It occurred to me this evening – and I haven’t yet fully fleshed out the analogy – that what outraged many Americans, most of them Democrats, about the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol is actually quite similar to what outrages many Americans, most of them Republicans, about the ongoing assault on our border. We have laws in this country, laws which were violated Jan. 6th on Capitol Hill by Trump supporters. And we have laws which are violated by foreign nationals every day on our southern border. We also have norms of behavior.
The seat of our national democracy is Capitol Hill, the home of the House and the Senate. The Jan. 6th assault on Congress was an assault on the idea of the United States as a democratic polity that changes its government only through peaceful, legal means, not through violent attacks on our elected representatives. Another national behavioral norm is that non-citizens only enter the country with permission and according to the legal criteria for immigration. That norm is breaking down. If it is considered acceptable for people to barrel into the country by the thousands, regardless of our immigration policies, then why shouldn’t it be considered acceptable for people to barrel into the houses of Congress, regardless of our laws against such behavior?
To me it is obvious that neither of these actions should be tolerated. The halls of Congress should be closed to people who seek to change congressional action through physical intimidation. And those who encouraged the assault on Congress on Jan. 6, including ex-president Trump, should be condemned for their actions. Likewise, the United States should be closed to people who seek to enter the country and to remain here outside of the established immigration procedures. And those who encourage foreigners to do so and those who remove the barriers to illegal entry should be condemned for their actions, including President Biden.
A president has at least four means of communicating with the public: what he says, what he doesn’t say, what he does, and what he doesn’t do. When a president’s words are at odds with his actions, we can choose whether to recite his words in support or opposition to our position or to recount his actions in support of or in opposition to our position.
On January 6, in his speech to the crowd, Trump said, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” There! He said it: “peacefully”! He did not tell people to storm the Capitol or to take violent actions against anyone. Does that let him off the hook? No. What I fault Trump for is not what he said or what he did, but rather for what he failed to say and refused to do. He did not speak to the rioters while they were attacking the Capitol and tell them to stop it and go home. He did not take action to deploy more security personnel to protect the Capitol buildings and those who worked there. He failed his responsibility to protect the government of the United States.
And, yes, I will make another analogy now, even if it is not precise: President Biden is failing his responsibility to secure the borders and to ensure that all immigration to the U.S. is conducted according to the criteria established by federal law.