It was months after a contested election, and accusations of an “illegitimate” president dominated an era of deep political divisions that were widening day by day.
Then terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
Hours after planes were flown through buildings in New York and Washington, DC, and nearly 3,000 perished, Congress put politics aside and met on the U.S. Capitol in a time marked by the fear, followed by resolution.
“When people do things against this country, we as Congress and as a government stand together,” then Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, said on the Capitol steps, hours after members and staff were briefed on an airliner. could be directed towards the building.
“And we stand in solidarity,” he said, surrounded by Democratic leaders and hundreds of members of Congress.
“We are here to declare that our resolve has not been weakened by these horrific and cowardly acts,” added Tom Daschle, then Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat from South Dakota, before the group spontaneously began. to sing God Bless America.
The unity of Congress that emerged from this tragedy had a residual impact, at least until the next presidential election in 2004, when divisions over the war in Iraq marked a new era of political polarization.
In the aftermath of the pro-Donald Trump siege of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, an event instigated by a president pushing the false narrative of a contested election and his accusations of being an “illegitimate” president-elect, it seemed for a moment that Congress was potentially heading towards another period of unity.
Resuming the session that sparked the riots, the number of constitutionally mandated congressional electoral votes totaled, Vice President Mike Pence echoed Hastert two decades ago.
“As we meet again in this room, the world will once again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy,” Pence said. “For even in the aftermath of unprecedented violence and vandalism in this Capitol, the elected representatives of the people of the United States met again on the same day to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
“We have never been discouraged before, and we will not be today,” added Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, resembling his predecessor Daschle. “They are trying to disrupt our democracy, they have failed. They failed. They did not try to hinder Congress.
Within hours, it became clear that the response from the current base of Congress would not echo that of their predecessors after 9/11.
Continue the divide
Instead of singing a spontaneous rendition of God Bless America, half a dozen Senate Republicans and over 100 House Republicans picked up where they left off before the siege: opposing the electoral vote count in an effort to appease Trump and his supporters as well as to slow, if not outright stop, Joe Biden’s legitimate victory.
Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, who led the Senate effort to oppose Biden’s electoral votes, did not back down after the riot. Several of his fellow Republicans changed course in the wake of the violence and dropped their objections. Hawley, however, continued his challenge, even after the Kansas City Star editorial board said he had “blood on his hands” for perpetuating false allegations of widespread voting irregularities.
Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Conor Lamb was fed up with Republicans’ objections, and in the House he directly linked their “lies” to the riot.
“We know that attack today, it didn’t materialize out of nowhere, it was inspired by lies, the same lies you hear in this room tonight,” Lamb said.
“And the deputies who repeat these lies should be ashamed of themselves, their voters should be ashamed,” he continued, angering his fellow Republicans, who confronted with Lamb, forcing a dozen members out of their seats to avoid a fight.
Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz has gone so far as to promote a conspiracy theory that members of the left-wing Antifa movement have infiltrated the pro-Trump mob, contradicted by videos and images that clearly show otherwise.
“[S]Some of the people who violated the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They pretended to be Trump supporters and were in fact members of the violent terrorist group AntifaGaetz said, eliciting audible taunts from some of his House colleagues.
The fiery rhetoric and peddling of disinformation, all in the name of politics, returned almost as quickly as they seemed tamed in the aftermath of the Capitol attack, raising the question: what is the way forward, in particular. for Republicans, who will be so closely linked to the man at the center of Wednesday’s violence?
Pro-Trump Republicans have indicated they are ready to turn the page.
Georgian Senator Kelly Loeffler, someone who closely chained her political fortune to Trump and lost her election on Tuesday, struck a serious tone in the Senate on Wednesday night when she announced she was rescinding her opposition to electoral votes for Biden.
“The events that have happened today have forced me to reconsider and I cannot now in good conscience oppose myself,” she said.
Another Trump confidant and occasional golf partner, Senator Lindsey Graham, said after four years of trying to work with Trump, he’s had enough.
“Trump and I have had one hell of a trip. I hate to end up this way. Oh my God, I hate it, ”Graham said. “From my point of view, he has been a consistent president, but today… All I can say is denounce myself. Enough is enough.”
If that’s really enough, politicians from both parties will take a look at Wednesday’s violence and realize that fostering searing political rhetoric fueled by deep anger is a path to danger – much more than just a way to build an electoral base. passionate and enthusiastic. .
However, if the post-riot actions in Congress are any indication, any lessons to be learned and an effort to bridge the massive political chasm could be an impossible dream, even after a historic attack on the heart of American democracy.