I spent the morning of 6 January working in my office. Silly me, I thought all was well. Around noon I ate lunch and saw the television was reporting a protest underway at the nation’s capital. A gathering of Trump supporters had apparently been told by the president to march on the Capitol building where the Senate and House were certifying the Electoral College vote of our recent election.
As I watched, the crowd condensed at the police lines below the Capitol’s steps then pushed past the temporary railings set up for crowd control. A police line reformed further up the steps, but that, too, broke down. To my surprise and even shock, the crowd then surged forward transforming itself from crowd to mob. Thugs broke into the Capitol, trashed its offices, and infamously violated the Senate and House chambers. The last time that had happened was in 1814 when British forces fought their way into the city, occupied the Capitol building, and jeered at democracy in the Senate and House chambers. Then they set the building afire. The only thing yesterday’s insurrectionists left out was the fire.
I was stunned and nearly brought to tears. I and millions of others have fought on foreign shores to defend democracy for ourselves and our allies only to have it assaulted by thugs and reactionaries from our own country! How could this be? And how could a President of the United States have urged them to it?
I will tell you. It happened because an arrogant, egomaniacal man with the morals of Blackbeard was elected — yes, fairly elected — as President of the United States whereupon anyone paying attention, if they really did not know already, began seeing clear evidence that the man had ego and morality problems, that he never turned away a lie or a crime that worked in his favor, and that he never hesitated to violate the norms and traditions of his high office where the nation’s trust had always been given that those norms would be followed. But his party and its followers never objected. Never. Why?
Because of a blighted perception of self-interest. They liked some or all of his positions on immigration, tax breaks for the well-to-do, the come-uppance of China, and so on, so they turned a blind eye to infamy. Part of my sadness yesterday and considerable frustration, too, was in thinking of my many friends and acquaintances; good people at heart, I do believe; who over and over excused their Worshipful Leader and acquiesced again and again to new lows in presidential behavior. That led to yesterday. I hope they can see that in the afterglow of their passion.
Like the Congressional chambers, personal disappointments will be repaired; I have no doubt of that. But the episode of 6 January will be remembered like 9-11, no year necessary. We should grow from it, reach out from it, and present ourselves a greater nation to each other and to the world.
Terry Turner, Ph.D., of Moultrie, is professor emeritus of urology at the University of Virginia and wrote about his experiences leading counterinsurgency teams in Vietnam in “Once a Warrior King,” under the pen name David Donovan.