It was “a day which will live in infamy.” The last time we heard that message was 79 years ago, when the President of the United States was driven to the Capitol to deliver this message to a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives. On that day, Dec. 8, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt recounted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the previous day and asked that Congress declare that a state of war would exist between the United States and the Empire of Japan.
Those same words should be used to describe Jan. 6, 2021. Whereas the existential threat against our country nearly eight decades ago came from another nation, located an ocean away, the current menace to our dominium comes not from without, but from within. On 1/6/21, our “shining city on a hill,” as former President Ronald Reagan once described the U.S., became tarnished by seditious mobs that attacked the Capitol Building while Congress was in session.
The crowd which became transformed into rioting mobs seems to have been motivated by a belief that the election was “stolen” from the sitting president. There is speculation that the melee was spurred on by a tweet from him: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election… Big protest in DC on January 6. Be there, will be wild!” At a rally, he urged people to march on the Capitol building and pressure Congress to reject the results of November’s election. He said that he would walk with the crowd to the Capitol, but he did not.
As members of Congress met to confirm President-elect Joe Biden as the next President of the United States, rioters breached the Capitol building, and lawmakers were escorted to an undisclosed location of safety. Windows were broken in order for rioters to gain entrance to chambers, doors were forced open, and offices were occupied.
The sitting president finally recorded a video message to the mobs and said, “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt.” He expressed his “love” for the rioters but exhorted, “You have to go home now, we have to have peace… we don’t want anybody hurt.” However, four people have been reported killed as of this writing.
The whole world is watching
What happened in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday made the greatest nation in the world, the leader of the astounding experiment in democracy, look like a banana republic. Until Jan. 6, 2020, our diplomats around the world could point to their homeland and explain to people in developing countries that their nations could be like our homeland if they’d follow our example. On Wednesday, that statement became moot. How can our foreign delegations hold up our country as a model for the peaceful transfer of government when obviously seditious acts are being shown on television screens in even some of the most remote areas of the world?
In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the images on his TV screen as “disgraceful scenes,” calling for a “peaceful and orderly transfer of power.” Ironically, our democracy came into existence as an alternative to the reign of King George III of England.
Prime Minister of our neighbor to the north tweeted, “Canadians are deeply disturbed and saddened by the attack on democracy in the United States, our closest ally and neighbor.” Justin Trudeau continued in a more positive tone, “Democracy in the US must be upheld — and it will be.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated, “What is happening is wrong. Democracy — the right of people to exercise a vote, have their voice heard and then have that decision upheld peacefully should never be undone by a mob.”
A tweet from Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg read, “What we are now seeing from Washington is a completely unacceptable attack on democracy in the United States. President Trump is responsible for stopping this. Scary pictures, and amazing that this is the United States.”
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, stated, “The US Congress is a temple of democracy. To witness tonight’s scenes in Washington DC is a shock.” Other leaders from nations as diverse as Ireland, Poland, Ecuador, Austria, Columbia, and on and on were quick to remind the United States of its role as a model of democracy, expressing disbelief that the Capitol building could be breached by a mob that was dissatisfied with the outcome of the presidential elections.
As students of American history know, France was a strong ally of the American colonies when they declared their independence from Great Britain and backed that declaration with a long and bloody war. On Wednesday night, Jean-Yves Le Drain, French Foreign Minister, tweeted, “The violent acts against American institutions are a grave attack against democracy. I condemn them. The American people’s will and vote must be respected.”
Be careful what you wish for
In 2016, I asked a number of my friends why they were backing the nomination and — ultimately — the election of Donald Trump, at the time an untried politician who had never held office. Most often, the answer was something along the lines of, “I think he’ll really shake things up in Washington.”
If that was a dream at the time, it certainly came true. Although some people might refer to it as a nightmare. French President Emmanuel Macron said, “What I see today in the United States is not America.”
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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.