I’m not interested in uniting the country right now. I’m interested in defeating the forces of reaction that threaten our democracy. We have seen these people throughout our history and they are not open to compromise. They are destructive and authoritarian. They tore this country apart in the middle of the 19th century and they built a caste system that systematically denied rights to a large portion of the population during the first half of the 20th century. Compromise with them has never worked out well and it won’t now. 

Fixing what’s broken in this country will take years, not months, but it begins with accountability. Donald Trump needs to be removed from office now. Every time he’s been given leniency, he pushes the boundaries further. He clearly did not learn the lessons that Senator Susan Collins claimed he had after his first impeachment. He called for insurrectionists to march on the Capitol while Congress was certifying the election. He will try to disrupt Joe Biden’s inauguration unless he’s stopped.

Trump will never learn any lessons, but we must make him a warning for those that follow. If he’s not removed from office for encouraging an insurrection, then the president has no restrictions. That cannot become the norm and people who call for overturning the will of the people should never be able to run for office again.  

The Members of Congress who encouraged and pandered to the would-be revolutionaries must also be held accountable. They need to publicly admit that the election was free and fair, that their vote against certification was wrong, and that Joe Biden is the legitimate President of the United States. The most egregious violators should be removed from office. Senator Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley should never be allowed in the Senate again. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his lieutenant Steve Scalise should also be forced to resign. The rest of the GOP’s sedition caucus should be censored and stripped of positions of power in Congress. 

As for those people who would breach the Capitol demanding to kill elected leaders like the Vice-president and Speaker of the House, they need to go to jail for a long time. In another era, they probably would have been executed. They cannot be allowed to return to their normal lives after trying to end our democracy. 

Make no mistake. The instigators and perpetuators transcend party, even if many support one over the other. They are part of the illiberal, anti-intellectual forces of reaction that have been part of the country since its beginning. During our history, they have been both Democrats and Republicans. They mistake nationalism for patriotism and bastardize the symbols of our country to attract people to their cause. And they are violent.

The last time we compromised with these forces, they became Democrats of the one-party South. They ruled by terror, denying African-Americans, Jews, and immigrants access to the institutions of our democracy. They stayed in power until the Civil Rights Movement defeated and humiliated them. But they never went away. 

Today, these forces do not need to be accommodated; they need to be defeated again. Following the Civil Rights Movement, blatant racist tropes became socially unacceptable in most quarters. The most virulent racists of the time became villains and caricatures. Think George Wallace, Lester Mattox, and Bull Connor. Wallace had to apologize for the views he promoted to stay in the public sphere. Lester Mattox, the former governor of Georgia, became little more than a joke on late night television. And Bull Connor became a symbol of the violent white establishment that tried to hold onto Southern apartheid. 

We need to make racism and xenophobia unacceptable political positions and make those who defend them pariahs. That won’t happen by trying to mollify the misguided people who believe the lies and distortions of right-wing agitators. And it won’t happen if we give a pass the politicians who have pandered to the people who hold these views. We can’t unify this country until we root out the forces trying to undermine our democracy. 

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