Pro-Trump rioters temporarily take over the Capitol building. (Lev Radin / CNN)
Pro-Trump rioters temporarily take over the Capitol building.

Lev Radin / CNN

The day democracy almost died

January 13, 2021

In early January, two millennia ago, the Senate of the Roman Republic attempted to strip Julius Caesar of his military command and render him a private citizen.  In response, Julius Caesar led an army into Rome, eventually seizing authority from the centuries-old republic and becoming dictator.  The senators who attempted to make Caesar a private citizen fled the legislature and capital, in order to avoid capture.

In early January of 2021, Congress attempted to certify the results of the electoral college, which would render Donald Trump a one-term president.  In response, a violent mob stormed the United States Capitol building. In this temple of democracy, these insurrectionists killed a police officer, ransacked congressional offices, and successfully occupied the legislative chamber. These thugs, carrying explosives and zip-tie handcuffs, could have easily held elected officials captive, entering hostage negotiations and delaying the electoral college for days or even weeks, in order to keep President Trump in power.  Thankfully, representatives and senators fled the chamber just in time, in order to avoid capture.  The capitol police secured the building by dispersing the insurrectionists, and Congress went back to certifying the presidential election, ensuring President Trump’s eventual status as a private citizen.  We are very lucky that our institutions held strong.

The whole catalyst of the event was President Trump telling senators to overrule the results of an election, in order to prevent his term’s end.  He made this plea in a rally just before the coup attempt, where he said, “We’re going to walk down to the capitol… because you’ll never take back our country with weakness.”  Even though the President never marched with the mob-like Caesar marched with his insurrectionists, his incitement of the coup and his plea to toss out election results is still terrifying.  If Congress followed the demands of Trump and these terrorists, we could have easily seen President Trump win a second term, without winning the electoral college, not to mention losing the popular vote.  This disdain for democracy goes further.  Far-right commentators looked at the sea of Trump memorabilia and blamed Antifa, which is not the first time political actors have used scapegoats.  However, it’s still terrifying to see a cheap, authoritarian trick used in our centuries-old republic.  Some Americans even equate the occupation of our legislature to the BLM riots last year: as if the violence displayed then would have installed an unelected leader.  This is another tactic from the dictator cookbook: leveling sloppy accusations of hypocrisy instead of taking responsibility (see the propaganda tactic, Whataboutism).

Claims of election fraud animated this capital siege from start to finish.  John F. Kennedy once said that “[T]hose who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”  These insurrectionists felt as if their votes were thrown out in a “rigged election,” and they aimed to stop that “rigged election” from being certified.  This is why false claims of voter fraud are so dangerous.  When you constantly convince your supporters that the peaceful revolution, an election, can’t be trusted, you cause those supporters to naturally drift towards a violent revolution.  The FBI, 50 state legislatures, and our own Supreme Court have already agreed that no widespread voter fraud occurred.  If you still believe that this election was stolen, you are buying into another ingredient of authoritarian rhetoric: a large scale conspiracy orchestrated by a particular enemy.  According to Umberto Eco, a cultural theorist who summarized the principles of fascism, fascist societies require an obsession with an enemy plot against their leader: an enemy that is “at the same time too strong and too weak.”  To the far right, who use slogans like “crying lib” and “snowflake,” Democrats are seen as overly sensitive and, in Trump’s words, evoking “weakness.” Yet, they have successfully orchestrated a plot against the president, involving the media, our own intelligence agencies, and our own judicial and electoral system from local to federal level. Those who hold both of these ideas in their heads believe the Democrats are equally weak and aggressively strong.

Benjamin Franklin famously said our form of government is “[a] republic if you can keep it.”  If we wish to keep our centuries-old republic, we cannot allow these hateful conspiracy theories to infest our politics any longer.  A strong predictor of a coup attempt is a previous coup attempt.  If we do not want a repeat of January 6 on Inauguration Day, we must collectively agree that everyone who voted to overturn this election and concede to the delusions of terrorists should never hold elected office again.  If we do not unify against this threat, I say in sadness that I am convinced we will lose our republic to another Julius Caesar.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “The day democracy almost died”

  1. Delma Barrera on January 13th, 2021 6:56 PM

    Great article!!!! You’ve always been a great journalist. Keep it up!

