Those who took part in the rampage at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 attacked more than a building that belongs to us all. They attacked an ideal that belongs to us all: government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
And they didn’t do it alone.
This crowd acted on self-serving lies told by outgoing President Trump for months. Even before the election, Trump signaled that he might not accept the result of the election if he didn’t win. And after that came to pass last November, Trump consistently lied and worked to overturn the decision that American voters made on his presidency, in record numbers.
Donald Trump even ignored an impressive bipartisan consensus to accept the results. When it mattered—meaning when it involved more than tweets and posturing—key Republican officials and Republican-appointed or conservative judges in Wisconsin and across the country had the integrity to reject Trump’s lies and his attempt to grab a second term.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the integrity or courage that they did.
While President Trump deserves much of the blame for what happened, he had enablers and accomplices. All along the way, Trump has been encouraged by federal, state, and local government officials who pushed the same or similar lies and attacked democracy in other ways. These officials, acting in bad faith, helped pave the way for Trump’s outrages.
Some of them come from Wisconsin. For years, too many in the Wisconsin legislature have feared the results that fair elections would yield, just like President Trump. As a result, they have made cowardly and shameful choices to try suppressing the vote, particularly in Black and Brown communities:
- They have limited voter participation through difficult and confusing ID requirements;
- They have curtailed access to convenient early voting options, which have become more and more common, and which are especially helpful in the middle of a pandemic;
- Wisconsin legislative leaders have drawn some of the most gerrymandered district maps in the nation, to give themselves power that voters never intended.
We can’t put up with this anymore. Last week’s attack on the Capitol shows where this cynicism and manipulation leads—toward a breakdown of our society. We can’t let elected officials undermine basic tenets of democracy, or undermine the choices voters make, just because they didn’t like the outcome.
In the weeks since November 3, elected officials from Wisconsin such as Senator Ron Johnson followed Trump’s lead, casually making serious claims about the integrity of Wisconsin’s election. Johnson has the distinction of being the only U.S. Senator in this appalling effort who tried to overturn the results from his own state.
Still worse: even after the assault on the U.S. Capitol delayed the final certification of election results, even after loss of life, and even after other fellow Republicans—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Pence—had the decency to put the country first, Wisconsin’s U.S. Representatives Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald voted to try overturning the decision that the voters of Arizona and Pennsylvania made. With incredible arrogance, they even say they would have voted to reject Wisconsin’s election result too, if anyone from the U.S. Senate had joined in objecting to our state’s decision, as such a challenge would require.
Let’s also remember how the violent insurrection that accompanied these votes even flew the evil flag of the Confederacy. In the U.S. Civil War, more than 90,000 soldiers from Wisconsin fought—and more than 12,000 from Wisconsin gave their lives—to defeat the Confederacy and the brutal racism that it arose to defend and perpetuate.
As deeply troubling as this all is, it also offers hope.
After years of partisan gridlock, we have seen real bipartisan support for the outcome of this election, and bipartisan support for a second impeachment to hold President Trump accountable.
We need more of this.
We need elected officials to hold each other accountable: accountable for what they say about our elections, accountable for whether and how they support the free and fair conduct of our elections for people of every race, and accountable for whether or not they respect the results of our elections.
And of course we need voters in Wisconsin to hold our elected officials accountable.
Some of our public servants who lacked the integrity we needed this time around just won election in November, and no doubt they still have enthusiastic supporters—not despite their antidemocratic and racist behavior, but because of it. Getting the accountability we need will not come easily.
So who will ultimately win out: those attacking democracy, equality, and justice, or those defending it?
That’s up to us—and maybe this crisis and the nationwide reaction to it have changed something.
We’ve never seen anything in American history before like such a brazen attack on the results of a presidential election, or such a widespread attack on democracy itself.
From now on, if we overrule politicians who think they can overrule the voters, we have a chance to never see anything like this again.