Published January 7, 2021
Wednesday’s riot at the Capitol was unconscionable, unpatriotic and despicable. Its participants acted in the misguided belief that our most cherished political accomplishment — the peaceful transfer of power according to the outcome of free and fair elections — was at risk. That does not excuse storming the symbol of our democracy, the wanton destruction of public and private property, and the utter disregard they showed for the law and for law enforcement.
President Trump’s role in instigating this crisis is clear. For months, he has lied to his supporters, telling them falsehoods about a “stolen election” that are unsupported by serious evidence. He and his minions — especially once-honored former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — have spread rumors, calumny and fanciful inventions in an effort to overturn the people’s will. At best they were reckless, ignoring substantial and unjustified risk that their baseless accusations could ruin popular faith in democracy and result in violence. The seeds they planted grew into the tree whose fruits we now see.
Our democracy’s strength is equally clear. No political leader joined the riot; none sought to use the tumult to seize power. It appears our nation’s military leaders consulted with the vice president’s cool head rather than the president’s fevered one when deciding to deploy the National Guard. There was never a risk that what some have called a “coup attempt” would ever turn into anything other than a paroxysm of anger, more akin to a toddler’s tantrum than a serious effort to overthrow the government. That is worth celebrating as we ponder our next steps.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.