Inside the maddening, inexplicable political surreality that we’ve all been living through since last November, there is one essential thing we must recognize and never forget: The system held.
As I watched the ceremony at the US Capitol honoring fallen Officer Brian Sicknick, my heart felt like a rock. At the same time, I felt filled with pride, for his sacrifice just might be the culminating historical symbol of the fact that throughout the fraught 2020 election and subsequent transfer of power, our constitutional republic survived.
For months before the election, we were told by one of the candidates that his potential loss would be the product of cheating — and that he would not attach credibility to the results.
Five weeks before the election, Barton Gellman expressed it best in The Atlantic:
“He will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.”
Gellman went through a series of possible scenarios, all of which would have seemed terribly far-fetched in decades past.
The election was called for Joe Biden on Saturday, Nov. 7. To be clear, it wasn’t close. The winner cleared the loser by over 8 million votes and 74 Electoral College votes.
The next day, I wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune looking ahead to the Georgia Senate runoffs slated for January 5. But already, the loser of the presidential race was refusing to acknowledge his clear defeat, and plotting schemes to overturn it — along with the usual suspects.
I remember my answer when someone asked me how far these folks were going to take this electoral fantasy. While I could not foresee at that point the violence that would tragically grip the Capitol, I said: “I hope they take it as far as they can. If they’re really going to keep lying and cheating in an effort to subvert a legitimate election, I hope they take it all the way. Let’s find out just how strong our American system really is.”
An infamous New York lawyer and former mayor whom Americans once thought they knew began slinging lawsuits left and right. In all, 62 cases were filed across the country, including in the Supreme Court. But it was all a big lie. There was no overwhelming fraud or cheating in the 2020 election. And they lost 61 of the 62 cases.
The system held.
On November 20, Michigan’s Republican State leadership flew to the White House under presidential pressure to change the results of the election. Upon leaving, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield issued a joint statement.
“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.”
The system held.
More loser shenanigans took place over the next few weeks on the way to the next crucial date: December 14. On that Monday, members of the Electoral College met in state capitals across the country. And despite the provably false claims by the defeated president, each and every state certified the will of its voters.
The system held.
On Saturday, January 2, the defeated president called Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensberger, and his counsel, and tried to threaten and bully them into “finding” 11,800 voters to reverse the state’s results. Raffensberger, a staunch conservative who voted twice for the man threatening him, explained that the counts — and recounts — were accurate. There would be no illegal reversals.
The system held.
On January 6, as the Congress met in the Capitol to read the states’ certifications — ordinarily a boring, formal ritual not usually paid attention to even by DC local TV affiliates — the nation was watching.
Finally, after four years of loyal devotion to his party’s leader, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on the Senate floor what even middle-schoolers knew to be true:
“The Constitution gives Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them all, it would damage our republic forever. This election was not unusually close. Just in recent history, 1976, 2000, and 2004 were all closer. This Electoral College margin is almost identical to 2016. If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.”
Aside from the terrifying, stomach-turning violence we saw take place at the US Capitol, what we really witnessed was an authentically cowardly mob. Dozens who’ve been arrested since their moronic maneuvers on the 6th are now crying like babies and blaming all their actions on their cult leader.
To be clear, both he and they bear the blame. There is no mutual exclusivity here. All of them demonstrated traitorous acts towards our government and our country.
And yet the system held.
Ask any law enforcement officer and they’ll tell you that if the number of crazies is big enough, it’s very hard to quell an uprising unless you go full artillery. And contrary to some beliefs, very few officers who are sworn to serve and protect want to do it with full guns blazing.
During the US Capitol siege on Jan. 6, the Capitol Police and their law enforcement brethren were outnumbered. There are still questions about how much the White House played into the lack of appropriate force on that day, but it is hard to argue that the defeated president in any way took a proactive enough approach to confront the mob he incited.
As the insurrectionists forced our elected representatives to flee from the floor, Capitol Police did the best they could. And they took a beating from the cowards — 140 sustaining wounds. Capitol Police Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou described just a few:
“One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake, to name some of the injuries.”
Officer Brian Sicknick died in the attack. We do not yet know precisely how, or who will be charged with his murder. What we do know is that 42-year-old Sicknick was a 12-year veteran of the Capitol Police Force who stood up to a whole lot of cowards on behalf of his country.
We know that Officer Sicknick died a hero. And that he did not sacrifice his life in vain.
For the system held.