A Troubling Day in American History
Last week, one of the fundamental pillars of democracy was challenged in the United States.On the 6th of January thousands of rioters (Trump supporters) stormed the Capitol building in the U.S. in opposition to Congress counting electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election. So far over 3 people have died, 73 have been arrested, and, despite certain efforts, Congress has declared Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. However, three key aspects were particularly shocking about the riot at the capitol, those include: the actions of rioters, the response from law enforcement, and the response from Mr. Trump.
It started at the White House.The rhetoric used by Mr.Trump and Rudy Giulinai (Trump's personal lawyer) at The Saving America Rally incited action for the protest. Rudy Giuliani opened with a few words; “we want a trial by fire”. Mr. Trump stoaked these flames throughout his speech, claiming that the election was “stolen” and that “we will take back our country with strength”. His ominous conclusion brought the heat to another level; “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and Congressmen and women” (Reuters, 2021). Ironically, the president did not follow his ardent supporters to the Capitol building--instead he decided to stay in the white house. However, those that did go to the capitol made themselves heard.
The rioters vandalized, and stole from federal property. On the point of vandalization; they smashed windows, climbed up scaffoldings, damaged historical figures, and ransacked the private offices of congressional officials. The stolen items from private offices, including Nancy Pelosi’s computer, could have catastrophic results. Rioters had access to documents, poured into the primary senate chamber. The potential damage, and the specifics of stolen property are yet to be determined. Nevertheless, the resistance rioters faced from Capitol police officers was unremarkable.
The response from law enforcement towards rioters was (at best) passive and (at worst) complacent. However some initial, unrelated but relevant, truths must be recognized. Firstly, Washington D.C. police could not intervene because local police may not make arrests (or carry out law enforcement procedures) on federal property. Secondly, the capitol police made a barricade (after the fact) in front of the Capitol and 5 rioters died as a result. Finally, if capitol police officers had (1) anticipated a protest on the 6th, and (2) had reacted in time and with enough units the situation could have been diffused. Furthermore, many rioters have now since left D.C. and may be in their home states--so, how can arrests be made and individuals be found? Currently approximately 82 arrests have been made, only two of which pertain to illegally breaking and entering. The constitution provides grounds to charge each rioter with sedition and treason.
The actions of law enforcement have clearly exposed a chilling double standard in policing techniques. In numerous peaceful protests federal law enforcement was a present and formidable force. However, once right-wing extremists commit acts of treason they decide to allow an unnecessary amount of leeway. On the 7th of January, Nancy Pelosi indicated that Paul Irving (sergeant at arms) would resign due to the security breach (Wired, 2020).
The senate has been somewhat divided on future action towards limiting Mr. Trump's powers in his last days as president. Two options include; (1) enforcing the 25th amendment, and/or (2) impeachment.
The 25th amendment involves a number of governmental bodies (Congress, the Vice-president, speaker of the house, the Senate, and his Cabinet) signing a document indicating that the president is unable to execute his/her duties. The Vice-president, in this case Mike Pence, would be positioned as an acting president until Joe Biden is inaugurated. Furthermore, this option limits presidential powers for 21 days, during which an investigation would determine whether or not the president is fit to serve. An impeachment proceeding--a legal process of removing any executive official-- can strip the president of their powers during an impeachment trial, and/or the president is removed from office. Currently, impeachment seems to be the more likely procedure.
What's the big picture here?
The integrity of democratic institutions in the U.S. has been wavering for quite some time now. Whether it be exemplified by a dismal presidential debate between Trump/Biden, the number of Americans who believe that the 2020 election was rigged, or the inconsistent standards of policing applied on White mobs and Black protestors. Many have claimed that those actions are ‘not America’ and in doing so they evade acknowledging (1) that there is “something rotten in the state of Denmark”, and (2) fixing the problem. This is America, but it does not have to be. I believe we--whether we grew up in North America or South East Asia--can all take one step forward towards unity in this situation by asking ourselves a simple, yet serious question; “what does it mean for me to be a patriot?” At first, we might confront this question (patriot) as something we naturally know. We might say of course we love--or loathe--our country. But in either case further thinking is desperately needed. To love one's country--truly-- is not to blindly conform to it, but to actively maintain what is working, criticize what is not, and to do that beyond our own self-interest but towards the freedom and rights of all people. However, above all, it involves knowing whether or not we have deviated from patriotism and nationalism. Briefly, nationalism is defined as an ideology which seeks to realize a state for one group of ‘true’ people above all others. We must know the difference--and be honest about whether our actions support one, or the other.
The actions of rioters were not those of ardent patriots, but of nationalists. We have heard many protestors claim to be patriots of their country, justifying their actions based on the Boston Tea Party or the nebulous idea that America is predicated on revolution. However, acts of civil disobedience were done in order to enhance the democratic system and expand the scope of representation, not to cripple down the former while limiting the latter.
There is another, slightly darker form of reasoning behind their self-proclaimed patriotism; a lie. They may have--and probably did--know what they were doing was wrong. Patriotism could have been the perfect moralistic justification given to satisfy a desire for self-importance. A key step now is to look forward and see what is coming next.