Of all the reflections and reactions from the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, the most transcendent harkens back to Sept. 11, 2001. I can’t help but think of Todd Beamer and all those passengers aboard a hijacked jetliner. They knew they were about to die, but they fought their way into the cockpit, diverting the path of a weaponized aircraft said to have been directed to Washington to destroy targets that could have included the Capitol. Those Americans died as patriots to protect our Capitol.
What happened Jan. 6 is unnerving for many reasons, not the least of which is the sacrifice common Americans made for the sanctity of what we represent. Think for a moment what the typical American reaction would be to Wednesday’s news if the people accountable had been North Korean nationals, Iranian spies or Cuban dissidents.
They weren’t. They were Americans. They didn’t sneak in across the unguarded Mexican border. They weren’t out to avenge George Floyd’s death. They were there because their president encouraged them to be. And there lies the difficult dissection of the presidency and the officeholder. As Americans, we’re simply torn between the stark reality that a sitting president has solicited election fraud in Georgia and urged violence on our Capitol and the somber reality that this person is our highest elected official.
Should he be censured? Should he resign? Should the 25th Amendment be invoked? Should he be impeached again? Should we just hope that he goes away without further incident? Those are the issues in the frame of a national deliberation it’s almost hard to believe we’re having. But we are.
That said, future generations will judge the actions of our officials now. Like it or not, the bar has been lowered for our standardbearer at the highest level, and that can only lower the bar at every level beneath it.
For those of us who lived through Watergate, the same sickening feeling is upon us. A president simply has to leave. There are those who said that Nixon would never resign, and he himself declared he was not a quitter. But he did resign. There are those who say Trump will never resign, and I doubt he will. So, too, I doubt that Mike Pence will invoke the 25th Amendment, or that the remaining cabinet members will responsibly vote to remove him.
It’s up to Congress to act to impeach a sitting president for the first time. Yes, he’ll probably be playing golf in Florida by the time there is a vote in the Senate, but a vote could guarantee that he is not elected president again. Moreover, it can send a message to future candidates who play up to the Trump legacy that impeachment and a permanent ban are what improper, illegal and unethical conduct gets you in the Oval Office, no matter which party you represent or what your aims are.
Often I think of the Lincoln quote that each generation represents the last, best hope of our republic. That has never been more so than now. We are a country as divided as any time since the Civil War, so much so that there will be no transition with an outgoing and incoming president on the same podium on Inauguration Day.
Our best hope is that the situation we’re facing brings out the best in us — to educate more voters, to register more people who can vote and to embrace and discuss the issues as the agenda for our future. As a Democrat, I have to say I’m proud of many Republicans who have stood up — on principle — to what has happened. I’m equally as disappointed in others who have no principle, other than pandering to the people who lined their pockets.
We can do better. We have to do better. Many of us have heard pundits refer to Benjamin Franklin’s line when he was asked what kind of country the founding fathers created: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Vladimir Putin is laughing all the way from Moscow to the Black Sea. Kim Jong Un can watch with security the American example. The Chinese are realizing that the pandemic isn’t our worst problem. We have seen our enemy, and it is us.