As I contemplated writing this recently, my thought was to focus on the election and how people were feeling about the outcome. However, as the events of Jan. 6 unfolded, each day seems to bring new revelations regarding the impact President Donald Trump had on our democracy.
Even prior to the attacks in our Capitol, I knew the presidential election was typical of what most American voters knew: That 61% of Americans said they trusted the results of the election, including two-thirds of independents, according to the November NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, but only 24% of Republicans — compared with 95% of Democrats — believed Joe Biden won.
Of course, skepticism is not new and hardly limited to one party as a lot of people including Democrats questioned the 2000 presidential election as well. The difference, however, is that we had an orderly and respectful transition of power.
What was most disturbing this go-around?
Watching and reading the barrage of tweets by Trump to address the news media and his followers with baseless voter fraud claims ahead of the electoral vote count by Congress. Such withdrawals from reality, while no longer startling me, became the rallying cry of the party because the forces of solidarity among Trump supporters have been strong enough to be labeled a cult — sometimes enviously — by critics.
However, I was hard-pressed to find a prior election in which a president so actively tried to manipulate the public — and had so many of his core supporters play along with it. More than a month after Joe Biden was declared president-elect, Trump continued to allege widespread voter fraud and claim the outcome was still up in the air — even after numerous losses in courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court.
That ongoing rhetoric created a perfect storm, adding fuel to an already smoldering fire that ultimately culminated in the attack on the Capitol by thousands of angry protesters, overtaking security forces and forcing the evacuation of our duly elected members of Congress.
Do not get me wrong (although some undoubtedly will). I am not here to bash the Grand Old Party’s voters for their earnest choices. Trump’s support from well over 80% of GOP voters is nothing for anyone who believes in our republic’s democracy to belittle.
I’ve talked with and listened to enough Republicans to know that many are like a lot of progressive voters I know, who held their noses while voting for Biden: Trump’s not their dream candidate, but he’s closer than what the other party was offering.
The larger question to me is whether we Americans can pull our politics back to the real world from fantasy while some of us can still tell the difference.
The question for 2021 is: What’s next?
We spent the past year struggling to find our way through a labyrinth of unprecedented challenges: contagion on a global scale, economic upheaval and a series of political crises, which continues today.
Three weeks into 2021 and we have already witnessed several transformational events: The shift of power in the U.S. Senate made possible by the outcome of special elections in Georgia; a U.S. president inviting chaos into our Capitol; and a very real public conversation about whether the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was warranted given the extraordinarily inappropriate conduct of a sitting president obsessed with his political failures.
We are in the eye of the hurricane. We know there will be more storms ahead of us. Leaders are trying to figure out what we need to do next to advance as a nation, state and community of aspirations, while partisans are trying to discern the quickest path to power in the emergent political landscape.
Meanwhile, most Americans remain gobsmacked by what has become of us — they wonder whether the greatest democratic republic in history has devolved too far down the rabbit hole.