My respect for Michael Bennet ticked up another notch when Colorado’s senior senator implored his Republican colleagues to “just tell people the truth” about the winner of the 2020 electoral college ballots. Comparing the day’s earlier mob violence in the Capitol Building, he pointed to the gangs that destroyed voting places as the Roman republic crumpled beneath the lure of dictatorship. Who needs elections when Caesar offers perfect leadership?
It was Cicero who pointed out that, “The enemy is within our gates,” and these enemies were apathetic Romans embracing luxury over virtue. Bennet has previously recounted lessons from Greek and Roman history during Senate debates. As Thomas Ricks, recent author of “First Principles,” which explores the influence of classical texts on our founding fathers, explains that they feared democracy would be more likely to fail from internal rot than hostile invaders. Those currently fearing Russian paratroopers or Chinese landing craft crashing upon our shores tremble before phantasms. Our gravest danger is surely the dissolution of common purpose.
It’s worthwhile to review last week’s sequence of political thunderclaps. On Monday evening America’s billionaire President addressed a crowd of rural Georgians, urging them to return a pair of Republican billionaires to the United States Senate on Tuesday — billionaires who acknowledged the managers of their portfolios sold stocks that would suffer during the COVID-19 virus – a threat they were warned about during secret Congressional briefings. Both insisted these trades were simply a coincidence since their assets were held in third party trusts. Once evidence emerged that David Perdue had personally ordered several trades, he complained it was childish to expect he shouldn’t act to protect his family’s inheritance.
You don’t have to be a socialist to recognize that something about Georgia politics must have gone awry in recent years. Nonetheless, 49% of Georgia voters were willing to return these billionaire buddies to Washington as representatives of "the people." 51% decided, however, to take a chance on Jon Ossoff and Reverend Warnock, handing Democrats a majority in the Senate. It is estimated these two Senate races burned through half a billion dollars. That number also feels like American politics has jumped the tracks, pitting one oligarchic team against another. This election win loomed over last week's riot, confirming continuing fraud to Team Trump and validating Biden’s Georgia victory for Democrats.
You only had to glance at the "Stop the Steal" rally on Wednesday to recognize this wasn’t the Republican Brooks Brothers’ riot that contested the Florida recount in 2000. These were not the Main Street bankers and commercial leaders historically associated with a business-friendly Republican party. In fact, this bunch looked more like Hells Angels who would just as soon burn down Wall Street along with the halls of Congress. Time and investigations will tell us whether some of the Capitol Police colluded with demonstrators, either as a matter of policy or personal sympathies. It was indisputable that this mob was afforded a deference far different than black George Floyd protesters received at the Capitol last summer.
Despite calls for tough prosecution of identified marauders at the Capitol, it will be surprising if they receive more than a wrist slap and a small fine. That would be a mistake. Vandalism and trespassing charges ignore the deliberate attempt to paralyze the central mechanisms of American democracy. We came within a hair’s breadth of removing elected representatives from the House and Senate chambers in body bags. Those who risked this slaughter deserve a few years under correctional supervision to reconsider their actions. We should send a signal before further sedition erupts that insurrection will not be tolerated.
Several of the crimes committed do not fit neatly within the federal criminal code but can and should be prosecuted by the District of Columbia. In light of the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, charges of felony murder appear justified. Every rioter was fully complicit in his murder, as well as those of the four protestors who also died. Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to impose life sentences on several thousand individuals, but their plea bargains should include a felony conviction, perhaps an exclusion forbidding any return to the Capital for a period of years, public service and significant fines. (No defense attorney will be dumb enough to throw his or her client on the mercy of a D.C. jury.) Harsh treatment now can prevent future mayhem.
It’s worth noting that 83 of the 147 members voting to overturn the election represent the dozen formerly Confederate states. As for whether our own Doug Lamborn and Lauren Boebert should resign their seats, Lamborn certainly knew better. His voters can recall him. For freshman Boebert I return to Cicero, “It is the nature of every person to err, but only a fool persists in that error.”