Ideas
February 9, 2021 6:00 AM EST

Duckworth is a Senator for the state of Illinois, an Iraq War veteran and former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

In 2004, I packed up my rucksack, laced up my boots and deployed to Iraq—ready to sacrifice whatever was asked of me. Ready to hear the “tap, tap, tap” of gunfire against my Black Hawk. Ready to lose my life, if necessary, all because I loved this nation and believed in the sanctity of our electoral system, which had declared George W. Bush my Commander-in-Chief.

I lost my legs proudly fighting in a war I didn’t support, on the orders of a President I didn’t vote for, because I believed in the values our nation was founded on—including the belief that American voters choose who leads them, not the other way around.

When my Army buddies and I raised our right hands and vowed to defend the Constitution, we didn’t qualify our oaths by saying we’d follow orders only when our Commander-in-Chief was someone whose election we were happy with. Just like when every one of us Senators was sworn into office, we didn’t mutter under our breaths that we’d discharge our duties only when it served our political interests or to avoid the wrath of a petty man on the precipice of losing power and relevance.

Unfortunately, last month, several of my colleagues seemed to abandon their oaths, deciding that appeasing Donald Trump was more important than protecting the most basic tenet of our republic: free and fair elections. Rather than following the blessedly well-worn path of peaceful transfer of power that has defined our democracy for centuries, they chose instead to rip at the seams of the Constitution, eroding the foundation of the Union that our nation’s founders so carefully built, brick by brick, word by word.

We all know what happened next. Trump seized on the fractures in Congress. He lavished praise on a mob hell-bent on violence. He gave them orders to “fight like hell,” kindling their anger, weaponizing their fury, then directing them down Pennsylvania Avenue to the steps of the Capitol Building, inciting an insurrection that led to the murder of a Capitol Police Officer and the deaths of four other people.

Parts of the Capitol crumbled as our democracy threatened to crack under the footsteps of those rioters taking part in one of the most un-American acts imaginable. My own office was vandalized—the window shattered, the glass scattered across my desk, strewn across the carpet where my daughters sometimes play as I finish up work after a long day.

But glass can be replaced. Furniture can be fixed. To me, the imagery far more damaging than shattered windows and upturned benches was the sight of mob members hoisting up the American flag—the same flag I wore on my uniform when I went into combat—as they desecrated our capital, fueled by Trump’s insistence that delusional conspiracies carry more weight than the Constitution.

Simply hoisting a flag doesn’t make you patriotic any more than claiming an election has been stolen transforms that lie into reality. True patriotism can’t be measured by how tall someone stands during the national anthem or the number of generations one’s family has called America home. Rather, true patriotism requires cherishing the ideals that define this country at its best—the ideals that have kept our nation breathing, fighting, inching toward a better tomorrow even in our darkest hours.

But Trump has proven that he’ll never understand that. His actions—from his lies about the election to his incitement of this insurrection—stand in stark contrast to what has made our democracy not only great but good for 244 years and counting.

My buddies and I didn’t defend that democracy in war zones thousands of miles away only to watch it crumble in these hallowed halls here at home. It is time that we hold Trump accountable—that we make clear to him that our Republic is stronger than his raised fist. It is time that our calls for justice ring louder from under the Capitol Dome than his mob’s calls for violence did weeks ago. It is time that every Senator puts principle before partisanship by convicting Trump for undermining our Republic, banning him from holding public office ever again and making clear that in this country, the power of the people will always matter more than the people in power.

After all, that’s the notion this nation was born out of. It’s why a ragtag group of patriots threw some tea into Boston Harbor and why Washington crossed the Delaware. It’s why suffragists were arrested a century ago, why John Lewis crossed that bridge in Selma and why millions spent a Tuesday in November braving a pandemic to make their voices heard.

Trump has always had an adversarial relationship with the truth. But in this moment, we have the opportunity to prove that in this country, truth still matters; that right still matters; that the will of the many still matters more than the whim of an individual.

Look, I have no tea to throw into any harbor today. I have no rucksack to pack. No Black Hawk to pilot. Nor I am asking for any grand gesture from my Senate colleagues.

What I’m asking instead is for them to reflect on the oaths they’ve sworn. What I want is for them to remember the sacrifices made by those who’ve given so much to this nation—from the waterlogged troops who stormed Normandy’s pebbled beaches to the marchers and martyrs who bent America’s moral arc a little more toward justice with every step they took, every bridge they crossed.

Then, I’m hoping my colleagues will look in the mirror and truly consider whether the democracy those patriots bled for is worth further fracturing in order to protect the porcelain ego of a man who spent his time in power treating the Constitution as if it were little more than a yellowing piece of paper.

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