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Opinion: A sad spectacle at the U.S. Capitol

Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. [AP Photo/Julio Cortez]
Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. [AP Photo/Julio Cortez]

Unprecedented. Shocking. Troubling. Scary. Pathetic. Pick your adjective to describe Wednesday’s scene at the U.S. Capitol, where thousands of President Trump supporters overran the building and stopped the work of certifying the Electoral College results of November's election.

During a speech earlier in the day where Trump repeated his claim that the election had been stolen from him, he urged supporters to act. Act they did, overwhelming security officers and making their way into the House and Senate chambers and into some offices. Tear gas was deployed. One person was shot and killed.

It was a disaster, certainly not the sort of behavior expected from the greatest republic in history, a nation that provides its citizens with the right to peaceably assemble and protest. This was far from that.

President-elect Biden put it well in a brief televised address, saying our democracy was “under unprecedented assault.”

Wednesday’s events, Biden said, were “an assault on the most sacred of American undertakings — the doing of the people’s business.” Amen.

The U.S. has rules that, throughout its history, have provided for a process to ensure a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. That process was upended this year, fueled by Trump’s unproven assertions that widespread fraud cost him the race.

Earlier, the president had insisted that Vice President Mike Pence could reject electors certified by battleground states where he says his victory was stolen. Pence, to his credit, said he could not and would not — because the Constitution does not allow for it. News of that decision reportedly spurred the protesters.

Shortly before the chaos ensued, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., provided a compelling reminder of the American system at its best, in declaring that he would not support Republican-led efforts to challenge or perhaps overturn the election results.

He deemed his vote “the most important vote I’ve ever cast.” The scheduled vote got waylaid by shameful actions that bordered on anarchy.

The Constitution, McConnell reminded his colleagues, “gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.”

That damage appears well underway, sad to say. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., said during the siege that members of both parties “feel like we’ve crossed a Rubicon in some way.” Getting back will take considerable work, as the country seemingly is more divided than at any time in decades. Leaders of both major parties, at the federal and state levels, must commit to toning down the rhetoric and rejecting the tribalism that is so rampant, and so destructive.

Preserving our democracy, Biden said, “requires people of goodwill, leaders with the courage to stand up, who are devoted not to the pursuit of power … but of the common good.”

He also said America “is much better than what we’ve seen today,” and he’s right. It’s about time we start acting like it.


Opinion editor Owen Canfield is in his 18th year writing editorials for The Oklahoman and has spent nearly 40 years in journalism. Contact him at or (405) 475-3205. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a print or digital subscription at

Owen Canfield III

Owen Canfield has written editorials for The Oklahoman since 2003. Prior to that, he spent 19 years with The Associated Press in Oklahoma City. He is a 1981 graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He and his wife, Lori, have four children. Read more ›