For more than 250 years, the people of the United States strove to build a free and fair democracy that would transfer power between foes as easily as friends. In our striving, imperfect as it was, we showed the world how to seek and protect such a system even as we struggled to provide it to all our citizens. We caused nations and peoples to aspire toward constitutional democracy by demonstrating the opportunity and prosperity it could produce.
But since Nov. 3 we’ve been reminded that to claim the myriad rewards of such a system, we must all be willing to lose those free and fair elections without destroying the system. For the United States to work, we must be able to peacefully suffer defeat at the hands of politicians whom we find distasteful, promoting policies with which we disagree.
"Politics is a substitute for violence," former Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt once said, a fitting insight. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer recalled that in his speech Wednesday night, made after Congress had safely returned to the Capitol to validate the Electoral College results that make Joe Biden the next president.
But this week we saw violence used as a substitute for politics, with deadly results.
Undermining our electoral process is the most pyrrhic possible win for any American. But it’s the poisonous triumph followers of President Donald Trump, spurred on by false tales of massive fraud from their leader and his sycophants in the Republican Party, have sought since Election Day in their quest to overturn the results.
Biden’s victory margin, of 74 Electoral College votes and 7 million actual votes, was decisive. But the size of the win and the assurances of election officials from every state and both parties that the election was fair and secure did nothing to assuage Trump and his followers.
The only acceptable outcome was a Trump victory, regardless of the vote tallies.
Our system is compromised, even as it so far has withstood this onslaught. What has failed is the compact between us, the proposition that your vote and voice are as valuable as mine, your right to a fairly earned victory as vital, your choices as valid.
Five people lie dead in the wake of a violent siege at the nation’s Capitol launched as Congress met to affirm Biden’s victory. A Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, was beaten to death by a protester who smashed his head with a fire extinguisher. With the blood of the dead and wounded pooling on the marble floors and the feces of rioters smeared on the walls, the members returned to do the work of democracy. Photographers and reporters, harassed and beaten, walked past "Murder the Media" graffiti to continue the essential work of democracy. Yet from the floor of the chambers the voices of senators and House members again arose to manufacture the cynical lie that the election was stolen from Trump.
Trump and those elected officials who enabled this uprising cannot be absolved of their share of the blame.
We do not, we cannot cast our votes with the blunt instruments of violence.
There can be no false equivalence here. The many peaceful protests of the left held after the death of George Floyd this summer and since, and even the few riots, where they broke out, were in defiance of a systemic, tragic and persistent problem: racism that persists in our policing. The racial injustice in our nation has not yet been overcome. We condemned the violence and property damage, but supported the passionate dedication to bettering our country.
That can’t be compared to this insurrection in Washington, an anti-democratic display based on a lie about the election, rooted in a fantasy of white grievance.
Those spurred to violence have been lured to it by Trump and his circle, and exploited by a social media landscape that captures our eyeballs for advertisers by often inflaming our passions with lies. Many are ripe for it because they are saddened and angered by difficulties in their own lives, and by the failure of our government, the failures of both Democrats and Republicans, to ease those difficulties.
All of these ills can and must be addressed with governmental action.
But the promise of America never offered a guarantee of success or happiness, only a path. What future is not open to these furious Trumpers because of the "injustices" they claim, what manner of education or training or advancement or transformation has been denied?
Trump will soon be gone — whether at the hand of the calendar or via impeachment by Congress. What will remain are vast swaths of America who believe their opponents and our president are not just wrong but illegitimate. The threat of domestic unrest, once bubbling under the surface, is suddenly a central feature of our national life.
Besieged by a pandemic and economically beleaguered, there has never been a better time for us to come together, to rediscover the preeminence of "We the People."
Unless we do that, every partisan win, on either side, will be a momentary victory in a losing battle for the soul of our nation.
— The editorial board