Editorial: We see where cynicism leads; let's show instead the true face of America

"Remember this day forever."

We read those words from a President Donald Trump tweet Wednesday with shivers and something like horror.

The president, who started the day by exhorting a throng of his supporters to march to the Capitol while Congress debated certification of the 2020 presidential election, watched throughout the morning and afternoon as they did just that. At the Capitol, throngs of them muscled past Washington, D.C., police, forced evacuation of the building, looted congressional offices and threatened security personnel and others. One person, apparently among them, died as a result. Other people, including some first responders, were injured.

"These are the things and events that happen," the president began his tweet, which Twitter later took down for violating its terms of service, "when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long."

No. No. No. No. No.

These are the things that happen when a demagogue with a passionate following refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of his country's most-sacred institution - the ballot box - and, for weeks, repeatedly incites his acolytes to defy any elected officials who do not bend to his will.

But, these are not, thankfully, the things that define America. If there is anything to be remembered from Wednesday's ghastly display in Washington - and it is something inspiring, indeed - it is that the Congress that this field of miscreants sought to disrupt regrouped on the very day of the disruption and got back to its business.

It was ugly business, to be sure, and, it must be noted, offered contributions of its own to the mayhem that defaced our democracy, as a cynical band of Trump loyalists in the House and Senate insisted on sullying the nation's confidence in its elections. But, futile political charade though it was, it was undertaken according to the civilized rules of governing behavior and the dictates of the Constitution. It should never have been initiated as it was, but it legally could, and because it could, our elected officials at least demonstrated enough respect for the processes they oversee to conduct it with dignity and order.

Ironically, the resumption of their business on the very night hooligans had sought to ravage it demonstrated the strength and fortitude our democracy needs to survive.

This, certainly, is a moment to remember.

This, we still hold out hope, is who we are.

We all will have opportunities in the days and weeks ahead to rise above displays of havoc and ignorance. Let those of us with love for our country and its institutions seize those opportunities.

In remarks issued while the assault on the Capitol was still under way, President-elect Joe Biden addressed that sentiment. "Let me be very clear, the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America," he said, and he's right.

Though the size of the D.C. mob numbered in the thousands, it could hardly be said to represent the 81 million Americans who voted for Biden. It doesn't even represent the 74 million who voted for Trump.

"Americans are better than this," Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in a statement. "Americans aren't nihilists. Americans aren't arsonists. Americans aren't French revolutionaries taking to the barricades."

So we return to the president's tweet and something else we remember. It was the summer of 1954, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was riding a crest of populist adoration as he laid waste to the national consciousness with an unceasing onslaught of outrageous, baseless claims of widespread treason and disloyalty. During a three-month spectacle of the Army-McCarthy hearings, the senator at last found duplicity's breaking point when he tried to suggest that an attorney working with the Army's counsel Joseph Welch had Communist ties.

A nationwide audience that had been glued to the hearings, much as so many Americans were glued to the images in Washington Wednesday, watched as Welch rounded on McCarthy.

"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness," Welch replied, then spat these famous lines. "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"

There were other factors involved in McCarthy's decline, but that line often is credited with his popular descent, his ultimate berth amid the dregs of American history and the nation's eventual return to political sanity and decency.

We can only pray that the scene in Washington Wednesday and the president's ferociously offensive response to it will mark the start of a similar rebound in our national character.

We have seen where misinformation leads. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Republicans oversaw the elections in some of the states at issue. The courts have rejected more than 60 challenges. Trump's loyal attorney general said there is no evidence of voter fraud on a scale that would alter the election results. The Senate majority leader recognized Biden's victory. And yet, led by a president with a vested personal interest, enabled by politicians who engaged in either manipulation or fantasy, a small but passionate set of people chose to believe falsehoods. This is where cynicism and unsupported conspiracy theories lead.

May this be the end of it. America must be better than this.

America is better than this. When you remember this day, as you must, remember that.

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