On Jan. 6, I was shocked by images of rioters breaking through police cordons and ransacking the United States Capitol. I never thought I would see something this heinous take place in our country.
The Capitol is more than just a monumental building; it embodies our democracy and what we believe as Americans. Rather than resolving differences through violence, we elect lawmakers who do the people’s work through constructive debate, voting and lawmaking. While we are still processing those events and making strides to unify the wounds of division in our country, we must also consider how we got here in the first place.
The stated goal of many of these rioters was to disrupt the certification of electoral votes that confirmed Joe Biden’s victory in November’s election. This is usually a dry, ceremonial process where certificates from each state are examined by Congress and quickly accepted. Usually it takes less than an hour. However, purposely irresponsible and undemocratic political rhetoric by President Trump, Republican politicians and media commentators created a false narrative that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump. Based on this false narrative, millions of Americans believe electoral fraud took place in November. Some took this belief to a violent extreme.
To be clear, no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have altered the results of the 2020 presidential election exists. The Trump campaign and its allies brought dozens of election lawsuits in many states, more than 60 of which have already been dismissed for lack of evidence or lack of standing. In fact, many lawsuits have been dismissed by judges nominated by Republican presidents. The Supreme Court, which includes three justices nominated by President Trump, unanimously denied election lawsuits brought to it. Christopher Krebs, the top Homeland Security election protection official, and Attorney General William Barr, both appointed by Trump, refuted claims of election fraud.
Even more telling, this narrative appeared long before the election. Months before the first results came in Nov. 3, Trump was claiming the election would be fraudulent, and he might not accept the results if he did not win. This is un-American on every level. If we are going to have fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power, all participants must accept verified and confirmed results. If those who lose an election do not accept the winner’s legitimacy, we cannot function as a democracy.
Trump and his allies had every chance to legitimately challenge election results, and they exhausted them. Following defeat in the courts, and numerous recounts confirming Biden’s victory in key battleground states, the proper thing to do would have been for Trump to concede. He refused, instead playing up more lies and conspiracies. This kind of rhetoric has consequences. Emboldened by Trump’s falsehoods, thousands traveled to Washington to storm the Capitol. As a result, five people, including a police officer, died.
Falsehoods have real-life repercussions. People have died because of those who refuse to recognize one of the basic tenets of American democracy. In order to prevent such tragedy from occurring again, we need to demand truth and accountability from those in power. The only way to ensure our democracy continues to function is to have an engaged and informed citizenry, aware of the truth and ready to stand up for it against those who would twist reality to benefit themselves.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.