On Wednesday January 6, we failed.
We saw as our democracy was assailed both physically and figuratively by former President Donald Trump’s hateful and deceptive rhetoric, with the Capitol being helplessly overtaken by rioters. However, Trump’s claims of a stolen election—“large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day,” “2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history”—cannot be identified simply as lies. His words can no longer be treated as playthings and tactics in this game of politics. Doing so would normalize the gravity and danger held by his falsities. For the past four years, Trump’s lies have pushed him from being a liar to a demagogue, and we realized on the day of the Capitol riots that America had no system in place to protect its sacred democracy from these “lies.”
A demagogue appeals to populist values, saying what the masses wish to hear by means of lies and incitement of hatred. So far, Trump fits the description: repeatedly denying the effects of the still-present Covid-19 pandemic, claiming a fraudulent election with no evidence whatsoever, and calling for his supporters to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” on the day of the riots. The list goes on.
It may be hard for Americans to envision the former head of state, a man who was an acting president a mere week ago, as a demagogue and a threat to democracy. The great majority of people reacting towards the storming of the Capitol were shocked, believing the events to be utterly “unbelievable, unfortunate, ridiculous, shameful.” But to those reactions, I ask, “Why at this very moment? Why not before?”
During Trump’s tenure, we were not nearly alarmed enough each time severe misinformation poured out of his mouth. In fact, studies show that American voters have a considerably high tolerance for lying politicians. This normalization of deceit demonstrates how Trump’s behavior has slowly permeated our systems and society. His misleadings, unaccountable and rampant, mobilized the angered mob to surge into the Capitol. The events of January 6 could have been prevented had the nation not been so lenient with Trump’s lying tendencies.
But to readers who are wondering, “What could we have done? If you prosecute all lying politicians, Congress would be a ghost town,” I agree. Public servants are human too. However, the lies that I speak of do not deserve the benefit of the doubt because of their inherent danger. Trump’s lies spread distrust in American democracy and rejected the very real threat of Covid-19. We can’t turn a blind eye on these dangerous lies anymore. Trump’s words provide the groundwork for future leaders to corrode and dismantle our democracy. We are setting precedents when we fail to hold the most powerful American accountable for invoking an insurrection to the Capitol by means of election delegitimization.
What system, then, can protect us from these lies? What line of defense was truly missing from the Capitol riots? Unfortunately, the defense mechanisms that America crucially needs do not physically exist. Americans must learn to cultivate these mechanisms within themselves by understanding the danger of lies. American voters must keep a keen eye on the truths that their politicians stand for, and the lies that they choose not to confront. The sun may have set on Trump’s administration, but I urge readers to remember the multiple Republican congressmen who advanced Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud, the lawmakers who voted against the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory, and those who refused to condemn the Capitol riots. Their lack of integrity still stands in the sacred halls of American government.
Nevertheless, there remains hope for American democracy and integrity. Americans have realized the true danger in Trump’s lies. Numerous Republicans have openly opposed Trump and the insurrection. Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote to Trump on the day after the riots, “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.” DeVos then declared her resignation “in support of the oath I took to our Constitution, our people, and our freedoms.”
We the People have finally understood that our democracy can be lost: 76 percent of Americans believe democracy was in peril following the Capitol riots. Trump and the rioters briefly tampered with our democracy, and in those fleeting yet breathtaking moments, Americans realized that our values, institutions, and democracy are not as secure as we might want to believe. However, we hold the fate of democracy in our hands. How we recover from this day will mark the path of our democracy.
I present this on a Wednesday, with hindsight of three monumental Wednesdays: the Capitol riots on January 6, Trump’s second impeachment on January 13, and President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20. With the new administration, America inhales a breath of fresh air. However, we must remember the consequences of our leniency. Just because Biden appears to be a better alternative to Trump does not mean the threats to our democracy are no longer present. As much as America cherishes democracy as one of her most prized possessions, it is a value that at any moment can be stolen and broken. We must actively work to interrogate power and hold misdeeds against democracy accountable. Democracy is alive and well, yet not immune from the inveterate threats we must firmly battle. And to those who dare rebel against our Constitution, our nation, and our people, know that We will always prevail.