Wissot: A second date which will live in infamy
Eighty years ago on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a radio broadcast to the nation used the words, “a date which will live in infamy” to inform the nation that Japan had launched a surprise aerial attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. The losses that day were staggering: 2,403 service men, women and civilians were killed in the attack and 19 navy vessels were destroyed or damaged.
We will mark on Jan. 6 the first anniversary of a second date that will live in infamy. When the Capitol was attacked in 1814, the British were responsible for burning the building down. A year ago, it was a gang of rag-tag American anarchists posing as patriots who waged war against their own government. Thomas Jefferson certainly didn’t anticipate that the desecration of the citadel of democracy was what he had in mind when he wrote “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
While the deaths of five people in the attack, including one Capitol police officer and one rioter, are deplorable, the damage done in the eyes of the world to the prestige of the longest running and most successful democracy on the planet was incalculable. Democratic nations around the globe were shocked to learn that a violent crowd spurred on by a president possessing the instincts of a gangster had interfered with the certification of a free and fair election.
The world was asking that day what many Americans were asking: “What the hell is happening to America?”
We are still asking that question and remain equally uncertain as to the answer. Are we or are we not a democracy? Accepting the results of an election and promoting the peaceful transition of power are the cornerstones of a democracy. Subverting the rule of law by resorting to violence is what often happens in politically unstable countries where autocratic governance enforced by military or civilian strongmen is the norm. Make no mistake about it, the actions of the rioters that day were straight out of the playbook for fomenting a coup.
The tragic events of Jan. 6 happened because a ruthless leader wanted to dismantle the democratic voting process. Trump told his supporters assembled at the rally that preceded the attack that if they didn’t “fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He promised them that “I”ll be with you“ on the march down to the Capitol, a promise he never kept as he immediately retreated to the White House to enjoy on television the chaos unfold, much as he would a Sunday NFL football game.
It was almost four hours into the mayhem before the president released a video asking the mob to disperse and “go home in peace.” His gratitude for their criminal behavior was evident when he added “we love you” and “you’re very special.”
Trump had very little incentive to order a stop to the violence, because the hoodlums and hooligans damaging the hallways, ransacking offices and spreading excrement on the walls were doing exactly what he wanted them to do: intimidating members of Congress charged with the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as president.
The pathetic people responsible for the violence have been and are being tried in the federal courts assigned to establish their guilt and mete out appropriate punishments for their destructive behavior. The one person who thus far has not been held accountable for the riot is the former president himself. Letting his lemmings take the fall for him would be a terrible travesty of justice.
We have learned recently from text messages received by Mark Meadows, President Trump’s former chief of staff, that members of the ex-president’s family including his son, Don Jr., were concerned on Jan. 6 about how the optics of the debacle at the Capitol might damage him politically. Don Jr. is quoted as telling Meadows, “He’s got to condemn this sh– ASAP.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham, an ardent advocate for the president, tweeted the following message to Meadows: “This (meaning the riot) is hurting all of us. He’s ruining his legacy.”
A week later, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who along with the rest of Congress were the targets of the insurrection, laid the blame for the violence squarely on the president. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”
Predictably, McCarthy, a man willing to sell his soul to become the next Speaker of the House, has refused to acknowledge he said that. Tom Rice, a House member from South Carolina, has been more forthcoming and honest. Last month he said he regretted voting against certifying two states’ electoral votes because “President Trump was responsible for the attack on the Capitol.”
We are waiting to learn from the Jan. 6 Commission in the House about whether the events of that day weren’t spontaneous but rather the culmination of two months of careful preparation and planning on the part of Trump allies. More evidence needs to be gathered on just how involved the ex-president was in directing those efforts as well as his part in delaying the deployment of the National Guard to the Capitol.
At the very least, Trump is guilty of malignant neglect for refusing to immediately use his authority to quell the disturbance. We know for sure that if it had been BLM or Antifa rioters desecrating the Capitol, many of them would have ended up in jails, hospitals and cemeteries.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.