Douglas Andrews / Jan. 7, 2021

A Capitol Offense

The riotous occupation of our nation's Capitol building yesterday gave us all a black eye.

Two things occurred to our editorial team as we watched things spin out of control at the Capitol yesterday afternoon: First, we knew this would be one of those few-in-a-lifetime days that we remember because of its uniqueness and its gravity — a day like 9/11 or the day of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. And second, we wondered whether those Central American refugees amassing at our southern border would scratch their heads, turn around, and head back home.

Admittedly, a third thing also occurred to us: What a mess our country seems to be right now.

Searching for some honor and decency amid the rubble that was January 6, 2021, we came across these simple words from Vice President Mike Pence: “It’s my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”

It was a single sentence within a more detailed document, but it speaks volumes about the man who uttered it. And if the vice president putting his allegiance to the Constitution ahead of his allegiance to his president is in any way to blame for the violent occupation of the Capitol yesterday by a small contingent of those who attended the Trump rally, well, then, so be it.

Many of us have, at one time or another, sworn an oath, but rarely are we put to the test like Mike Pence was yesterday. Even more rarely do we rise to the occasion like he did.

President Donald Trump was, of course, unimpressed. “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” said the president in a tweet since-deleted by Twitter.

Pence deserved better. He simply isn’t empowered by our Constitution to upend our nation’s electoral process.

Soon after the vice president issued his statement, he and everyone else in attendance at the joint session of Congress were informed that they had company — angry, unruly, riotous company, right there in the Capitol building. They’d come from the Ellipse, just outside the White House and just down the road. And they’d been riled up by an election that they believed was stolen from them by an incurious Congress that had steadfastly refused to investigate it and by a president whose fiery and defiant speech had just stoked their anger.

“We’re going walk down to the Capitol,” Trump said, “and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

What happened next should cause heads to roll among those responsible for securing the Capitol and its grounds. How on earth, in a city that sees protests every day, could there not have been sufficient security there? After all, it wasn’t as if the event hadn’t been planned for weeks.

As Power Line’s John Hinderaker writes, “It is outrageous that security was so lax that rioters were allowed to occupy the Senate chamber, sending senators and Vice President Pence, as I understand it, fleeing. Armed guards should never allow such a thing to happen — that is why they are armed. The entire country has been embarrassed today, not just Republicans.”

As Fox News’s Chad Pergram noted, it was the first time that the Capitol building had been breached in such a way since the British, fresh off their victory at the Battle of Bladensburg, did so in 1814. At least today’s rabble didn’t set fire to the building. We can say that for them.

What began as an awful day with the election of two hard-left mediocrities from Georgia as the Democrats’ 49th and 50th senators got worse — much worse — when a mob breached the Capitol building itself and sent our elected representatives scurrying to safety.

As our Mark Alexander points out, “We hold our side of the political spectrum to a higher standard than the Left’s antifa thugs and other violent cadres, but some of the behavior in Washington today was largely indistinguishable from leftist thuggery.”

Order was restored relatively quickly, given how many people were involved. Joe Biden unhelpfully inflamed tensions with a brief and ham-handed address, and President Trump published a one-minute video via Twitter telling his supporters to “go home in peace.” (The video apparently wasn’t conciliatory enough for the censors at Twitter, who’ve since taken it down.)

Trump was also sending very mixed messages. After calling for peace, he declared that “these are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. … Remember this day forever!”

Tragically, one woman, Ashli Babbitt, a 14-year U.S. Air Force veteran, was shot by law enforcement and later died at a nearby hospital. Three others died from what Capitol police described as “medical emergencies.”

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who’s about as staunch a defender of the president as can be found in academia, had this to say regarding the president’s role in mobilizing the mob: “I don’t think there’s ever been a lower moment for the presidency of the United States.”

We get the professor’s point, but this is overwrought. John Adams’s signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts? Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus? Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act? Lyndon Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution? Richard Nixon’s obstruction of justice? Jimmy Carter’s fecklessness during the Iran hostage crisis? Bill Clinton’s shameless finger-wagging and other Oval Office activities? Barack Obama’s unleashing of the IRS and other federal agencies on his political opponents? Obama’s spying on his presidential successor? And does Donald Trump’s incitement here in any way rival FDR’s imprisonment of 110,000 Japanese Americans?

And we’d be remiss not to argue that this short-lived unrest was far less consequential than the coup d'état organized by the Obama regime.

Immediate overreaction is understandable. Take CNN’s Jake Tapper, for example, who used the words “terrorists” and “armed insurrection” to describe yesterday’s events. Even DC Mayor Muriel Bowser used words like “riot” and “law and order” — words that have been conspicuously absent from her vocabulary when describing the lawless actions of antifa and Black Lives Matter.

We should note, too, that as jarring and unique as these events were, they hardly compare to the daily mayhem we see in Democrat-controlled urban centers. Nor is the response equivalent: Democrats who were lightning-quick to denounce yesterday’s violence rarely speak out against their own, while there has been universal condemnation of these actions by Republicans.

All of us lost something yesterday, but all wasn’t lost. Congress, to its credit, got back to work before day’s end, and Vice President Pence’s two-minute speech as they reconvened gave us a reassuring moment.

Donald Trump’s statement, too, was an acknowledgment that some things are ultimately bigger and more important than the presidency. But even then, he couldn’t help himself. “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out,” he said, “nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.” Nevertheless.

(Updated.)

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