I lived and worked in Washington, DC for 20 years. My first job there was in the early 1980’s at what was then known as the General Accounting Office (it’s now called the Government Accountability Office), a part of the legislative branch. I worked as a GS-3 law library technician. A GS-3 was (and no doubt still is) pretty much the bottom of the barrel in civil service rank. I was a clerical gofer responsible for the most menial of tasks.
I also loved that job. I was proud to be one of the tiniest of cogs in an agency whose mission was to support and serve the Congress.
One of my occasional duties in those pre-internet days was to run over to the Capitol and pick up printed committee reports. Security was pretty lax back then. You’d sometimes have to check-in at a security desk, but mostly I could just flash my GAO badge and walk through with a friendly wave. It was absolutely thrilling to walk those hallways, filled with historical plaques and portraits of former members of Congress. In a word, it was humbling to be there.
Like so many yesterday, I watched the events unfold at the Capitol in utter horror. Spurred on by the untruthful ravings of a president unable to square reality with the gilded self-image he so desperately imparts to the world, his followers fervently marched up Pennsylvania Avenue to heed his call. They had been summoned earlier by him, and now they were ready to follow through on his desires.
At a rally at the Ellipse prior to the march on the Capitol, the president remarked to his supporters: ““We are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,”and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them — because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
His words did not fall on deaf ears.
I sat in my living room aghast at the raw video footage on our TV of an angry mob jumping over security barriers, shoving and punching police, breaking windows, and forcing down doors. They created absolute mayhem in entering offices and the chambers of both houses, as members of Congress were in the process of voting on the certification of the Electoral College. Unlike my own experience in those same hallowed halls, this mob was anything but humbled.
Four fatalities took place during the melee.
Later in the day President-Elect Biden spoke to the nation. His words on presidential rhetoric are worth noting:
The words of a President matter, no matter how good or bad that president is. At their best, the words of a president can inspire. At their worst, they can incite.
For four years we’ve watched President Trump break norms on presidential behavior and political discourse. To his most fervent admirers, his utterances have been a breath of fresh air. “Candor,” they’ve called it. All too often, however, his words have also conveyed a darker message of hate, division, and violence.
We learned from those who attempted insurrection yesterday just how far a president’s words can be taken. Words do matter, sometimes with deadly consequences. Let’s pray that more people will come to realize that now.
Until next time…