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Today, as most people celebrate the Independence of our country, we think of the men and women who not only established our government but enabled it, prodded it, and compelled it—to live up to its ideals. On July 4, 1776, many Americans were not free; many did not have the right to vote or to own property or to be educated. Many did not have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We have still not lived up to the democratic ideals that the Founding Fathers put on paper. Currently, nearly half the states have enacted or intend to enact laws making it more difficult to vote, which is an attack on the fundamental promise of democracy: one man or woman, one vote.
We have only recently learned how fragile our democracy is. On January 6, 2021, a large mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent the certification of the Presidential election of 2020. According to the U.S. Constitution, this ritual of certifying the results of the election is ceremonial; it is not an occasion to overturn the election results. The electoral votes from the states had been counted and certified. In some states they were recounted. The Trump campaign filed scores of lawsuits to overturn the outcome based on claims of fraud, but every such lawsuit was dismissed for lack of evidence, including two appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, even though it is dominated 6-3 by conservative Justices. Federal judges appointed by Trump, including three on the High Court, threw out his legal appeals
Despite the resounding defeat of Donald Trump in both the electoral college and the popular vote, Trump insisted that the election had been stolen from him. It came to be known as The Big Lie, repeated on a nearly daily basis.
As January 6 approached, Trump tweeted to his followers and asked them to come to Washington, D.C. on thay. He promised that “it will be wild.” As you know, he addressed thousands of his supporters that day to march to the Capitol and to “fight like hell.”
January 6 was the most shameful day in American history, the only day in which large numbers of Americans attacked the seat of their own government. They were seditionists, they perpetrated a violent insurrection, overrunning the U.S. Capitol, brutally beating law enforcement officers. It is almost equally shameful that members of Trump’s party, with only a few exceptions, have minimized what happened on that day. One member of Congress said it was akin to a normal tourist visit. Another described the violence as “peaceful protest.” Rep. Liz Cheney was ousted from her leadership role for acknowledging the seriousness of the insurrection. When asked to create an independent commission to analyze what happened that day, Senate Republicans refused to do so.
The forces of authoritarianism are rising, most notably in China, Russia, Brazil, Hungary, and Myanmar. We need to protect our democracy.
To understand what happened on January 6, please watch this video, created by the New York Times from the cameras of police, insurrectionists, and other sources. You may think you have seen it all. You have not. Watch. Then think hard about what you can do to restore our democratic ideals on this July 4.