Was last week’s disgraceful insurrection and assault on the U.S. Capitol a redux of the 1814 burning of the Capitol building? In a manner of speaking, yes, it was another assault on the U.S. Capitol, but this time it was a nefarious assault from within. In 1814, it was an assault by British troops in a war with antecedents related to France and Napoleon.
Hearing things like sedition, insurrection, mob violence, sacking of the U.S. Capitol and the presence of IEDs in Washington, D.C. is enough to unsettle the faith of even the most stalwart of American citizens. Liz Cheney, the third ranking Republican in the House of Representatives accused the president of lighting the fuse leading to the storming of the Capitol. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell warned just before the assault of the potential for the U.S. democracy to be in a “death spiral.” Conservative columnist Bret Stephens called the president a “malignant narcissist,” insisting on his immediate removal from office. And there have been calls for the invocation of the 25th Amendment or a second impeachment resolution in the House of Representatives.
Foreign leaders were dismayed. “Shocking scenes in Washington, .DC.,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Chief. Boris Johnson, British prime minister: “Disgraceful scenes.” Angela Merkel, German prime minister: “Angry and sad.”
So what should incoming President Joe Biden do about all this in the face of additional challenges that include an advancing pandemic; critical vaccine distribution problems; overtaxed hospitals and public health systems; demands for further relief to states, cities, small businesses and individuals; to say nothing of the challenges related to the transition of governance. In my opinion, incoming President Biden should leave any transgressions related to the current president to the Justice Department, Congress, and the courts. His job now is to heal the nation by showing resolve, confidence in democratic governance, appointing experienced and qualified people to run the offices of the federal government, and a willingness to work across party lines for the good of the nation.
Being president of the United States, and the so-called leader of the free world, is a tough job. Doing it right takes character, steadfast determination, respect for the institutions of our democracy, and a respect for the opinions and dominion of our allies. I’m reminded of the allegory of the Sword of Damocles, where a sword hangs over the head of a ruler by the gossamer thread of a horsehair, liable to break from a single failure of leadership. The parable exaggerates the point, but leadership at the level of the presidency of the United States is rife with such potential.
What incoming President Biden must do to restore confidence in our government and the allegiance of its citizens is to govern with serious intention. It will take an intentional, restorative commitment from members of Congress as well. The America people are tired of zero-sum political squabbles, cult politics, pandemics, crumbling infrastructure, food shortages, economic and racial inequalities, and material failures in leadership.
So was this a redux of 1812, another sacking of our sacred national Capitol? On one level, the shameful answer is yes. On another level, one that really matters, the answer is no. This time the sacking is on us. The enemy was domestic, not some foreign adversary intent in destroying our democratic institutions.
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping must be dancing in Tiananmen Square or the Kremlin and taking shots of Maotai and vodka, respectively, but this one is on us and it’s on us to buckle up and fix things, to put this country back on track, and prove to the world who we really are and what we really stand for.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.