  2. John Dalgity on January 14th, 2021 1:26 PM

    By the time Caeser led his army on Rome, Rome had ceased to become a Republic. As a Republic, the political power was the people, electing men of virtue that believed in a less centralized government. Over time the Roman Republic drifted away from a representative democracy to a centralized imperial authority. They didn’t keep their Republic, as Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it at our Constitutional Convention. He also made a statement regarding the perils of a Constitutional Republic, “In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if there are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government, but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and believe further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need a despotic government, being incapable of any other.”
    The Republican Party was founded in America because a shift had occurred and Abraham Lincoln was elected the first Republican President, to more align the country to the original intent of a Constitutional Republic, of personal independence and personal responsibility. We have now, once again, drifted away from the idea of a Constitutional Republic, allowing more and more power to shift from the people, to a more centralized federal government. It’s as if Franklin’s warning is coming to fruition. But not in the way you try to convey in your piece. While there is no excuse for the actions of the men and women that stormed the Capital, now the progressive left is trying to paint any dissent as “white supremacy”, and President Trump as the “white supremacist in chief.” What lies. What demagoguery.
    There are 75 million people that voted for President Trump and many believe this past election had some serious irregularities in the voting processes. It may, or may not have been enough to change the election, but it brought up some unanswered questions regarding the integrity of our sacred ideal of fair and honest elections. The Democrats have risen in opposition to election results in the recent past, but let Republicans ask the question and they are branded as traitors and racists. Hypocritical, at best, dangerous to liberty and freedom of speech, at worst.
    The over arching failure of your argument is not addressing the moral decline of the people of the United States, in particular, the progressive left. We have moved so far to the left now, that abortion, gay and gendered identity politics, pornography, human trafficking, illegal immigration, critical race theory, legalizing drugs, have now become mainstream ideals of the left.
    John Adams, one of our founding fathers and our second President, said, “While our Country remains untainted with the Principles and manners, which are now producing desolation in many Parts of the World: while she continues Sincere and incapable of insidious and impious Policy: we shall have the Strongest Reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned to Us by Providence. But should the People of America, once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the Language of Justice and moderation while it is practicing Iniquity and Extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming Pictures of Candor, frankness and sincerity while it is rioting and Insolence: this Country will be the most miserable Habitation in the World. Because we have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with Human passions unbridled by morality or Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    The erosion of our liberties has been slow and deliberate, but once the wholesale murder of the innocent unborn became the law of the land (by a complete unconstitutional ruling of unelected judges), the hounds of hell have been released on society and culture. Our various institutions have been under attack most of last year, with no condemnation by the left. There has been absolute support by some and utter silence by many as it relates to rioting, looting and burning of private businesses and many government institutions. Republicans have voiced condemnation of violence and have stayed consistent in that stance during the summer and fall and including the violence at our nation’s Capital. President Trump has said as much on various occasions.
    The only hope for America is a return to our foundational principals, based on founding father’s belief that all men are created equal. It may have taken a civil war and civil rights to live up to that ideal. So, while the left trashes our founding fathers, the truth of the words of Thomas Jefferson has stood the test of time. And now the absolute turning our back on God and His values, that are so intertwined with our freedom and liberties, we find ourselves at what is probably the most consequential moment in our history. Liberty or Tyranny? I will choose liberty every time. I call on all Christians to pray for Revival in our hearts and lives, that it will benefit our beloved America, so we will once again stand for liberty and justice for all.
    These are the thoughts of my heart, offered in a humble spirit of reconciliation and peace, by the God of my Salvation, through the blood of Jesus Christ.

    John Dalgity
    Yucaipa, California

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