As a senior Political Science major at Trinity in 1973-74, I had already studied the great political philosophers — Plato and Aristotle, Locke and Rousseau, Hobbes and Hegel and Burke and Mill.  But perhaps the most valuable course I ever took was “Theory of Conflict” during which we seniors, girded with all of our armchair theories about how a poorly managed democracy devolves into anarchy and tyranny, had to confront real and intractable conflict scenarios in trying to establish peaceful, productive forms of self-governance.  This was during the Vietnam war, the counterculture and daily protests on the streets of the nation’s capital (photo opposite of one of the many demonstrations against the war) — we partook of them eagerly and with a sense of adventure, sometimes returning to campus with the faint aroma of tear gas still wafting about us.  2020-2021 is far from the first time the streets of DC hosted sometimes wild and occasionally violent demonstrations — the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were hot crucibles for protest here.

Back on campus, the legendary Dr. Betty Duke forced us to think beyond our young idealistic notions to real problems of self-governance.  In one class, some of us did a roleplay in which we were hostile aggressors who refused to speak in the language of the negotiators, our classmates on the other team who soon grew angry and frustrated with our grunts and howls as we sat on the floor in the middle of the classroom, refusing to use chairs, refusing to engage through any normal modes of communication.  Hockey sticks were involved, and a faux bearskin rug borrowed from the Cuvilly hall dorm room floor of our team leader.

The point of the class and the roleplay stayed with me through many real life situations:  a leader can know all theory in the world, can recite the great philosophers and explain the images on the wall of the cave with eloquence and insight.  But peace and prosperity, indeed, civilization itself begins to degrade and fall apart when the social compact fails, when one of the parties responsible to construct a peaceful and prosperous government becomes, instead, a hostile, menacing force — uncommunicative, refusing to bargain according to conventional norms, threatening to destroy the fragile comity of the group with savagely destructive and erratic actions.

(Sidebar:  little did I know when I wrote on January 4 about my anecdote on the hockey stick-and-bearskin rug gambit in Theory of Conflict Class that someone like this guy would actually be part of the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol on January 6!)

Donald J. Trump, outgoing president of the United States, is like the leader of the team sitting in the middle of the floor grunting and howling, pounding the floor with the hockey stick, wearing the bearskin rug in a buffoonish effort to intimidate those trying to reason with him.  Somehow — because some forms of disruptive thuggishness can be magnetic for weak personalities who find safety in the gang — somehow he has managed to surround himself not only with a few staff people who once knew better, but worse, a number of members of Congress, both House and Senate, who are now sitting with him pounding the floor and howling at the encroaching end of his disgraceful reign of error.  Rational communication seems fruitless at this point; but with 16 days for this Republic to endure until the new president is inaugurated, something must be done to save our badly damaged governance processes and restore some sense of peaceful self-government.

Despite all of the howling and grunting and pounding and illicit phone calls and implied threats and outright damnable immoral-if-not-criminal behaviors of the soon-to-be-former president, the Congress of the United States has the power and must act firmly, decisively and clearly to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election on January 6 and put an end to this embarrassing and dangerous electoral travesty. Joseph R. Biden won the election with more than 80 million votes and 306 electoral votes, and the losing candidate has lost (at last count) 60 lawsuits attempting to throw out the results of the election in various states.  This is not about party, it’s about Democracy.  But even so, some Republicans in the House of Representatives, and some Republican Senators, have said that they will act to obstruct and seek to overturn the election results when Congress meets to certify the Electoral College results on January 6, all at the behest of the loser of the election.

Never before in American history have We the People been so badly served by so many elected officials at the federal level — and so well-served by so many heroes at the state and local level, those who have resisted the intimidation and threats to remain good stewards of our electoral processes.  And thank goodness for the courts who have refused to be pawns in this corrupt effort to betray our nation.

