During my more than seven years serving in senior appointments in the White House and the Pentagon, my duties took me to some far-flung places. From the chaotic cities and rain forests of West Africa to the towering heights of the Andes, the world gave me a graduate-level education in how different life was in the United States. But three places are seared in my memory: The Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) under Mobutu Sese Sekou, Liberia under Samuel Doe, and Peru under Alberto Fujimori.
I look back now and cringe at my naivety and self-assured confidence that the pandemonium, violence, disorder, and corruption suffered by the citizens of these nations could never be visited on the United States. How wrong I was.
The common thread through all three of these nations was jarringly similar: autocratic leaders focused on self-enrichment and power perpetuation, a disintegration of civil order, attacks on the press, coteries of sycophantic aides, and impotent legislative branches of government. History has shown these to be habitual characteristics of failed states. Never I thought could these attributes be ascribed to the land I loved. Wherever I traveled, I did so with an air of superiority driven by the belief that America, the model of freedom and democracy in the world, was somehow different.
During the past four years, we have all had abundant opportunity to observe seemingly countless examples of how our president gradually dismantled the institution of the Presidency. President Trump has repeatedly and forcefully shown us who he is: a “leader” who has far more in common with Mobutu, Doe and Fujimori than with Lincoln, Eisenhower, or Roosevelt. Much like a grief-stricken relative, our nation has repeatedly reacted with collective denial – “it can’t happen here.”
The horror of January 6th proved us all wrong. We witnessed the spectacle of a defeated, wannabe dictator, desperately clinging to power, brazenly inciting his amped-up followers to desecrate a co-equal branch of government. This was nothing less than an attempted coup that failed primarily due to the incompetence of the feckless dopes who were charged by their leader with carrying it out. Our democracy dodged a bullet.
Unlike those “governments” described above, our nation is different in one significant way. We have institutions that continue to have the strength to pull as back from the brink and to assure that wrongdoers are punished and that serve as an antidote to the hopelessness so often experienced elsewhere.
What happened on January 6th can never happen again, and everyone culpable – from the President on down – must be called to account. Notwithstanding that a mere handful of days remain in the Trump administration, we can no longer ignore his criminality or the direct threat he poses to our national security during every minute he remains in office. I don’t know what the ideal solution is or do I believe that there even is such a thing. However, there are mechanisms available to deal with him. It is time for political leaders of both parties – but most importantly the Republicans – to protect the nation from the continuing threat, whether the mechanism is impeachment or the 25th Amendment.
The real catalyst for the mayhem on January 6th is more discreet than Trump’s rantings. There again, however, the culpability is clear. Senators Hawley and Cruz had little trouble convincing a small group of equally ethically challenged GOP senators in joining them in their futile efforts to oppose the certification of a legitimately conducted national election. 147 Republican congress members also happily entered the fray. Although doomed to fail from the beginning, Trump and his enablers used this stunt to curry favor with the easily beguiled members of Trump’s base. All of them should pay a heavy price at the ballot box if they lack the integrity to resign.
As far as the thugs, low lives, rioters, and criminals who pillaged the Capitol, the responsibility is clear. Ironically, many of the rioters seemed oblivious to the fact their behavior was widely recorded on both government security systems and personal devices. Many of these nitwits have unwisely streamed videos of themselves as they mindlessly perform their criminal acts. There is abundant evidence to identify these cretins, and they must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Finally, the breathtaking failure of security and law enforcement must be addressed. The foreseeability that disorder and violence could migrate from the Trump rally site on the ellipse was obvious and had been so for weeks. An extensive investigation must be commissioned immediately.
America justifiably wept on January 6th. We have been knocked down. Now it is time to get up, dust ourselves off, and have our resilience serve as a model to the world.