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Niemi: Capitol rush an attack on democracy

I’ve never been more ashamed to be an American citizen than Wednesday.

Seeing the images of President Donald Trump supporters breach the U.S. Capitol, interrupting the democratic process as Congress was in session, immediately made me think of the service members who have fought and died for our country while protecting our constitution.

I wonder what those fallen soldiers would say about an improvised explosive device being found in the Capitol building after it was breached for the first time since the British did it in 1814.

Germany was a democratic nation before being overtaken by nationalists and becoming a fascist government under Hitler. I wonder what fallen World War II soldiers would say about Wednesday’s coup d’etat attempt by Americans to disrupt our democratic processes.

Wednesday was the first time in American history a Confederate flag flew in the Capitol when a protestor carried one in the rotunda. I wonder what fallen Union soldiers would say about that.

Wednesday’s actions at the Capitol were a desecration of those sacrifices service members have made in blood while defending our democracy, which is empowered and ensured by our constitution.

Was Wednesday the kind of “patriotism” Pat Tillman fought to protect?

Before I continue, I’m sure some responses to this column will be along the lines of “stick to sports.”

Sports is a microcosm of society. This oft-used demand to “stick to sports” embodies an attitude that athletes and sports journalists should just keep their heads in the sand and ignore their civic duties as citizens and voters to be involved and informed about political events. More than covering sports or being a journalist, I’m a taxpayer and a voter.

When service members take the oath to protect the constitution against all enemies “foreign and domestic,” it probably didn’t occur to anyone that the first people to breach the Capitol since 1814 wouldn’t be by a rival nation, but loyal supporters of a sitting U.S. president.

Those who support and condone what happened at the Capitol have no integrity or respect for our constitution. It was an act of sedition, but moreover, it was anti-democratic. It spit in the face of every service member who has protected the constitution and every voter — regardless of political affiliation — empowered by it. What happened Wednesday does not benefit voters or our democratic process.

Wednesday’s despicable actions transcended partisanship and political discourse. Those actions represent our greatest threat to democracy since the British burned Washington during the War of 1812.

The tide of Wednesday’s actions in Washington, just days after Trump was recorded on a phone call asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” more votes and overturn his loss in the state in the Nov. 3 election, will reverberate for generations.

I can only hope we never have another 9/11, but I would give anything for another 9/12. Americans united as strongly and closely as anything seen since World War II.

How did that national feeling erode into the anti-democratic display we just witnessed in Washington?

Make no mistake: there has always been political differences. The constitution was structured to incorporate the freedom of opinion. The balance of power itself is a mechanism for the government to operate despite differing opinions and motivations. So why is it that we now constantly prioritize conflict over compromise?

The days immediately following 9/11 showed that we can, if we simply choose, be a united country. Today we’re not united, because at some point we chose not to be.

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic was made into a hot-button political topic, people immediately divided over it along political lines. Factual discussions about the virus and the way pandemics evolve has taken a backseat to anger and contempt about political rivalries.

Our eagerness to force perspectives within the framework of our political beliefs will be our downfall.

The breach of the Capitol building is a stark example of that.

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