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Before the Nov. 3 election, this editorial board urged people to calm down before political disagreements turned into something much worse.
“As election day approaches and America feels increasingly divided, political disagreement should not — must not — devolve into violence or threats of violence,” we wrote in late October when a self-identified Democrat from Bangor was arrested after allegedly brandishing weapons during a Trump campaign event.
Even with those concerns, we didn’t envision then that something as horrific as the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol could happen.
President Donald Trump clearly bears much responsibility for that assault, and to quote Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the U.S. House of Representatives acted “appropriately” by impeaching him last week on a bipartisan basis. There is more than enough evidence for the Senate to convict him.
After helping to fuel the mob violence that swept through the Capitol, Trump’s response has been abysmal and inconsistent. On Jan. 13, however, he at least did the bare minimum: acknowledge the ongoing threats leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, and explicitly urge everyone, including his supporters, not to be violent.
“Making America Great Again has always been about defending the rule of law, supporting the men and women of law enforcement and upholding our nation’s most sacred traditions and values. Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for,” Trump said in the pre-recorded video on Jan. 13. “No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement or our great American flag. No true supporter of mine could ever threaten or harass their fellow Americans. If you do any of these things, you are not supporting our movement, you are attacking it and you are attacking our country. We can not tolerate it.”
Trump should have looked into a camera and said these words on the afternoon of Jan. 6. That he was unable or unwilling to do so was far beneath the office of the presidency. Calling for healing now doesn’t absolve Trump of the fueling and failing we saw from him in real time on Jan. 6, and in the two months since the election. But we do hope those who still ignore the certified election results, recounts, audits, court rulings and the U.S. Constitution will take these words to heart and refrain from any further violence (to reiterate, it was a very small segment of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol).
We also hope people will watch Trump’s video and remember that, despite losing access to Twitter and other online platforms, he still has arguably the largest microphone in the world as president of the United States. For all the outrage about big tech censoring and deplatforming the president, Trump still has the White House press briefing room. He hasn’t been silenced. He could call a press conference for 30 minutes from now and the TV cameras would be there, sending his words around the world. The fact that he has mostly been communicating now through short, pre-recorded videos isn’t censorship and it isn’t an accident. It’s a decision by his team as they deal with the fallout from Jan. 6.
The belated decision to explicitly denounce violence in the Jan. 13 video, without the excuses that Trump offered on Jan. 6, was a good one.
“Today, I am calling on all Americans to overcome the passions of the moment and join together as one American people,” Trump concluded in his Jan. 13 video. “Let us choose to move forward united for the good of our families, our communities and our country.”
Trump still has a role to play here, too. He should explicitly recognize Joe Biden as the next president and concede the election to him — not just acknowledge the reality that there will be a new administration. This is what American presidents and presidential candidates do when they lose.
Trump should go in front of a camera, and say the following words to Joe Biden for all the world to see: “You won. Best of luck leading our great country.” Otherwise, the president’s calls for unity are just hollow words.