Preserving our Democratic institutions
At first glance, I thought it was pointless to remove President Trump from office two weeks before being replaced by the 2020 president-elect. I knew Trump’s recent actions, specifically his January 6th, 2021 speech to supporters on the National Mall, was wrong. Still, in two weeks, I told myself, he is gone. What possible good could come from the time and effort required to remove an incumbent president from office two weeks before his term is up? However, after I considered this question in the context of leadership, I changed my mind.
My first Platoon Leader ensured I understood the principles of leadership. Even in the middle of Marine Corps martial arts training, he would stop and drill me, “which principle is your favorite and why?” I got the point leadership was unwavering. Neither exhaustion nor chaos would excuse my ignorance so, I started studying the Marine Corps 11 Principles. I chose two favorites to identify and defend the next time I was quizzed: (1) Set the example, and (2) seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. We all have a responsibility to act after this event. As noted by former president James Buchanan, “the test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” January 6th did not elicit greatness from our President or some of his supporters. Still, our other elected leaders, regardless of party, have an opportunity to step up and set the precedence for our country.
History Repeats Itself
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana.
Unfortunately, this was neither the first attempted siege our country has seen nor was it unique in its ‘extremist’ composition. In 1898, Wilmington, NC, was sieged by rioters in the aftermath of an election. Only in this case, the siege was successful, and rioters successfully overtook the lawfully elected, biracial government. The Wilmington insurrection of 1898, also known as the Wilmington massacre, was a mass riot and insurrection carried out by mostly white nationalists angered after a biracial government’s election. Approximately 2,000 angry, primarily white men stormed Wilmington and expelled black and white political leaders from the city, installing their own chosen officials. Historians still do not have an accurate count of the 100–300 people, mostly black, killed during the siege. Public and private property and buildings were damaged and destroyed in the process. Worse yet, the rioters succeeded in overthrowing the newly elected government and empowering their own leader, Waddel. Despite his usurping of power and blatant racism, Alfred Moore Waddel was re-elected in 1899 and held power until 1905. The city of Wilmington lost the majority of its black population and took decades to recover. Today, a small sign marks the 1898 insurrection. Its history is mostly unknown outside of historians or tourists embarking on a city guide. Waddel never faced the consequences, and white nationalism continues to plague this country today.
What if we had punished the Wilmington rioters and Waddel himself? What if President McKinley had heeded calls for help and taken lawful action against Waddel and his followers? Clearly, we’ll never have those answers. Still, I can imagine Wilmington and greater North Carolina’s history and governance would have evolved much differently. We cannot rest on our laurels because this President is almost out of office. History must document that America punished those who attempted a siege and held their leaders responsible. We must protect our elections from extremism. Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it, and we just did. It’s time to end the cycle.
If a broken window is neglected, it signals low quality. If a crime is not deterred, it will lead to further crimes. As criminal activity rises in a community, the community falls apart and loses control over the neighborhood’s quality. Social norms change, and slowly the community transforms into an undesirable place.
Similarly, suppose the leaders of the January 6th siege on our Capitol are neglected. In that case, it signals tolerance for undermining US governance and policy. If one group can siege the Capitol, break windows, and defile public podiums and private offices, why wouldn’t a more robust group try? And what signals are we sending foreign nations or groups hostile to our country? Suppose we do not hold our own leader responsible for influencing the siege. Why would an opposing leader feel fear for attempting the same? The US has a reputation for fair treatment, and that means we guide ourselves before leading others. How can we advise others if we cannot correct our own problems? In the military, we learn to make our beds in the morning. We can’t tell someone else to clean their rooms if ours is a mess.
We need to hold our leaders and the unethical actors accountable. I am not debating between using the 25th Amendment or impeachment. I will leave that to the practitioners. However, I call for consequences to set the standard for future political leaders and ensure our history reflects action commensurate with actions. I want my great-grandchildren to read how America responded after its Capitol was sieged in 2021 and how the people united against extremist assaults on our democracy. Even better, the perpetrators, including the President, should step forward and own their mistakes. Then, welcome the repercussions with dignity so we can continue our traditions.
Critics think a second impeachment trial or 25th Amendment vote would further divide our country. I agree, but it is short-term thinking. The long-term benefits are substantial in preserving our democratic process. If we don’t deter aggression against our democratic process, what stops a more significant force? Further, the inconvenience of repercussions is a small price to pay for a democratic republic.
Some argue that BLM protests weren’t criticized, like the siege on the Capitol. I agree, but the BLM didn’t attempt to overturn a federal election after President Trump won. Looting property and hurting others is wrong and cowardly. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
It is easy to sit back and armchair quarterback the siege. No, it is not, and it isn't enjoyable. Our diplomats have another hurdle to overcome as they forge relations with foreign leaders. Our nation’s service members have enough on their plate, and the Capitol invasion is only costing Americans more taxes and human resources. Our history must reflect greatness and leadership, particularly in times of adversity, and show future generations how to preserve the democratic process.
Officer Brian Sicknick.
As a result of leadership without accountability, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was killed. Brian was a Trump supporter and died defending the Capitol from those who sought to defile its sanctity. Brian served in the military and a public library and was overall a well-rounded citizen who loved the nation. Though Brian grew increasingly critical of the ongoing wars, it didn’t stop him from defending the US Capitol in the face of homegrown terrorists. He decided the Capitol and the democratic process were more important than his life and personal political preferences. His sacrifice should be remembered. And we should hold the President’s actions and the conformist rioters accountable. The extremist demonstraters abused the First Amendment, the people’s right to assemble peaceably, and petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Also, four other Americans were killed following the invasion. Thus, in my opinion, the history books should reflect that even the President was held accountable for his or her actions, and the US will not tolerate terrorism, whether it is foreign or domestic.
“Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes is right, but it takes a slightly better man to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that he is in error.” –President Andrew Jackson.
The President and extremists should set an example and take responsibility for their actions, which forced US police officers to put unarmed US citizens between their front sights. I am confident these officers did not intend to fire on US citizens that day. Even if the President’s punishment drags and takes months to process, the historic records years from now must reflect US citizens holding the Whitehouse accountable. Suppose the President advocates for law, order, and fair governorship. In that case, he should welcome the punishment and maintain the precedence of US leadership. This could not only help salvage his legacy but show future leaders and citizens that the US holds those who break its laws accountable. He may only have two weeks left, but the history books will forever document this incident and its repercussions. An impeachment hearing or 25th Amendment vote is costly, but the price of inaction is higher. History will repeat itself, and we can’t afford to let our children pay for our apathy.
The same way we hold our children responsible for their actions, we should demonstrate that we kept our nation’s leaders accountable. We must set historical precedence for future generations to follow if we’re going to preserve this democratic experiment. Any other form of behavior towards the President’s activities is a sign of political apathy, which is your democratic right. So, let’s preserve it.