I was a kid from small-town Iowa when I first laid eyes on the United States Capitol.
It was 1962. My family squeezed into our Dodge and drove to our nation’s capital for the vacation of a lifetime. It was all about history.
We walked through the White House. We climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and peered up at the statue of the great leader.
We stood in awe in the Capitol rotunda, with the massive dome soaring above us. We walked the ornate corridors and made our way into the gallery of the House of Representatives. From there, we gazed down at the representatives on the House floor, where important debates have made history.
That 11-year-old boy thought about the presidents and other leaders who walked where he was walking. That boy never imagined that someday a lawless mob of Americans, egged on by the president of the United States, of all people, would lay siege to this inspiring building.
Last week, sadly, that day arrived.
A ragtag bunch of misfits and misled men and women stormed the symbol of our democracy. They terrorized members of Congress, beat a Capitol Police officer with a fire extinguisher, fatally injuring him, and they ransacked and desecrated this spectacular building.
There are so many questions, and so few answers, about the day’s events. But for this former 11-year-old visitor to Washington, some conclusions are inescapable: President Donald Trump is to blame for the attack, even though he was not rampaging through the Capitol himself.
He whipped the mob into a frenzy of lawless anger during the rally he organized near the White House last Wednesday morning — an event in which the president told the crowd to “stop the steal,” “save our democracy” and “take back our country.”
The Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was even more focused on what needed to occur next. “Let’s have trial by combat!” he exhorted the rally participants.
For months, Trump had been poisoning the thinking of the men and women who left the rally and began moving to the Capitol. Even before the first voters marked their ballots last fall, Trump said the only way he could lose was if Democrats rigged the election and stole the victory from him.
He failed to believe that voters in November had grown weary of his “Apprentice” version of the presidency or that it was the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote efforts, not some nefarious election-tampering plot, that led to the surge in voter turnout.
For weeks, the president trotted out falsehoods and rumors and presented them as facts. Even after multiple recounts and absentee ballot audits, even after 60 court challenges, including some in front of judges and justices Trump had appointed, election officials in these swing states certified that Joe Biden had won there.
Many of Trump’s supporters across the nation believed his claims, including the tens of thousands who gathered in Washington last week when the House and Senate met in joint session to open the electoral votes and officially tabulate them.
The president was angry when Vice President Mike Pence refused to go along with Trump’s wishes and reject the electoral votes from these swing states Biden carried.
“If the election were overturned merely by allegations by the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters last week — shortly before the insurgents put our democracy to its biggest test since the Civil War.
By the time you read this column, the U.S. House probably will be well on its way to impeaching President Trump for a second time — something that has never occurred in U.S. history.
We can all debate the merits of impeachment. That’s the American way, to debate and disagree before moving forward. And, after all, Trump will leave office at noon on Jan. 20, whether he and his supporters like that or not.
But many of those senators and representatives who were hustled into hiding last week, Democrats as well as Republicans, believe the president is unfit to remain in office, even for a few more days. They believe they have an obligation to send a clear message to future government leaders that Congress will not allow another assault on our democracy — especially by a president.
In recent days, some Republicans in Congress say Democrats should focus on unity, rather than launching another impeachment effort. I can understand that thinking.
But this is ironic, because these Republicans didn’t seem so concerned about unifying the nation when senators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and representatives like Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise were pushing last week for the electoral votes from a handful of Biden states to be overturned because of supposed voter fraud.