By Paul Rozycki
In the early 1960s, at the height of the cold war, there was a best-selling novel, and a movie, that told a story of a potential military coup in the U.S. and possible nuclear conflict with Soviet Union. The book was “Seven Days in May” by Charles Bailey and Fletcher Knebel, and it described a week of Cold War tensions, governmental distrust, and political conspiracies of the time.
“Seven Days in May” was a fictional political thriller, but in the last month, we’ve lived through 15 days in January, where, on three successive Wednesdays, we’ve experienced an insurrection, an impeachment, and an inauguration, as the nation faces the deep divisions of our own time.
January 6, 2021, Insurrection:
“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong….And we fight. We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” (President Donald Trump, Jan. 6, 2021, speech to his supporters)
On January 6, the U.S. Congress was handling what is normally a routine bureaucratic activity—the formal counting of electoral votes which had been certified by the states weeks earlier. But as the counting began, the nation watched in horror as the president fired up a crowd, who then stormed the U.S. Capitol. Over the next several hours they broke windows, smashed furniture, and threatened to hang the vice-president, and assault members of Congress. As more details emerged, what appeared to be an angry, out-of-control mob, began to look even more ominous.
Rather than being simply an impulsive crowd, those who stormed the Capitol came prepared with weapons, bombs, and zip-ties for taking hostages, and they knew exactly who they were looking for. They ransacked offices, stole papers and computers, and trashed the U.S. Capitol building in the process.
Evidence suggests that some police and military officials, and members of Congress, may have been working with the rioters. Five people died as a result. The Capitol had not seen that kind of destruction since the War of 1812.
It was a chilling and symbolic bookend to the Trump presidency. In his inaugural address in 2017, Trump spoke of “American carnage,” and four years later his presidency ended with the carnage of 400,000 COVID deaths and a tumultuous riot in the U.S. Capitol.
January 13, 2021, Impeachment:
Article One: Incitement of Insurrection.
“Donald John Trump engaged in High Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the government of the United States…Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.” (Article of Impeachment, Jan. 13, 2021)
One week after the attempt to overturn the 2020 election results, the U.S. House impeached President Trump for “Incitement of Insurrection”. It was the first time in history that an American president had been impeached twice.
Though the vote followed partisan lines, it was the most bi-partisan impeachment vote in history. In response to the riots in the Capitol, 10 Republicans voted to impeach, along with the Democrats. It remains to be seen how the Senate trial will play out for Trump, and what the results might be, now that he is out of office. However, several leading Republican senators have said they might consider a vote to convict Trump for his actions, and he could become the first president to be impeached and convicted by a Senate vote.
January 20, 2021, Inauguration:
“I Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.” (Biden’s presidential oath of office, Jan. 20, 2021)
“And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground. That did not happen… To all those who supported our campaign I am humbled by the faith you have placed in us.
“To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. And if you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength. Yet hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you: I will be a President for all Americans.” (President Biden’s Inaugural address, Jan. 20, 2021)
Just two weeks after the attempted insurrection, and one week after the impeachment, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Like the previous Wednesdays, it was an unprecedented and unique event. Unlike all previous inaugurations, Biden addressed a virtual audience, because of the COVID pandemic, and spoke in a city occupied by massive military forces, because of the insurrection. For the first time in over a century and a half, the outgoing president refused to attend.
Biden’s inaugural address was a first step to heal the partisan conflict that has divided the nation, not only during the Trump presidency, but for years before. Biden attempted to reach out to his opponents, and find common ground we could all share. By most accounts, the speech touched a nerve in a nation exhausted by divisive and angry rhetoric, and the overheated partisan temperature seemed to cool.
Yet in the end, it will take more than good words and grand speeches to heal the nation. It will take action that will produce results that matter to all Americans. Biden’s decisions on the pandemic, on his first day, may be a solid start.
A warning from Ken Burns
In one of the many interviews following the inaugural celebration, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns offered an interesting observation. He said that with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Americans lost the enemy that held us together, and in the years that followed, we turned on each other.
The Soviet Union fell for many reasons, but their failure to trust and believe in their own institutions was a major cause.
Democracy is precious and fragile
We need to avoid the same fate, and be confident that our 15 days in January will lead us to a better place than the “Seven Days in May” of decades past. Let’s hope the Biden/Harris inauguration is a step in the right direction, and that Pres. Biden’s words are a sign of things to come, “We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com.