Following the violent attempted takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Sen. Dan Sullivan thanked “the courageous work of our law enforcement officers, including the Capitol police, some of whom were injured.” Yes, they deserved to be recognized. But the courage shown fulfilling their duty was necessary because of the cowardice of Sullivan and others to fulfill theirs.
I had hoped to begin the new year on a positive note by recognizing a minor moment of political bravery that happened on Sunday. Prior to administering the oath to reelected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, gave his honest opinion of the partisan animosity that has plagued Congress for too long.
“I do not like what I see” he said. “It’s time we hold hands and talk to one another.”
Young’s sentiment, rewarded by a standing ovation, echoed the words President-elect Joe Biden delivered two months ago.
“The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate is a choice we make,” Biden said. “And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate.”
Young and Biden aren’t inventing the idea that bipartisan cooperation can serve the country better than the rigid dogma dividing the parties. Having both entered Congress in 1973, it’s a nostalgic remembrance for how members used to behave. No one ever held hands, but it was customary for them to “sit down and have a drink,” as Young asked Pelosi to do whenever she’s confronted with contentious disagreements.
No anymore. The erosion that began when Newt Gingrich was elected House Speaker became nakedly bare during the presidency of a know-nothing bully named Donald J. Trump. He lied to the American people in a manner and frequency that would never had been tolerated by Congress. Until it was. Right up till Wednesday.
“The world is watching” Sullivan said in an earlier statement in which he first expressed his disgust about the violence. “We are the United States of America. We must be better than this. We ARE better than this.”
No, we aren’t better. This is what we’ve become.
Later, he sought to be seen as among the day’s heroes by boasting the Senate would return to finish the counting of the electoral college votes and thus “ensure that an orderly transition of power—one of the hallmarks of our great constitutional republic—takes place on January 20.”
That transition should have begun with Trump’s concession speech two months ago. Instead, the process was guaranteed not to be orderly when, while votes were still being counted, Trump said “Frankly, we did win this election.” He prefaced that false declaration with the accusations of fraud he’d been preparing his supporters to expect. And repeated it over and over, even as every lawsuit filed on his behalf failed to provide the courts with any serious evidence.
The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed one case on Dec. 8. By Dec. 9, all 50 states had certified the election results. Two days later, the Supreme Court rejected another attempt to overturn it.
Still, most congressional Republicans refused to publicly acknowledge Biden won the election.
Sullivan finally did on Dec. 14. As if Americans ever needed the Electoral College to know the outcome with certainty, he said “the electors cast their ballots, determining that former Vice President Joe Biden is now the president-elect.”
Then, he was silent while Trump continued to destroy the hope of an orderly transition by openly plotting his next move. It culminated in the violence on Wednesday.
“We witnessed today the damage that can result when men in power and responsibility refuse to acknowledge the truth” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. said on the Senate floor after order was restored. “We saw bloodshed because a demagogue chose to spread falsehoods and sow distrust of his own fellow Americans.”
That’s the full America truth seen by the world.
Before Congress formally finished what should have a been a ceremonial act and nothing more, Sullivan suggested it would prove “the resilience of American Democracy.”
Resiliency implies full recovery, which can’t be promised without naming the source of our disgrace. That’s why Sullivan needs to tell Alaskans who voted for Trump that he lost a free and fair election. Then show some remorse for tolerating his countless lies and violations of democratic traditions which made Wednesday’s tragic events possible.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.