Editorial : Democracy must be cherished and nurtured

  • A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.  PHOTO BY WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY IMAGES

Published: 1/10/2021 1:20:01 PM
Modified: 1/10/2021 1:19:43 PM

Around noon on Aug. 24, 1812, at the height of the War of 1812, British Redcoats engaged with about 8,000 American soldiers defending a bridge spanning the Potomac River at Bladensburg, Maryland. The War of 1812 was sparked by a disagreement over naval blockades and the conscription of American sailors by British vessels to bolster troop numbers engaged in the Napoleonic Wars.

Tensions ran high.

After gaining a foothold across the river, the Redcoats flanked and completely routed the American forces, some of whom literally ran through the streets of nearby Washington, D.C. to escape capture. Among the onlookers watching from afar was President James Madison who, along with the rest of the federal government, fled the city, scattering through Maryland and Virginia.

Unopposed, British forces entered Washington, D.C., setting fire to many government buildings, including the U.S. Capitol, in what is now known as the Burning of Washington. According to Senate records, “heat from the intense fire reduced the Senate chamber’s marble columns to lime, leaving the room, in one description, ‘a most magnificent ruin.’”

The battle became known as the “Bladensburg Races” and is considered by historians to be among the most disgraceful losses ever dealt to American forces.

Under far different circumstances, Americans watched in horror last Wednesday as a different kind of invader again plundered the Senate chambers.

Just before 2:30 p.m., Jan. 6, 2021, a mob of unruly insurrectionists wearing “Make America Great Again” hats while flying both American and Confederate flags overcame a small police force stationed at an inadequate blockade and stormed the U.S. Capitol, interrupting the Senate’s formal affirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. According to news reports, rioters broke through the windows, injured a Capitol Police officer who later died, attempted to breach a barricade blocking access to a room where senators were sheltering in place and, among other desecrations, smeared feces on the marble halls of the U.S. Capitol building — one of America’s oldest and most sacred symbols of democracy.

Federal lawmakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, fled through underground tunnels.

Images that have emerged since depict scenes of chaos, including rioters sitting in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attacking police officers and flying Confederate flags in the halls, among others.

On its own, Wednesday’s invasion is an egregious attack against American democracy itself. It is unique from other riots because it was targeted against a democratic process; the traitorous intent of those who enacted the violence was to overthrow U.S. senators and to undermine the recent presidential election results. Notably, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “terrorism” as “the unlawful use or threat of violence especially against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion; violent and intimidating gang activity.”

Given that the mob was incited to violence by a sitting president, Donald Trump, the incident should be considered an act of sedition. In a speech delivered to followers before the riots erupted, Trump encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell” before instructing them to march to the U.S. Capitol. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, said at one point during the preceding rally, “let’s have trial by combat.”

We will not parse words: This editorial board strongly denounces Wednesday’s violence and calls on America’s current political leaders to hold the president accountable along with all those who participated in the violence.

We cannot call ourselves a free and fair republic if we do not respond immediately. Regardless of political affiliations, the full weight of what happened on Wednesday must be comprehended by everyone.

Democracy is a delicate balance.

It must be cherished and nurtured.

Since this country’s inception, countless American patriots have shed blood to defend democracy; millions of its citizens have given their lives for a belief that America can be great — in hope that America will shine as an example of a nation that is synonymous with freedom. Wednesday’s siege, incited by political leaders (such as West Virginia State Delegate Derrick Evans, who filmed himself among the crowd), is an affront to everything that Americans hold dear.

For the sake of our children, our grandchildren, our ancestors, veterans who died believing in the vision painted by Martin Luther King Jr., and a world that is waiting to see what comes next, we must be better.

Two years after Washington, D.C. was burned, during a subsequent 1814 British naval bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore (which ultimately failed), Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer, penned what became America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Against a backdrop of explosions, the first verse paints a stark image that feels especially pertinent in these dark days: “O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,/What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,/Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,/O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?/And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,/Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;/O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”




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