The atrocities of recent days have left me speechless and immeasurably shocked. Not since after the War of 1812, when the British burned and ravaged our Capitol in 1814, have we seen the tabernacle of our democracy desecrated with this much death and destruction. In the case of last week, it wasn’t done by a foreign power, but our very own citizenry. A Trump-inspired mob of brainwashed insurrectionists. In my mind, that day will no doubt become another “day of infamy” on par with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The first painful reality that we must grapple with is that our very own president and his allies incited this sedition. Trump lit the match, to be sure, using the word “fight” in its various forms over and over again to his assembled followers. He also told them that they “will never take back our country with weakness” before their assault later that same day. Alabama U.S. House representative, Mo Brooks, shouted “we’re going to kick ass.” Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was similarly provocative when addressing Trump’s brown boots, calling for a “trial by combat” against the Democrats to win the election for Trump.
One doesn’t have to look hard to know the types of people who stormed the Capitol. Besides displaying Confederate and Trump flags, the vanguard of insurrectionists also donned patches and shirts reading “6MWE” and “Camp Auschwitz” with the words, “work makes freedom.” It’s antisemitic filth. 6MWE is an acronym that translates to “six million was not enough,” referencing the Holocaust. ‘Work makes freedom’ is the English translation of the German slogan, “Arbeit Macht Frei” found at the entryway of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps
These camouflage-wearing, gun touting bigots, once the underbelly of our society, have been whipped up and empowered by Trump’s ire. They are a threat to our democracy and have committed violence in various other cities.
So, what of these domestic, homegrown radical terrorists? Some would assert they constitute merely society’s disenfranchised looking for inclusion and a better opportunity. No matter their underlying intentions, their criminal behavior has consequences under the rule of law that governs our country, regardless of rank, socioeconomic standing, or status. They committed crimes and must be tried and convicted when apprehended. Their actions were also why there was a hue and cry in many media circles, including the conservative Wall Street Journal, for Trump to resign as president. Others are asking for the 25th Amendment to be invoked. Many Democratic politicians are calling for him to be impeached again – the only time in American history that this will have occurred twice to a sitting president. A moral judgment will be rendered regardless of which of these avenues results.
Back in 1956, the epic film, The Ten Commandments, hit the silver screen. It was produced, directed, and narrated by Cecil B. DeMille and starred stage and screen luminaries Charlton Heston in the lead role as Moses; Yul Brynner as the Egyptian ruler, Rameses; Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson and a host of others. It was a story of Heston’s character as an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, the enslaved Hebrews, and thereafter leads the exodus to Mount Sinai, where he receives from God, the Ten Commandments.
While Heston’s Moses was at Mt. Sinai to receive God’s will, impatience grew among the faithful that waited for him to return. They made a golden calf – an idol – to pledge their faith and allegiance. They danced and pranced deliriously around this new “messiah” until Moses returned. He was angered by what he saw and how they were misled into delusional fancy. As depicted in the movie, he threw the tablets at the false god they made, destroying it into smithereens.
That movie was made 65 years before the cradle of our democracy was savagely plundered last Wednesday, but the scene is a reminder of how a mob of wayward individuals can lose their moral compass. The scenes involving the golden calf, though never a clarion call to protect ourselves from events to occur decades later, proved prescient given the reality of January 6. The souls Moses intended to lead to the promised land with inclusion for all that substituted the words of the Lord with their own creation were just as ignominious as the insurrectionists who fashioned Trump their false deity. But as with what happened to the calf, so now goes Trump, as if a cancer we will have eradicated not soon enough to no longer infect our republic.
This episode in American democracy will not simply end here with Trump scurrying off into the sunset as a loser. Those like historian and Professor Emeritus, Eric Foner, tell us this is but one more chapter of what the United States has had to endure if American history is its guide. Ensuring democracy is never tidy so we must contend with those Americans among our ranks – some of whom are violent – that continue to be conned by Trump and his enablers.
Certainly, we can also blame many in Congress for propagating this delusion, like a Ted Cruz or a Josh Hawley in the Senate, or the over 120 Members of the House of Representatives. Sure, Section 3 to the 14th Amendment constitutionally provides for their ouster for giving aid or comfort as Members of Congress to an insurrection or rebellion. But unless and until these politicians admit they knowingly lied and incited violence, they along with Trump will remain a part of our government that only “We the People” remain empowered to change. For those legislators, however, that continue to follow Trump down the rabbit hole, even in light of last week’s travesty, is to ride the tiger until they become its next meal.
The character of Heston’s Moses, where are you? Come January 20, hopefully, he will be the one installed as our 46th president.
Miles J. Zaremski
A graduate of Case Law School in Cleveland, Miles Zaremski is the longest-serving chair of the American Bar Assoc.’s Standing Committee on Medical Professional Liability and a past president of the international organization, The American College of Legal Medicine.