By Sen. Ben Cardin
Hate and fear were rampant in our nation’s capital on Wednesday, Jan. 6.
The day started with a rally on the Ellipse near the White House, attended by the disaffected and fearful who believed the lies that have been spewed by Donald Trump. Deeply integrated into that crowd were individuals armed and ready for a rebellion. So when Rudy Giuliani told the crowd, “Let’s have trial by combat,” and Donald Trump rallied the crowd, “If you don’t fight … you’re not going to have a country anymore,” followed by, “We’re going to the Capitol,” the crowd more than willingly complied.
For years, we have watched the machinations of an American despot open up the public doors to bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and misogyny. Donald Trump’s wretched reaction to the deadly Charlottesville protests, during which shouts of “Jews will not replace us” were seamlessly interwoven with racist language, was fair warning of more violence to come. No, Donald Trump did not invent these ills, but he did create — expand — a safe, public space for the haters to hate, emboldened and without fear of retribution.
This is partly why the Anti-Defamation League reports that an incredible 37% of Jews in America have been the victim of anti-Semitic attacks in the last five years. Takoma Park, Towson, Baltimore and Frederick, Silver Spring and Annapolis all saw anti-Semitic incidents in 2020 alone.
Anti-Semitism was on flagrant display among the Trump supporters and insurrectionists who invaded our Capitol last Wednesday. Who has not seen the pictures of the “Camp Auschwitz” shirts? It is bad enough that we have current members of the House of Representatives praising Hitler’s indoctrination of German youth. In my lifetime of public service and elected office, I never imagined that a sitting U.S. president would value the support of such hate and exploit it to incite violence against our own country.
The day was as intense as it gets for me personally and for our country. When Vice President Mike Pence was whisked off the Senate floor, we all knew something was going wrong, but we had no idea the scale. We were locked down in the Senate until suddenly we were headed through the tunnels under the Capitol to a safer location to wait out whatever was happening. Once we were settled in our undisclosed but safe location, televisions were brought in so senators could see what was happening outside — and now inside — the temple of American democracy.
It was decided early in our lockdown that the Congress would finish its official business at whatever time we could do so safely. These domestic terrorists would not derail the American republic in action. Democracy is fragile but on this day it would be resilient. Public leaders have a responsibility to lead, and at this time when hate was manifested in the form of a violent mob, we would stand firm.
In the days since this tragedy, I have seen many comparisons to Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass. It is my fervent hope that this comparison proves unworthy. In November 1938, authorities stood by as members of Jewish communities were viciously attacked. While certainly there is a strong case to be made for the complicity of leaders like Donald Trump who encouraged the violence to manifest, Kristallnacht was the beginning of the darkness. This modern-day insurrection must be the end for the anti-Semitism and bigotry that has infiltrated so much of our society for far too long.
America is not perfect, but we can no longer be a haven for hate and violence. Every person in this country, leaders especially, must be held accountable through their deeds and their words. We are going to need to learn how to listen to each other once again, or for the very first time. Together, we must confront the divisiveness that led us to this volatile point in history and resolve to find a peaceful way forward that upholds our values without tearing others down based on their faith, race or family origin.
As George Washington wrote in 1790 to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, the “government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance … everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
The future of our great nation demands that we root out the causes of anti-Semitism, racism and all-too-casual hate and lawlessness that was on display at the Capitol last week. It will not be easy, but the prize is a nation that we can all be proud of, one that celebrates our common American experience and recognizes our incredible diversity as a strength.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly.