Reflections on a Riot: The power of presidential lies

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Luke Schlake

Six days ago, after one of the darkest moments of modern American history, Donald Trump was impeached for inciting an insurrection that breached the U.S. Capitol building. Had things gone a bit differently, our United States Congress could have been beaten and massacred. In fact, protestors entered the building while the Senate was in the middle of debate. 

History shows us how close we came to losing our Republic on Jan. 6. But in my mind, the most heinous part of Jan. 6 wasn’t Trump’s speech to his supporters; the worst truth was that as rioters broke into the United States Capitol building, President Donald Trump enthusiastically watched it unfolding on TV. He called the attackers off only after President-elect Joe Biden went on national TV and urged the president to call for peace. President Trump utterly violated his oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” This is incontrovertible. 

Three things stood out to me after the attack: the paradox of the “election fraud” lie, the conservative response to the attack and the lesson America was taught in moral leadership. 

First, preceding the riot was the cry of certain Senate Republicans for an investigation into the integrity of the election who pointed out the genuine concern of millions of Americans that the election was fraudulent. But who told them the election was fraudulent? Who deceived these people?

The issue was that Trumpian politics were attempting to solve a problem that came from Donald Trump himself. Mitt Romney wisely concluded: “No Congressional-led audit will ever convince those voters, particularly when the president will continue to claim the election was stolen.” 

Among the right people, deception can be just as effective a currency as truth. 

Secondly, many (though by no means all!) of the conservative responses to the attack were subpar. In the wake of Big Tech excising certain right-wing voices from their platforms, conservatives warned of the potential for left-wing communism in the near future, seeming to forget about the actual right-wing fascism that had broken into the Senate chambers. 

Another response compared the riots during the summer of 2020 to the Jan. 6 attack. While both sides of the aisle have failed to thoroughly condemn political violence, the neglect of truth and justice in the past does not compel their neglect now. The present is not the time to fix the problems of the past, but to solve the issue of today.

But a third realization about Jan. 6 gave me some reason for hope – Americans were taught a painful lesson in the ethics of leadership. The riot may have finally purged the argument used to justify Trump’s rise to power which claimed a leader could fully execute their duties while lacking a fundamental set of morals. This is a blind man’s truth. 

Just consider that a president’s words can deceive millions of Americans into believing an electoral process is fraudulent. The president’s words alone can beget war, destroy democracy, and endanger the stock market. 

In the hands of the U.S. president rests the literal ability to annihilate humanity in nuclear warfare. Every mother, every father, every brother, every sister, every husband and wife. Don’t ever again listen to someone who tells you the presidency isn’t a moral position. 

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” wrote George Washington. “..the mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them.”

Moral leadership is the last defense against corruption. It is the final check on power. When laws are silent and statutes stifled, when checks and balances are blind, when the vanguard forces of accountability are impotent, a leader is left in the quiet of their chambers, alone with power. In that moment, only morality dares rear its head in defiance of his human nature. Moral leaders aren’t a luxury— they are a necessity. You value freedom, America? Then value morality! 

Jan. 6 awoke many to the fact that ethical leadership matters. Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on.” So, rise to courage. Rise to virtue. Rise to truth. 

As Batman’s crime-stricken Gotham was told, “The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming”. Today, Joe Biden will be peacefully inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Don’t be asleep when the sunrise comes. It may finally be morning in America.