Few have been as explicit as Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, who earlier Wednesday suggested, “Let’s have trial by combat!” But even as extremists boiled up around the Capitol, lapping against the security barriers, Republicans in the House and the Senate were chipping away at democracy from the inside.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, invoked the 1877 commission that resolved the disputed presidential election of 1876 as a model for what he described as addressing reasonable doubts about the 2020 election. There is no factual basis for such doubts about the 2020 vote, but Mr. Cruz’s choice of analogy is historically resonant. In the 1876 election, white Democrats used widespread political violence to prevent Black people from voting and then demanded the end of Reconstruction as the price of the survival of a compromised Republic — ushering in an era of racial terror and cementing the exclusion of Southern Blacks from participatory democracy.
The modern Republican Party, in its systematic efforts to suppress voting, and its refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of elections that it loses, is similarly seeking to maintain its political power on the basis of disenfranchisement. Wednesday’s insurrection is evidence of an alarming willingness to pursue that goal with violence.
It is clear that some Republican leaders are starting to fear the consequences of enabling Mr. Trump. Before the attack started, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, decried efforts by his fellow Republicans to overturn the results of the election. But his eloquence was the very definition of a gesture both too little and too late. They who sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.
Other politicians have had firmer convictions. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney tweeted, “What happened at the U.S. Capitol today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”
The Constitution requires Congress to count and announce the results of a presidential election on Jan. 6 of the following year. While the mob was able to put that process on hold, it will not be able to prevent it, or Mr. Biden’s inauguration in two weeks.
But the attack is a reminder of the fragility of self-government.
Jan. 6, 2021, will go down as a dark day. The question is whether, even as Mr. Trump’s time in office ends, America is at the beginning of a descent into an even darker and more divided epoch or the end of one. The danger is real, but the answer is not foreordained. Republican politicians have the power, and the responsibility, to chart a different course by ending their rhetorical assaults on American democracy and rising in defense of the nation they swore oaths to serve.