Around the Institute

Statement on last week’s attack against democracy

January 12, 2021  • Daniel R. Porterfield

All across America and, indeed, around the world, people are expressing outrage, worry, uncertainty, resolve, and so much more after having witnessed last Wednesday’s deadly insurrection against Congress’s exercise of its Constitutional role in certifying the results of the 2020 election. The January 6th assault on the Capitol was an attack against our democracy and those who participated must be held accountable.

Clearly, we need a significant federal investigation of the insurrection, including the obvious differences in police response compared to this summer’s protests over racial injustice. Many painful facts have come to light over the past few days: President Trump, along with others, incited the mob that attacked the Capitol and gained access to the building through deadly force. Five people lost their lives, including the Capitol Police officer killed in the line of duty, Brian Sicknick. The mob contained white supremacists brandishing the Confederate battle flag, Nazi iconography, and other symbols of hate. Many of the marauders in the Capitol defaced images of American democracy, attacked police officers, and threatened physical harm to members of our government, including the Vice President of the United States and Speaker of the House. Upon learning of the unfolding mayhem, President Trump did little to stop it, while praising the rioters in a recorded message in which he said, “We love you. You’re very special.”

Given these facts, an important question being asked—which Congress is pursuing—is whether it is in the best interest of the United States for Donald Trump to continue serving as president through the January 20th inauguration. Clearly, we need to ensure order, the rule of law, and the peaceful transfer of power. We also must protect our country from malevolent actors, both foreign and domestic, and attend to the reality that a number of government officials have resigned or may resign in protest of the President’s actions. I hope and pray that the decision-makers involved are taking these incredibly important needs into account during this unprecedented moment of instability.

No doubt, the weeks after the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris will bring continued national questioning, dialogue, and debate. Given the unique role of the Aspen Institute, there is a great deal of good that we can do, especially as the new administration takes over and we begin the work of national rebuilding which requires addressing so many urgent matters at once. This effort will require a collective effort and partnerships across government, civil society, the private sector, and individuals.

The Aspen Institute, as a nonpartisan organization, will have distinct and powerful roles to play as the nation moves forward. We have an impressive constellation of impactful programs and networks working in many communities with myriad innovative methods and theories of change. We are uniquely able to bring people together across the divides of difference for difficult conversations. What we do matters so much for the world we live in today and the determination, creativity, and contributions of all of us will be crucial in the months and years ahead.

Daniel R. Porterfield
President and CEO