In a time of a deadly pandemic that’s caused economic pain, our body politic is also ill.
Our nation suffered a grievous blow on Jan. 6 when insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol. Violent crowds assaulted police officers, killed Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and chanted “Hang Mike Pence.” Incited by Donald J. Trump that day and for months beforehand, these Americans believed the big lie that the election had been stolen.
Responding to the insurrection is like recovering from an emergency.
The inauguration will go on, as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, protected by 25,000 National Guard troops, take their oaths behind chain link fences topped with concertina wire. I pray there will not be more violence.
But we need to do much more to restore health. Curing our unhealthy politics requires integrity, bold speech and action. We can start with these three steps.
As the Anti-Defamation League pointed out, the mob at the U.S. Capitol included QAnon conspiracy believers, anti-Semitic groups, white supremacists and other right-wing extremists — drawn there by Trump and other Republicans who promulgated lies about the election. The Proud Boys, who in September Trump told to “stand back and stand by,” helped lead the attack.
Yet, this threat has not been adequately recognized by Republicans strongly opposing these groups. Somehow Sen. Susan Collins’ first thought after needing to evacuate the Senate was an Iranian attack and that week Bangor Daily News columnist Matt Gagnon asserted he was proud “the right does not throw the same kind of temper tantrums that the left does” after losing elections. While certainly not backing violent right-wing forces, they didn’t perceive or publicly note the potential for violence others saw from Trump’s lies.
Second, Republican leaders who oppose extremism should not be passive toward those in their party who promulgate this malignancy of disinformation and criminality. Elements exist in Maine, as seen in a recent post by the Waterville Republican Committee defending the thuggery of Jan. 6.
Many Republicans’ views of the election were shaped by Trump’s lies and QAnon is influencing the party. If GOP converts to conspiracy increase as Republicans appalled by these events unenroll and vow not to back anyone complicit with this trend, challenging this faction would require going up against what will be a growing percentage of the party.
However, as Sen. Mitt Romney said after the insurrection, “The best way we could show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth. That’s the burden. That’s the duty of leadership.” Other Republicans did this before. Margaret Chase Smith confronted McCarthyism and Bill Buckley and Ronald Reagan rebuffed the John Birch Society.
Third, at this crossroads, we should again strengthen democracy and show and tell how the government can improve people’s lives.
To expand and protect our democracy, we must ensure that Americans of all classes, races and places can participate meaningfully. HR 1, the For the People Act, endorsed by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, should become law. It would reduce gerrymandering, create a new public campaign financing system, reauthorize the Voting Rights Act and expand voter registration.
And to rebuild trust in government, we must pass policies that improve Americans’ lives in ways they feel. To start, the failed vaccine program must be aggressively and competently managed, and the economy revived and reshaped to work for all. The Biden-Harris administration has plans to do these and has picked competent, experienced professionals to put them into action. Additional good policies on health care, the climate and more can help us turn from a time of contention and pain.
Then we can pivot from this frightening inflection point, away from authoritarianism and mob rule, and move forward to a more healthy body politic.