January 8, 2021

A citadel of liberty


Less than two hours after a joint session of the U.S. Congress met at 1 p.m. on January 6, a violent mob opposed to Congressional certification of the 2020 presidential election attacked, overtook and ransacked the U.S. Capitol building.  The import of this moment cannot be overstated or dismissed.  Throughout the history of the United States of America, this building has fallen only once before.  On August 24, 1814, a British force led by Major General Robert Ross set fire to the Capitol before finally taking it over.  For more than 206 years since that day, this building has stood as an iconic beacon of American democracy.  It has been called a citadel of liberty.

The events of January 6, 2021, will certainly rank among the darkest moments of American democracy.  But the moral strength of this country has been forged in response to such events, be it the aftermath of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, or the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013.  In response to the mob that overtook and ransacked the U.S. Capitol only hours before, Congressional leadership sought to demonstrate unity and show that they would not be cowered by the attack.

Just after 8 p.m., nearly six hours after Congress was forced into recess, Vice President Mike Pence reopened the Senate proceedings and addressed the mob.  “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” Mr. Pence said. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house.  And as we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy, for even in the wake of unprecedented violence and vandalism at this Capitol, the elected representatives of the people of the United States have assembled again on the very same day to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said Congress would not be bullied.  “The United States and the United States Congress have faced down much greater threats than the unhinged crowds we saw today,” he said. “They tried to disrupt our democracy. They failed.”

This moment should have united the country with each of us repudiating the storming of the Capitol building.  Sadly – unbelievably – it appears it has not.  The political divisions of our democratic republic and within our Ukrainian American diaspora run deep.  Let us be clear, we stand at a defining moment when our political passions have grown so heated that they threaten to burn down constitutional government itself.

During a similar moment of deep political discord, Benjamin Franklin was asked about the kind of government the Continental Congress had created when it convened in 1787.  “A republic,” Mr. Franklin is said to have replied, “if you can keep it.”

If we intend to keep this democratic republic, then we would be wise to heed the prayer offered by Senate Chaplain Barry Black after Congress reconvened and affirmed the votes of the Electoral College in the early morning hours of January 7: “Lord of our lives and sovereign of our beloved nation, we deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy. These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom’s price. Lord, you have helped us remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image. You have strengthened our resolve to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies domestic as well as foreign. Use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world.”  Amen.