Today I saw a picture of a busload of Vermonters on their way to Washington, D.C. They were Donald Trump supporters who remain convinced his election was stolen. I want to believe that all of them on that bus were heading down for a peaceful protest. But after witnessing several different news reports, and listening to the speeches of President Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani urging them to go to the Capitol, I have to wonder whether anyone in that group got duped into joining the assault of that beautiful and historic building.
I’d be interested to know because, as someone who has spent years trying to convince Vermonters that conservative and constitutional principles have merit, that message will be made all the more difficult to deliver if it is associated with those extremists who call themselves Republicans, too.
Please don’t embarrass us by saying these extremists were Antifa. Don’t try to deflect by saying BLM or liberals started it or are just as bad. These thugs were Republicans devoted completely to Donald Trump. They are not “Patriots.” They are not “real Americans.” They are anarchists who believe in mob rule, plain and simple.
Many of them were egged on by a Donald Trump tweet that alleged Vice President Mike Pence would be shirking his constitutional responsibilities if he didn’t reject elector certificates. Not only is the potential precedent of such a claim a direct threat to every election in the future, it has absolutely no foundation whatsoever in the one simple sentence (Article II, §1) in the Constitution that specifically directs the president of the Senate (Mike Pence) to open “all certificates.” The president, in other words, was directing Pence to take an unconstitutional action.
I will credit Mike Pence for recognizing the Constitution does not allow him to reject elector certificates and its language limited him to a ceremonial role. But the extremists latched onto the president’s false tweet to bash in the Capitol doors in an action that has resulted in a woman’s death.
It is further troubling that these same extremists continue to believe the president’s tweets over all the legal and factual arguments that counter them. Sixty courts at all federal and state levels, Senate Majority Leader (Republican) Mitch McConnell, the president’s own Attorney General William Barr and Republican secretaries of state and state attorneys general in all the states being contested, have all concluded this election was not “stolen” and has never produced clear, unambiguous evidence of widespread fraud.
Yet some continue to cling to individual instances of alleged fraud and thus call for overturning the votes of millions of fellow Americans. They will accept nothing less than reelection of the candidate who lost the majority and Electoral College vote counts. And as I type this, the citadel of liberty and freedom, our nation’s Capitol, is shut down. I cannot imagine the glee now emanating from governments in Iran, Russia and China.
Enough is enough. Even Twitter has finally shut down the president’s tweet account. Republicans like Mike Pence, who courageously upheld the Constitution over the president’s public insults, need to find our voices. This is not the Republican Party we are witnessing but make no mistake, it will be labeled so by those who seek scapegoats.
I have another picture of a group on a bus trip going to Washington, D.C., to visit the Capitol. A young eighth-grade boy is seen at the top of the photo, peering over the seats of his sleeping classmates. On his visit to the nation’s capital, he was left with a wonderful idea of what America is supposed to be about. His class picture was taken on the very steps that Trump extremists invaded this afternoon. Today, 50 years later, he officially stepped down as minority leader of the Vermont state Senate. He will continue to espouse the Republican principles embodied in the Vermont GOP party platform as a state senator, but he can no longer tolerate extremists posing as Republicans. He prays other Republicans who believe in those principles will stand with him to reject the chaos and anarchy these extremists represent.
Joe Benning is Caledonia District state senator and former minority leader.
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