We can never bring back the five lives, including a courageous police officer, lost during the siege of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. We can never erase the tragic memory of the most hallowed symbol of our democracy, the U.S. Capitol, being desecrated by domestic terrorists who wanted to violently overturn the results of a presidential election.
However, it is time for President Trump and Republicans in Congress to denounce the big lie that incited the Capitol mob — the lie that Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election. Until that lie is denounced, clearly and unequivocally by elected officials, it will continue to motivate life-threatening violence and attacks on our democracy.
Until that lie is denounced, no number of speeches for peaceful transitions will matter. As Sen. Mitt Romney said on the Senate floor just hours after the attack on the Capitol, “What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States. Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”
For every militant who attacked our nation’s Capitol on January 6, there are many more, whether white supremacists or militia members or QAnon followers, who continue to be deluded into thinking that it is their duty to attack our government at the state and federal levels because a presidential election was stolen. To call for a peaceful transition without telling the truth about the big lie is not a call for peace, it is a continuing call to arms.
There are also tens of millions of decent, law-abiding Americans who have been convinced by President Trump’s false conspiracy theories that Joe Biden and Democrats stole the election — theories that have been rejected by 50 states; over 60 courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court; and now by an overwhelming majority of the U.S. Congress. Those citizens would never physically attack our democracy, but their cynicism could damage our democracy.
I have great respect for Vice President Pence and for the U.S. Supreme Court for rejecting the lawsuit filed by Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert and supported by President Trump, which absurdly argued that one person, the vice president of the United States, could decide which presidential electors could be accepted or rejected. Our Founding Fathers would have never wanted so much power to be put in the hands of one elected official. Yet, it was that false notion that motivated some of the Capitol terrorists to menacingly say once inside the Capitol, “Hang Mike Pence. Where is Mike Pence?” Does anyone think that had they found the vice president, they would have just wanted a respectful political dialogue with him?
The Republicans in Congress who voted to certify the election of Joe Biden as President, even though they voted for Donald Trump, deserve respect for putting their commitment to our Constitution above partisan political interests and the threats of President Trump to find them primary opponents in 2022.
To the Republicans who voted to object to the certification of the electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I strongly disagree with their votes. However, I respect their right to raise questions about states’ election processes, even though every Republican governor in the country and numerous Republican-appointed judges, including Supreme Court justices, said this election was not stolen, not even close. I don’t believe Republican members of Congress in any way wanted to encourage violence with their votes to object to the Biden electors. However, we now know that lives have been lost and our Capitol desecrated and our democracy attacked by those who believed the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
If members of Congress want to continue to raise questions about imperfect election processes, that is their right, but to do so without publicly stating that Joe Biden is the legitimate president-elect of the United States will add fuel to the fire of political arsonists who want to burn down our democracy. Before we have more political violence, President Trump and Republican members of Congress should immediately denounce the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
When I had the privilege of representing Central and North Central Texas in the U.S. House for 20 years, after we finished contentious debates in the House chamber, often late at night, I would look up and admire the glass eagle in the ceiling above the historic House floor. Grasped in the eagle’s claws were the words of our national motto, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. It always reminded me that we were blessed to live in a country built on the foundation of freedom of speech, but that when the speeches were over, we should remember that we come from many races, religions and points of view, but are all bound by our common bond of being blessed to be Americans.
Dictatorships depend on a big lie and division to survive. Democracies depend on truth and respect. As John Adams did after losing a bitter race to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, as Richard Nixon did in 1960, as Al Gore did after losing by only 537 votes out of over 100 million votes cast in 2000, as John McCain did after losing to President Obama in 2008, it is time for President Trump and all of us to respect the truth that “we, the people” elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president.
It is time for us to replace division with respect. It is time for us to live out the spirit of those inspiring words on the ceiling of our hallowed U.S. House chamber. From many, one. They are not just words, they are who we Americans must be.
Former Congressman Chet Edwards represented Waco in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 2011. Previously he served in the Texas Legislature. He was named the W.R. Poage Distinguished Chair of Public Service at Baylor University in 2012.