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The McCourtney Institute for Democracy

Statement on Unrest in Washington: January 6, 2021

Statement on Unrest in Washington: January 6, 2021

A statement from McCourtney Institute for Democracy Director Michael Berkman and Managing Director Christopher Beem:

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy is committed to promoting democracy in the United States and abroad. We write this amid disturbing images in the Capitol and throughout our nation that are unprecedented in American history, and that imperil our American democracy.

If history proves anything, it is that people disagree. Vehemently. Unity of opinion is not possible. Democracy exists as a way for people to disagree and yet still live together peaceably.  Elections are the means by which we do that. They are the backbone of a democratic system. Every vote counts the same and the candidate who receives the most votes wins. A peaceful transition of power occurs as losers accept the outcome and come back prepared to fight again another day.

If any aspect of this system fails, democracy becomes impossible. Over the last many months, since well before President-Elect Biden’s clear and commanding electoral victory, we have spoken forcefully that it was not just wrong but dangerous to claim that the 2020 election was unfair, rigged, or otherwise tainted.  Indeed, we have celebrated the hard work and successful efforts of election workers and others around the country who managed to carry out this election under difficult circumstances. 

But this shameful and deeply irrational response to the 2020 election was simply the most recent manifestation of a longstanding movement to subvert our democracy. The scenes we see now should not be seen as sudden or unpredictable. They are rather the inevitable outcome of a sustained and reckless assault on the propositions that make democracy possible. The chronic denigration of the rights of the other side, the easy dismantling of democratic norms and procedures, and ultimately, the rejection of even the foundational idea that there is one reality, one truth, for all of us–all of this facilitated the breakdown we see before us right now.  

Every politician or pundit who took part in this authoritarian charade, who blithely put their own political or economic calculus ahead of the well-being of our nation and our democracy, will have to live with the humiliation of this moment. But all Americans of good will have to take on the burden of rebuilding what has been lost. As we now know too well, democracy is fragile. It requires commitment from all of us.