Cyr: The true significance of the Capitol riot
The shocking mob violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 directly challenges the fundamental nature of our governmental institutions, political practices and the stability of our society. The criminal acts capped weeks of extreme, provocative, incendiary rhetoric from President Donald Trump, denouncing his defeat in the November presidential election as the result of an allegedly rigged, corrupt voting process.
There can be no serious doubt that Trump incited the riot. Meanwhile, numerous lawsuits protesting the election loss as the result of a corrupt election process have gone nowhere. Courts have uniformly rejected them. This includes the United States Supreme Court as well as numerous state courts.
Five people are confirmed dead, including a Capitol police officer and a woman who was part of the demonstration that turned extremely violent.
Mob thugs forced their way into the Capitol building and occupied the Senate Chamber. Members of Congress remaining in the House Chamber for a time were under direct threat, as the mob rampaged through the building before law enforcement forced rioters back outside.
The loss of life is tragic, the disruption of the Congress extraordinarily disturbing. However, this violent spectacle is neither unique nor a sign that our government institutions face fundamental threat to their existence.
Physical attacks on United States government institutions are not unique. During the War of 1812, British troops in 1814 occupied Washington D.C. and burned the Capitol along with the White House and other government property.
As Professor Charles Lipson of the University of Chicago and many others accurately observe, today public officials for political reasons are at times lenient in handling attacks on property and people. Consequently, criminals can shelter in the extremes of the political spectrum.
Those seeking political left cover include the thugs who assaulted Republican Party officials in Washington D.C. following the national convention, violence involving firebombs and shooting a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, and comparable despicable incidents involving far-right criminals.
Despite the mob violence and criminality in and around the U.S. Capital, Congress certified the Electoral College vote, confirming the inauguration of former Vice President Joe Biden on schedule as our next president. Vice President Mike Pence announced the vote result in Congress, and provided an example of calm leadership, including responsible, sensible statements and decisions.
Various people express concern that Trump might try to use his authority as commander of our armed forces to seize control of government by force, or otherwise disrupt or deny the orderly transition to the new Biden administration. For that reason, all living former U.S. defense secretaries have signed and made public a letter warning Trump not to try to use our military to pursue his complaints about the election result.
Civil-military relations are challenging by definition, but have been relatively stable in our own nation’s history. Past problems have involved insubordinate military commanders, notably Generals George McClellan and Douglas MacArthur threatening Presidents Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and Harry Truman during the Korean War. In each case, the president fired the general.
Trump in fact is far more partial to talk than action. He has tried, with limited success, to fulfill a campaign pledge to reduce extensive American military engagements around the world. This is one factor in his notable support among rank-and-file military personnel, and veterans.
There is absolutely no evidence our military at any level would follow illegal orders from soon to be former President Donald Trump.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Macmillan). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.