It was the worst day for American democracy in decades. It was the best day for American democracy in years.
What do you say when armed citizens storm your country’s Capitol, determined to overthrow the legitimate government? I have no idea. And until about 2pm Wednesday, I thought being an American meant never having to figure it out. We were the original experiment in self-government, the emeritus professor of democracy, sometimes squeaky and backward, but mostly respected despite our flaws.
Yet what happened Wednesday afternoon: the Senate chambers filled by thugs who support Trump; legislators and staff terrified; broken windows and ransacked offices – it is, in a way, essentially American. We like to say that we are a nation built on one idea, the statement that we are all created equal. But that simple notion has led to centuries of infighting, sometimes peaceful and sometimes not. Does the United States really belong to all of us, or only to a select few? That founding conflict defines our nation as much as our founding ideals.
The Americans who organized the self-described revolution this week made it clear exactly where they stood. They had lost an election, a series of recounts, and a host of court challenges. However, they still believed that they had the right to choose the next president of the United States. You wouldn’t know it from the goofy costumes and goofy hats, but Trump’s failed coup was the definition of political elitism – a few thousand angry individuals deciding their preferences mattered more than the rest of the country combined.
While the Speaking of blow Ultimately it failed, the message from its participants, one reinforced by its relatively lenient treatment at the hands of the Capitol police, was clear: This country belongs to us and only to us.
And yet a few hundred miles to the south and just hours before, a completely different view of the American prevailed. There, Georgians – not just Democrats, but Republicans and independents as well – set a record for turnout in the second round elections. Despite enormous pressure from the president and death threats from his supporters, election officials from both parties held a fair and free contest, corrected misinformation in real time, and even managed to count the vast majority of votes before it ended. the night. The story told by those votes was clear: Georgians rejected a pair of rulers who joined Trump’s attacks on our democracy, elected the state’s first African-American senator, and demoted Mitch McConnell to minority leader for the first time since 2014.
During the Trump years, as the shame, outrages and horrors accumulated, it became a cliche to mutter, without much conviction, that “we are better than this.” But on Wednesday, the cliché was true. We are the country where armed guards came close to protecting their legislators from an angry mob incited by our own president. And we are also the country that rejected that president, defended democracy, and reaffirmed our belief in our founding ideal of equality for all. We are not one from the United States nor the other. They were both.
But we won’t be the two for long. If there is a silver lining to Wednesday’s attack, it is that no one, not in Congress, not anywhere, can plausibly claim ignorance of what is at stake. America’s undemocratic impulses may have been on public display on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, but they are as old as the country itself. They were with us through secession and segregation, through Know-Nothing-ism in the 1850s and McCarthyism in the 1950s. They will be with us after Donald Trump. The question is not whether our demons will magically disappear. It’s if our best angels can beat them before it’s too late.
That’s why repudiating violence, as most lawmakers did after order was restored on Capitol Hill, is not enough. Nor is it enough to remove a dangerous president and hold him legally responsible for what he has done. If legislators really care about democracy, they have to dismantle the idea that America belongs to a select group of Americans and that the rest of us deserve second-class citizenship or none at all. That’s the idea that drove a mob to violence this week.
It is also, as uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge this fact, the idea that has galvanized the politics of the Republican Party for at least a decade. On issues ranging from taxes to guns to health care to climate change, establishment Republicans (McConnell’s party, not Trump) rely on the idea that a minority of Americans who approve of Republican proposals matter. more than most that don’t.
To some extent, this inequality within the United States is based on pure geographic luck. Red states have smaller populations, giving them more senators per voter than blue states. Democrats tend to cluster in cities, which facilitates their distribution into unequal and uncompetitive districts. But in many other ways, the emerging tyranny of the minority has been brought about by design. Deprive former criminals and dreamers; passing wave after wave of restrictive voting laws targeting youth and minorities; taxing the 700,000 Washington DC residents without representation; ramming unskilled partisan judges at an unprecedented rate.
The idea that “true Americans” matter, and that most Americans do not, was not just embraced by the “deplorable” who occupied the Capitol while chaos reigned. He was also embraced by many of the “respectable,” duly elected Republican legislators who re-occupied the chamber once order was restored.
The United States cannot continue to have both. The logic of the rule of the minority inevitably leads to the logic of the rule of the multitude. A new president will soon be inaugurated, and a new Congress, made up of Democrats and, hopefully, a handful of Republicans genuinely dismayed by what they have tried so hard to ignore, will have a real chance to pass bills. It may be our last and best chance to restore representative democracy and to declare, hopefully this time for some purpose, that America belongs to all of us.
No matter what comes next, we will be the country we saw on Wednesday. But what country did we see on Wednesday we will be?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism