For as long as I can remember, I have always been one to give my political opponents the benefit of the doubt. I understand and appreciate the necessity of disagreement. The morals and values bequeathed to us by our individual experiences must necessarily differ from one person to the next. But even for those of us who try to approach political disputes with the utmost care and consideration for the people sitting across the table, there are certain lines that can never be crossed.
For me, those lines were all crossed multiple times last Wednesday.
After an unfathomable day of seditious violence in the nation’s capital, Congress finally voted to certify the results of a presidential election that Joe Biden won by a very comfortable margin. But the events that preceded it left a stain on the Republican Party that might well prove impossible to scrub out.
This is not the time for a “both sides” discussion about extremism and violence. Yes, the left has its fair share of extremists. And yes, the left is prone to making excuses for acts of violence when said acts are carried out in the name of a progressive cause. But what happened on Wednesday was wholly unique, both in terms of where it happened and what it symbolized.
I expected there to be violence. I did not expect it would escalate to such an extreme degree, nor did I expect police to be overwhelmed so quickly and decisively. And the image of a far-right militant galloping through the Capitol building with a Confederate flag—who could have seen that coming? Who among us could have believed that such a moment would even be possible at this juncture in history, let alone in one of the most (allegedly) secure locations in the entire nation?
Critics calling this uprising an act of treason aren’t wrong. That’s what it was. Granted, it may never have had any chance of succeeding, but that doesn’t change the nature of what took place or the disturbing implications of its occurrence. This was a full-scale assault on the very idea of America, and it was fueled in part by self-serving Republican leaders like Senator Ted Cruz, who has repeatedly echoed the illegitimate concerns of the same traitors who stormed the Capitol building.
"We gathered together at a moment of great division, at a moment of great passion,” he said during a speech to the Senate on Wednesday. “We have seen and no doubt we’ll continue to see, a great deal of moralizing from both sides of the aisle. But I would urge to both sides perhaps a bit less certitude, and a bit more recognition that we are gathered at a time when democracy is in crisis. Recent polling shows that 39% of Americans believe the election that just occurred, 'was rigged.' You may not agree with that assessment. But it is nonetheless a reality for nearly half the country.”
The problem, as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro might say, is that “facts don’t care about your feelings.” And in this case, the indisputable fact is that Joe Biden was the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election. The states have had their say. So have the courts. There is no other side to this story. There is no scenario in which the widespread voter fraud alleged by President Trump and his cronies will be proven true. Trump lost fair and square, and that’s all there is to it.
Senator Cruz knows this. His colleagues in both chambers of Congress know it, too. Yet that hasn’t stopped them from feeding into the delusions of far-right extremists who would rather reign in hell than serve in a flawed but promising democratic union of states bound by a shared commitment to freedom and liberty for all.
The events that took place on Wednesday were the culmination of weeks of duplicitous behavior by Republican politicians like Cruz who were more concerned with saving their own careers than they were with preserving the integrity of the nation’s most fundamental institutions. There was never any real threat of a successful coup, but what the attack on the Capitol did demonstrate is that Trump’s toxic, narcissistic, deeply divisive brand of politics has supplanted traditional conservatism as the default philosophy of the Republican Party. The question that must then be asked is, can the party itself still be salvaged?
The answer, I believe, is yes, but not until it has been razed to the ground in such a humiliating and spectacular fashion that the only people willing to touch it are the conservative reformers who are best suited to the twofold task of purging every noxious element of Trump’s legacy from the party’s foundation and deposing the villainous hacks who invited this disastrous situation through their incessant pandering to far-right thugs.
America needs a conservative party with strong, principled, and respectable conservative leaders. It needs a loyal opposition willing to act as the yin to the Democratic Party’s yang. Sadly, that party does not currently exist, and it remains to be seen whether it ever will again.
Democrats now have little choice but to try to work with the disloyal opposition that is today’s Republican Party—and to be clear, they absolutely must make that attempt. This nation has too many unresolved problems to afford another four years of partisan stalemating and Trumpian theatrics. But so long as Trump’s shadow lingers over the Republican Party like a mushroom cloud, we cannot and should not expect a return to the normalcy that many of us had hoped was just over the horizon.