On Jan. 6, the nation watched in horror as rioters overtook Capitol Police and flooded into the United States Capitol building.
While many commentaries on this event focused on the violence itself, which was indeed horrific and worthy of untempered condemnation, the symbolism of this assault goes much deeper, attacking the Constitution of the United States.
There are two important things to consider when thinking about the symbolic significance of this attack on our nation’s Capitol.
The riot occurred while the United States Congress convened to certify the electoral college’s voting results. First and foremost, the timing of the attack signified blatant disregard for the electoral process.
Electoral certification is usually a remarkably uneventful procedural event. If electoral objections are legitimate, legal measures should have been taken long before the electoral certification.
To the credit of the Trump administration, they raised their objections prior to Jan. 6. However, these lawsuits were entirely baseless and were thrown out by every single judge that heard the cases.
Second, we must keep in mind those shocking riot photos of men with zip cuffs scouring the chamber for congresspeople. These rioters were not only violent in the extreme outside of the Capitol building, but they were also prepared to do more violence once they got inside.
With these two things in mind, the Capitol riots can only be viewed as what they really are: an attack on the American Constitution itself.
Our Constitution provides for three branches of government: the legislative branch, the judicial branch, and the executive branch.
The attack on the judiciary came first. By flooding the judicial system with frivolous lawsuits and then refusing to accept the outcomes of those lawsuits, the president’s legal team successfully undermined faith in the most impartial branch of government.
Next came the attack on the legislature, a much more brazen assault. What could be a more obvious attack on a representative form of government than seeking to cuff and potentially murder democratically elected representatives?
The attack on the executive branch is perhaps best summarized by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in his comments to the Nebraska GOP Committee after their plans to censure him for his vote on the impeachment of President Trump: “politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude.”
The Constitutional idea of executive powers and limits has been undermined since the nation’s infancy, but it has come to a head in this administration. How else does a violent mob descend on the Capitol of a nation that it wants to “make great again?”
My only hope for this event is that it becomes a touchstone for national unity. I hope that all people, conservative or liberal, can recognize this insurrection for the lunacy it is and seek to return to one another in good faith and continue dialogue about the issues surrounding our nation. I fear, however, that this hope is only naïveté on my part.