The Congressional renegades will not win in their first objective — to overturn the election results — but their actions are already causing grave damage to the credibility of the electoral process and the incoming administration.  Worse, the outgoing president has inflamed and encouraged extremist groups who are vowing not only to protest on January 6, but also to disrupt the inauguration of President Biden, perhaps violently.

Congress must not let the January 6 certification of electoral votes become a circus; Congressional leaders must control their members and allow any dissent to occur peacefully and respectfully, but also expeditiously.  There is no evidence that supports any of the efforts to overthrow the election — overthrow the government, an idea that we once read about happening in other countries.  This effort to overthrow the government — a coup we might call it if we saw it on the news happening elsewhere — must fail, but it must fail through wise and careful conflict management, not with brute force if at all possible.

(Congratulations to Trinity Alumna Nancy Pelosi ’62, elected to her 4th term as Speaker of the House, and still the ONLY woman in history to hold that position, and one of only 8 speakers in 232 years to serve four terms or more!)

President-elect Biden has done a masterful job staying away from the fray save for some well-chosen remarks calling out the current president on his shameful misconduct.  But Biden will have his hands full when he takes office at 12:01 on January 20 — not only restoring confidence in government despite the undermining of the election results, but also restoring the health of the nation that has suffered so grievously during the coronavirus pandemic.  Since the election on November 3, as the death toll has climbed past 350,000 in this country, the current president has said nothing about the pandemic other than to claim credit for inventing the vaccine.  He had no Christmas or new year’s message to comfort the grieving families, to alleviate the suffering of the more than 20 million sick, to reduce the fear of the nation experiencing not only sickness and death but steep economic losses as well.

President-elect Biden will have urgent and immediate pressures to ensure that the nation does not fracture after January 20, that those who threaten the peace are contained and controlled, and that the forces of white supremacy and racial hatred that are fueling so much of the Trump movement are confronted and vanquished without violence — a tall order given the violence and armaments of the Proud Boys and similar groups.  At the same time, he must ensure that the public health failures of the outgoing administration are cured, that the coronavirus gets contained and that the vaccine gets distributed faster and more effectively than at present.  Domestic peace and health are essential for our nation to thrive once more.

Congress must act to support the new president and not engage in endless rounds of petty obstruction.  The new president will need a cabinet confirmed quickly, and his judicial appointments should be moved along with the same speed that the outgoing president’s appointments received.  Whichever party controls the Senate, the Majority Leader must remember that he works for We the People — ALL of us, not just those on one side or the other.

In Political Science class I learned to prefer the more humane and liberal views of John Locke to the churlish and dark cautions of Thomas Hobbes, setting aside grunting and floor-pounding in favor of learned debate and earnest argumentation.   But the last year has felt extremely Hobbesian as a modern Leviathan gave meaning to the idea of life as “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” 

Our current challenge is to restore a form of leadership and governance to this nation that truly reflects the best ideals of a democratic republic — a form of self-governance in which We the People make the rules for ourselves through the election of representatives who interpret the will of The People as they strive to make laws for the common good.  We need elected officials who will act urgently and directly to reduce the reliance on party identity as their main work — the “factionalism” that our Founders warned about in the Federalist — and increase focus on what works for the good of the community at-large.  Rejecting narrow party lines in favor of governing and legislating for the common good requires a great deal of political courage and equal measures of well-shaped intellects formed in sound education including constant reading in history, philosophy and current affairs.  The Trump era has not only worn down the idea of the common good and the art of compromise in legislation, but even worse, it completely set aside the idea of a well-formed intellect as an essential tool for governance.

The repair to our government, indeed, our way of life, will take years, as will the rehabilitation of our standing in the eyes of the world.  So there’s no time to lose.  Congress must begin the repairs on January 6 posthaste — and move forward with alacrity and conviction that the American experiment is still alive and vital, still the best hope for the long-term peace and prosperity of the inhabitants of our small global village.

Many others are calling for Congress to act, including The Business Roundtable as well as more than 200 prominent business leaders and more than 2000 religious leaders.