to an electoral loss is to recruit and support good candidates in the next election, not to throw a tantrum and claim the game is rigged unless you win.
This week we’ve tasted the poisonous fruit that grows when leaders urge people to believe comfortable falsehoods rather than accepting hard truths.
In America we can choose to follow the direction of people seeking power who lie to us and claim that unless we “storm the gates,” our nation is doomed.
Or we can redouble our efforts to find common ground, to understand the other political side as opponents (not enemies), to find responsible news sources rather than internet rumors, and to engage in the give-and-take of our democratic republic to seek solutions together.
I know which road I choose. I hope you’ll join me.
Brian Mittge split his ticket in November. He won some, he lost some. Some of the losses were painful, but life is still good. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.