Democracy under siege

Democracy under siege
Democracy under siege 08:05

"We were normal, good, law-abiding citizens, and you guys did this to us!" shouted one aggrieved man.

"We can now add January 6, 2021 to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy," said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.

Just how will history record this day? Was it a riot? Domestic terrorism? An insurrection?

Our best hope is that it's at least a turning point.

The symbol of our democracy shuddered under the pounding. Those watching at home shuddered, too. The extremists brought Confederate flags, nooses, body armor, and zip-ties for handcuffs.

The images prompted President-Elect Joe Biden to use a word we rarely hear from our leaders – certainly not about ourselves. "This is not dissent," Biden said. "It borders on sedition."

Since Election Day, it's as if there had been a pot of political stew left on the stove to burn, simmering with conspiracy theories about the election … delusions not just glowing in the underbelly of the internet, but from the White House and many members of Congress, too.

"A lot of these folks have been hearing for months now that the election has been stolen from them; they heard that it was going to be stolen from them before Election Night," said Renee DiResta, a researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory, which in part studies the use of misinformation online.

"They had been fed a consistent, misleading false narrative alongside calls from the more extreme elements that said, 'We have to do something about this.' The idea that this was going to stay as some online message board commentary is just wildly naïve."

"Because it had real world consequences?" asked correspondent Lee Cowan.

"There's no distinction anymore been online and offline," DiResta said.

With just hours before Joe Biden's victory was set to be certified, came a battle cry: "We will never give up, we will never concede," President Trump told his supporters. "You don't concede when there's theft involved."

On Capitol Hill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had lost, too. Georgia's runoff election will soon leave him in the minority – and yet, he was prepared to accept what his president couldn't. "If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral," he said.

Still, eight Republican Senators and 139 House Republicans were still intent on stalling the inevitable – announcing they would object to the certification of Joe Biden as the winner.

"What does it say to the nearly half the country that believes this election was rigged, if we vote not even to consider the claims of illegality and fraud in this election?" stated Texas Senator Ted Cruz on the Senate floor.

Outside, the tidal wave of denial began pouring down Pennsylvania Avenue. It crashed onto the steps of the Capitol, and seeped all the way to the doors of the House Chamber itself.

Guns were drawn. Representatives fled. People died, including U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, a 12-year veteran of the force. Scores of arrests have been made in the wake of the mayhem, and the FBI promises there will be more. 

It is into the teeth of that America the next administration is about to walk.

"Nobody looks at this country and says, 'I wish my government worked like that!'" said Ian Bremmer, a geopolitical strategist of sorts – he founded the Eurasia Group, which advises clients on political risk. "In 1989 when the [Berlin Wall] came down, we won the Cold War because people around the world looked to the United States as an example of good governance. You can't say that today."

This past week, Bremmer said, was just the latest tarnish on our reputation: "Anyone that thinks that we are suddenly going to be welcomed back as America is going to be the global policeman, the architect of global trade, we're the cheerleader of global values … we have squandered that legacy."

Congress did resume its Constitutional duties that night, presided over by the outgoing Vice President. "To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win," Mike Pence said.

There were calls for restraint heading in to the all-night session. "The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth!" said Senator Mitt Romney. 

Sen. Cory Booker said, "We brought this Hell upon ourselves!"

With the halls and offices around them laying in ruin, some of those who had objected to certifying the election changed their minds. Others didn't.

It didn't matter. By 3:46 a.m., the Electoral College vote counting was over; Joe Biden defeated President Trump 306-232.

In the days that followed, whispers of declaring Mr. Trump unfit for office turned into actual discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment.

House Democrats drafted an Article of Impeachment against the president, for inciting an insurrection. It could be acted on as early as Monday. "He must be removed from office," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

By Friday Twitter had banned the President. His more than 88 million followers will have to find him someplace else. Facebook and Instagram blocked him, too.

Those watching the collapse from inside the White House urged the President to publicly grasp a reality that some are still sure he doesn't necessarily believe.

That did not apparently include attending his rival's inaugural. He announced he would pass on that.

While Mr. Trump seemed to accept he had lost the battle, he still insisted the war is far from over.  "To all of my wonderful supporters," the president added, "I know you are disappointed, but I also want you to know, that our incredible journey is only just beginning."

Abraham Lincoln once talked of the choice between rule and ruin. That was tested this past week.

But unity isn't some kind of unicorn. You might remember a moment on 9/11, after the Capitol was spared an attack, when Democrats stood next to Republicans and spontaneously broke into a chorus of "God Bless America." Whatever acrimony existed, whatever perceived sins had been committed, melted under a common purpose: to defend democracy.

That was two decades ago. Hardly ancient history … at least, we hope.

      
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Story produced by Mark Hudspeth. Editor: Ed Givnish.