Our nation’s proud tradition of smooth, conflict-free transitions of power, from one president to another, has been known to include a few counter demonstrators, folks displeased with the outcome of an election and with the First Amendment right to express it.
But we’ve never seen anything like this.
On the heels of a deadly mob storming and occupying the U.S. Capitol and in the run-up to Wednesday’s inauguration, the FBI has had to issue a warning this time: Be prepared for armed protests, the bureau instructed. From coast to coast, governors — Republicans and Democrats alike — responded by beefing up security around state capitols, closing federal buildings and courthouses, and putting up fences and other protective barricades near places that belong to the people.
In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz activated the National Guard to assist state and local law enforcement in protecting public safety and our capital city of St. Paul. And he offered a warning: “We will always support Minnesotans’ First Amendment rights to peacefully protest, but anyone involved in violent, illegal activity will be held accountable. We are tracking reports and monitoring the situation closely to enhance our response and change tactics as needed.”
It’s not a good look, none of it, and be assured the rest of the world is watching. Massive military call-ups and armored police perimeters for a transfer of presidential power is hardly an argument for a peaceful democracy. It can’t be the U.S. — except now, it is.
To most of us, it’s surreal, unimaginable, an embarrassment.
And was wholly avoidable. A good amount of the tense moments we’ve seen and are now guarding against could have been avoided with a simple and expected concession. But President Donald Trump instead became the first president in modern history to selfishly reject voters’ clear wishes — even as election boards and secretaries of state across the country, from both parties, verified the election as fair and the outcome as legitimate; even when his own Republican attorney general flatly ruled out any notion of widespread voter fraud; and even as court after court, including the Republican-majority U.S. Supreme Court, turned back challenges.
Yes, the courts have served Trump and his business interests well over the years, but this wasn’t a corporate disagreement. This is our very democracy, trampled by Trump, who chose to put his own self interests first.
Made worse, supporters of the president — including, disappointingly, Northeastern Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber — have stood by the president and his delusions. Stauber and others have chosen the wrong side of history and have clung to it, without evidence and with a tone deafness never clearer than with their votes last week against impeachment. Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters is as undeniable as the audio and video recordings that captured his violence-urging words. The impeachment vote was an opportunity for unity, for justice, and for what’s right. But Stauber and others opted for division instead.
So, “How do we go forward when so many are so invested in sustaining a false belief?” as Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker asked last week. “I don't have a neat five-point answer, but … it's imperative that everyone understand the facts rather than rely on watering-hole affirmations of what we prefer to think. People are allowed to entertain differing opinions. … But we have to agree on a certain set of objectively derived facts.”
It doesn’t get much more basic or bottom line than facts and truth. But neither can be derived — nor agreed upon — as long as armored police and lines of military members are needed to protect our capitols and public places.