“How do you like this new democracy, that has a mob storming the Capitol and…blocking the access of the majority party into their offices and into the legislative chamber? It looks more like anarchy to me.”
“…cameras caught protesters storming the Capitol – breaking doors and windows – in a last-ditch push to protest and possibly block the vote.”
Those are not descriptions of the ugliness that transpired in the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday.
Rather, they are about the forcible takeover of the Wisconsin statehouse in March of 2011 by protesters trying to prevent a vote on then-Gov. Scott Walker’s reform proposals regarding public sector unions.
Protesters carried placards proclaiming, “This is what democracy looks like.”
But mob rule is not democracy. It is an attack on democracy—whether it was the union mobs in Wisconsin ten years ago, the Trump-supporting mobs that invaded the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, or the antifa and Black Lives Matter mobs that have been rioting across America’s cities for months.
One must not, of course, understate the unique, and uniquely dangerous, nature of Wednesday’s violent, deadly attack on the seat of our nation’s democracy. It should be, and is being, universally condemned.
But neither should we understate the danger to our democracy posed by the continuing violence of left-wing rioters, who over the past eight months have been smashing and looting businesses, setting ablaze mostly poor, minority inner city neighborhoods, assaulting police, menacing public officials in restaurants, and terrorizing their families at home—as they did just the other night to the wife and newborn daughter of Sen. Josh Hawley.
For just as our Catholic Church is not only the church building in which we celebrate the sacred Eucharist, but encompasses all of us as the body of Christ called to live and evangelize the Word, so American democracy is not only the Capitol building, but encompasses all of us as American citizens, called to live and promote the ideals of freedom by respecting the lives, liberty, and property of others. And so our democracy is endangered whenever and wherever those ideals come under violent attack by American citizens. And truth be told, these left-wing rioters have not received the same universal condemnation that the pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol rightly have.
Supporters insist that all these protests have been “mostly peaceful,” that the violent aggressors at the Capitol Wednesday and the violent rioters in our cities have been just small fringes. True or not, that does not negate the terrible destructiveness they are doing, to life, to property, and to our system of ordered liberty and self-government. Not to mention the harm they are doing to the very causes they claim to support.
For example, there was growing momentum for responsible reforms in law enforcement following the horrific police killing of George Floyd last spring. But that momentum has largely faded amid the violence and rioting, the anti-cop overkill, and the frightening nationwide spike in violent crime that resulted.
Similarly, following the November elections many Americans have legitimate concerns about the integrity of the voting process, particularly given the unprecedented level of mail-in ballots, susceptible as they are to human error, vote harvesting, and outright fraud. And while the presidential election was not going to be overturned, the objections and debate which were to be heard in Congress last Wednesday could have been the impetus for examining those concerns and, if need be, developing possible reforms for future elections. Now, any hope for such scrutiny has been lost amid the violence and chaos of the mob.
All of the violence has got to stop. I’m reminded of my third-grade teacher berating me and a friend as she broke up one of our “play” fights. “I don’t care who started it,” she scolded (it was always my friend, of course, not me), “the next time you two are fighting you’re both going to the principal’s office!”
That’s the point we have reached now. It doesn’t matter which side is worse, which more to blame, even which may have been treated more unfairly. While healthy and spirited debate and disagreement are essential to our democratic system, the hatred and violence on all sides must end.
Calls for instant “unity” seem overly simplistic. The deep divisions which sear our country right now involve some fundamental issues of justice and morality that are not easily amenable to compromise. Even Christ emphasized that He had come “not to establish peace on the earth” but rather “division.”
But the division He sought to create was to help us distinguish right from wrong, that we might ultimately choose good over evil and then strive to lead others to do so as well. He did not intend for us to descend into the evils of hatred and violence, which He always rejected, warning that those “who live by the sword will perish by the sword.”
We must now, while standing firm in defense of those moral principles we hold to be right and just, do so as Jesus would—peacefully, exuding His love and mercy—lest our democracy perish in the flames of hatred and violence.