The Violent Events at the Capitol set a Dangerous Precedent

Elizabeth Alton

The United States was born out of protests and a revolution. By the time they are in Middle School most students in the American school system can quote the “taxation without representation” that led the American colonists to fight for, and ultimately win, their freedom from the British Empire. It is upon that precedent of protest which was still fresh in politics mind that the constitution was ultimately born. In order to ensure American’s civil liberties, the bill of rights, the first ten amendments that lay out essential rights for citizens, were included. 


The first of those amendments ensures our democracy by giving “we the people” an avenue to express our wants and needs to the government through speech, the press, and protest. From the suffragettes to the civil rights movement, the right to protest has served Americans well.


That said, what happened at the Capitol last week was the antithesis of everything that the first amendment stands for and the civil discourse that it has inspired over almost 245 years of American history.


Instead Wednesday’s events can be far easier likened to domestic terrorisum as defined by the FBI, “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” 


On the morning of January 6th, Trump held a “Save America Rally” at a park near the white house. Trump gave a speech where he directly encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol where Congress was holding a joint session led by Mike Pence to certify Joe Biden’s election. He also continued to perpetuate the myths of election fraud he has been spreading since before the election was even called for Biden.


Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Guliani said to supporters at the rally, “Over the next 10 days, we get to see the machines that are crooked, the ballots that are fraudulent. And if we’re wrong, we will be made fools of. But if we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. So — let’s have a trial by combat.”


A few short hours later, thousands of Trump’s supporters, many of whom had attended the rally earlier in the day, breached Capitol security. Representatives inside of the Capitol buildings had to be evacuated as Trump supporters with MAGA hats and confederate flags entered the capitol. Five people lost their lives, including a Capitol police officer.


Once the Capitol was cleared, congress reassembled to confirm the results of the election and early in the morning on January 7th Joe Biden’s victory was confirmed by congress. The election results were confirmed, and at least for now, it looks like our democracy is going to be safe.


But the repercussions of this event are certainly going to have ramifications throughout history. Elections are a large part of what makes a democracy a democracy, and when their integrity is challenged it puts everything at risk. And President Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election, and the fact that he has gone so far as to incite a riot in order to oppose them set a very dangerous precedent against a peaceful transfer of power.


AP US History and Government teacher Michele Balsam pointed to the fact that lies that Trump repeated questioning Obama’s citizenship, that can only be described as racist, Obama still pushed the democratic process to continue, something that Trump can’t be said to be doing the same. 


“When you assume the presidency… you have a responsibility, a sacred responsibility to the constitution to uphold it, which means allowing for a peaceful transfer of power,” Balsam said.


We only need to look across the ocean at what’s happening in Belarus for a modern confirmation of the importance of elections. After an election last August, the Belarussian president Alexander Luckashanko, often called Europe’s “last dictator” was accused of rigging the results. There were no observers present during the ballot counts, and an internet blackout followed the release of exit polls. While Luckeshanko said he won 80% of the vote, the opposition and much of the country were suspicious. In the five months that have followed hundreds of thousands have marched on the capital, and thousands of protesters have been arrested along with opposition leaders imprisoned or driven into exile. Now Luckshanko has promised to draft up a new constitution by the end of this year, but the opposition believes this is just a ploy to buy time. 


Rhetoric that challenges the integrity of the system that ensures our democracy is dangerous, and action that attempts to distrust the democratic process even more so. In order to form a precedent such actions are unamerican, the rioters and anyone that encouraged them needs to be held accountable by the laws and by the constitution. The tradition of a peaceful transfer of power long preceded Trump’s presidency and the events at the capital must come with consequences so it can succeed him as well.