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Jessie Opoien: How Jan. 6 shook my faith in American democracy

Jessie Opoien: How Jan. 6 shook my faith in American democracy

Trump legacy on race shadowed by divisive rhetoric, actions (copy)

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo rioting supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

There was a time when I believed that most of us fundamentally want the same things for this country, and that we just disagree on the best ways to get them.

How do we achieve and promote peace? How do we best educate our children? What can we do to keep our people healthy? How can we give every one of us the best chance at the American dream?

We disagree on the details, I believed. Often, those disagreements run deep, and sometimes, they seem insurmountable. But fundamentally, we want this great American experiment — our democracy — to succeed. 

And fundamentally, I believed, we appreciate that our profound disagreements over these matters make our country stronger, as long as we all know that we’re working toward a common goal.

I believe many of us still want this democracy to succeed. I want to believe most of us still do. 

But my faith is shaken.

On Jan. 6, a mob of thousands of people who sought to undermine those fundamental principles sieged the U.S. Capitol. They listened to our country’s president, who promised them at a rally he called that, “I’ll be there with you,” (but wasn’t) as he urged them to walk to the Capitol and “give our Republicans, the weak ones … the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” Democrats, as he declared, were already “hopeless.”

“You have to show strength, and you have to be strong,” he told his supporters.

“We fight like hell,” he said, “and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

This mob walked the 16 blocks instructed by the president and forced its way into the U.S. Capitol, where President-elect Joe Biden’s victory was set to be certified by Congress.

The mob recited the Pledge of Allegiance. It dragged a police officer down the Capitol steps and beat him with a pole that flew an American flag. The mob sang the national anthem. 

It battered another officer — Brian D. Sicknick — with a fire extinguisher, killing him. The mob surged into the Capitol, chanting threats aimed explicitly at Republican Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and implicitly at every single member of Congress in the building.

Four civilians died, and dozens of police officers were injured as a result of the conflict. Officer Howard Liebengood, who was on duty on Jan. 6, died by suicide three days later.

Days before all of this, Ron Johnson — Wisconsin’s senior U.S. senator and the chairman of the chamber’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs — had announced, despite lacking any evidence of voter fraud, that he would join 10 other Republican senators in objecting to the certification of the results of the Electoral College. This came just a month after he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he had no plans to make such an objection.

He stoked baseless claims of “irregularities” and boosted efforts to question the legitimacy of Biden’s election even after recounts and lawsuits cemented the president-elect’s victory over and over again, all across the country, including in Wisconsin. Johnson fomented distrust in our democratic process, all while begrudgingly acknowledging that Biden would indeed be sworn in on Jan. 20 as the 46th president of the United States. 

Johnson justified his huffing and puffing by pointing out that many Americans do not trust the reported results of the Nov. 3 election, conveniently ignoring the fact that he and a band of co-conspirators led by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz were among those leaders who told people not to trust it. This group of senators and representatives has shamelessly earned its “Sedition Caucus” moniker.

Only after a violent insurrection darkened the doors of the Capitol did Johnson abandon his efforts to reject the will of the voters. 

But for U.S. Reps. Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, not even the sight of a Confederate flag waving through the heart of the Union accompanied by chants of “Hang Mike Pence” or a call to “murder the media” etched into a door were enough to deter them from aiding Trump’s assault on the republic.

Both Fitzgerald and Tiffany voted to reject the Electoral College votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania, and have both since said they would have done the same for Wisconsin’s 10 votes had the state’s results come up for a vote.

Our entire country is now forced to reap the toxicity these sycophants have sown. The FBI has warned local law enforcement agencies that state capitols could be the next target of the Trump-fueled rage machine. Capitol Police briefed lawmakers on Monday on three planned demonstrations, one of which includes a “plot to encircle the U.S. Capitol and assassinate Democrats and some Republicans.” 

I want to believe that most of us fundamentally want the same things for this country. But these insurrectionists and the elected officials who have aided and abetted them have shaken my faith.

Jessie Opoien is opinion editor of The Capital Times. jopoien@madison.com and @jessieopie

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Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.

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