The vice president of the United States came before Congress to report the results of the election he lost.
It was the 6th of January 1981. One day after Walter Mondale's birthday. Two months after the Carter-Mondale ticket lost in a landslide to Reagan-Bush.
"George Bush of the state of Texas has received for vice president of the United States, 489 votes," Mondale said, fulfilling his constitutional duty to relay the Electoral College results to a joint session of Congress.
With a wry smile, he finished the tally of the vice presidential race: "Walter F. Mondale of the state of Minnesota has received 49 votes."
As the entire chamber rose to its feet for an ovation at this display of extraordinary grace and common decency, the microphone caught a sarcastic exchange between Mondale and House Speaker Tip O'Neill.
"A landslide," Mondale joked. "I did it."
"Very impressive," O'Neill agreed, deadpan.
This is who we are, you might be tempted to tell yourself.
A nation of laws. A nation where power flows peacefully from one administration to the next. A nation that tells other nations that they're doing democracy wrong.
But on the 6th of January 2021, a violent mob smashed its way into Congress, killed a police officer, smeared the walls with feces, then snapped sedition selfies as they worked to overturn an election and keep Donald Trump in a job he lost.
Trump invited the mob to Washington, amped the crowd up with lies, then pointed them down Pennsylvania Avenue with instructions to "take back our country."
"We love you. You're very special," the president of the United States praised his mob afterward, as shaken lawmakers emerged from barricaded offices to find a Capitol littered with garbage, blood, tear gas residue and "Murder the media" graffiti. Outside, nooses dangled from trees and makeshift scaffolds.
You can't say this is not who we are. This is exactly who some of us are and always have been.
At the Storm the Capitol rally in St. Paul on Jan. 6, people cheered as Congress fell.
"Now you know why Trump wanted us there," rally organizer Alley Waterbury told an armed and jubilant crowd that included white supremacists, anti-government extremists and several state lawmakers. "We're gonna fight. There's going to be casualties."
The Storm the Capitol rally in St. Paul ended up storming nothing, although organizers plan to return for another rally at the Legislature on Saturday, followed by a "driving tour" of the homes of judges and others who upheld the validity of the valid 2020 election.
You can't say this is not who were are. Not when two members of the Minnesota congressional delegation sided with the people who'd just stormed the halls of American democracy waving Confederate flags and Trump banners.
Terrorists had attacked the federal government and planted pipe bombs around town. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick lay dying after a confrontation with rioters. Still, U.S. Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Michelle Fischbach, and more than 100 other lawmakers, kept their traumatized colleagues, staffers and law enforcement in the building until 4 a.m., hoping to invalidate the votes of millions of Americans and validate the feelings of the mob.
"This is not who we are" is a comforting fiction. But fiction is what got us here.
The events of Jan. 6 were being twisted into something more comfortable before Capitol Hill custodians could scrub the blood off the marble bust of Zachary Taylor. It was antifa, people started to insist, not MAGA. Somewhere between the Trump rally and the steps of the Capitol, they said, George Soros pulled up with a busload of paid actors in red ball caps.
It's stupid, but people have believed stupider things in the past four years: Mexico is going to pay for the wall. Donald Trump is battling a sinister cabal of deep-state Satanists who drink the blood of children.
We aren't better than this. But we could be, if we can face the truth of who we are and what we've done.
On Jan. 6, 2021, as the vice president of the United States came to Congress to report the results of the election he lost, the president incited a violent coup.
That's where we are.
We're Trump Country.
And we're Mondale Country.
"We obeyed the law," Walter Mondale once said. "We told the truth. We kept the peace."
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