Five important takeaways from last week's assault on democracy

Published 10:41 a.m. Thursday

By Rob Schofield

It’s been less than a week since a mob of traitorous criminals, directly incited by the President of the United States, carried out one of the most despicable acts in American history. Happily, in the hours and days that have followed, there have been some encouraging signs that finally, at long last, several powerful conservative voices who have long tolerated and abetted Trumpism have had enough.

As reported by numerous news outlets in recent days, a growing number of corporate actors have indicated that they intend to turn off the spigot of campaign contributionsto politicians who abetted last week’s treason. This means, for instance, that the members of Congress from North Carolina who voted to overturn the election of Joe Biden last week (aka the “Seditious Seven” – Reps. Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Madison Cawthorn, Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, Greg Murphy and David Rouzer) may face meaningful political repercussions for their actions.

As encouraging as these responses have been, however, others on the political right are already applying a dishonest spin to the failed coup. They are, quite outrageously, attributing it to a handful of disturbed cranks, dissociating it from the politicians who spurred it on and validated it, and likening it to the anti-racism protests that roiled the nation last summer.

Here, therefore are five important things to remember about last week’s assault on democracy:

#1 – It was a wholly unprecedented and one-of-a-kind event. Never in the history of our nation has a large group of Americans violently overrun the seat of the federal government and sought forcibly to alter the actions our elected leaders. It was, by almost any definition, an attempted coup d’état that threatened the very foundation of our democracy.

To in any way equate the Capitol putsch with the protests against police violence and racism that swept the nation in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd last summer is ludicrous. Sobering and troubling as some of the summer protests (and the police responses they encountered) were, the country has been witness to thousands of such occurrences over the last two and a half centuries. Last week’s insurrection, in sharp contrast, was an utterly unique and groundbreaking disaster.

#2 – Trump and his minions bear direct responsibility. It’s hard for people who value facts and truth to understand it, but the hard and sad reality of the current political environment in the United States is that a large number of Americans have become intensely loyal to Donald Trump. They believe him and hang on his words. And if Trump had accepted the election results and not directly incited the events of Jan. 6 – both through his incessant and false claims of a stolen election over the past two months and his speech on the day of the event – it simply would not have happened.

#3 – The failed coup was based on lies. The deeply troubled groups and individuals behind Wednesday’s event have myriad grievances – most of them ridiculous – but the central premise underlying their treasonous action is demonstrably false. Donald Trump did not win the 2020 election. He lost it fair and square by millions of votes and scores of Electoral College votes. It’s true that Joe Biden’s wins in some states – just like some of Trump’s – were close. But through numerous recounts and dozens of lawsuits in front of a wide variety of judges – many of them Trump appointees – challenges to the final outcomes in those states have proven universally to be without merit.

#4 – The groundwork for last Wednesday was laid over a period of years. As I noted in in a column published last Thursday, Trump didn’t just start spouting dangerous lies in November; it’s been his modus operandi for many years. And throughout those years, hundreds of conservative politicians, preachers, business groups, special interest lobbies, think tanks and media companies were only too happy to make a cynical deal with the devil. Like Vice President Pence, who was reportedly on a hit list maintained by some of the Capitol invaders, these parties knew what Trump was really about, but repeatedly enabled him and looked the other way until the moment arrived at which they found themselves in the crosshairs. In short, they could have prevented last week’s disastrous chaos by speaking out much earlier but chose not to do so.

#5 – Repairing the damage will be a daunting task, but we must try. As veteran journalist Kathie Obradovich of the Iowa Capital Dispatch observed in a fine recent column, the sad susceptibility of so many Americans to Trump’s lies bespeaks a deep and tragic failure in American systems of civic education, news delivery and social media oversight. And while there will be no quick or easy fixes for any of these enormous problems, it’s essential that all caring and thinking Americans support a long-term, across-the-board effort to address them if we’re serious about holding on to our country.