East Bay Times Op-Ed: How close we came to losing American democracy

By Congressman Mark DeSaulnier

I had a ringside seat for the insurrection last week. To keep me safe during House business because of my recent health battle, I was in a room right across from the House Floor waiting for votes. It had a wonderful view of the National Mall all the way down to the Washington Monument.

A little after noon, my staff and I began to see the crowd coming towards us. At first it appeared they were simply staging a protest and marching to the Capitol, but by 1 p.m. it was clear this was no normal protest.

As the massive group came into sharper view, we could see they were angry.  It was a violent mob and they were on a mission.

We watched them push through barricades and blow past Capitol Police, who were alarmingly outnumbered. We were told to lock our doors, silence our phones, shut off the lights, and stay away from the door and windows.

Fortunately, the room we were in had a private hallway attached to it that led to a small kitchen area. Once there, we locked all of the doors and sheltered in place. We could hear the protestors breaking into the building. They had gathered in a stairwell on the other side of the wall and we listened as someone tried to open our door.

On the other side of the hallway from us, the terrorists broke into the Speaker’s lobby and a Capitol police officer shot a woman to prevent them from getting to members of Congress. Then Capitol Police officers came to evacuate us to safety.

I wonder, though: Had the mob made it through, would many of us have been seized, injured, killed? It’s scary to think that we were just a few feet away from finding out the answer to that question. I am still processing what happened, dealing with emotions of watching thousands of people break into the Capitol to threaten and desecrate it, and trying to understand how we got here.

Years before the attacks on the Capitol, President Trump struck a powerful chord with millions of people across the country when he entered the political scene. For decades, the gap between the haves and the have-nots had been widening to the point that it’s now worse than it’s been since the Great Depression. America’s top 10% now average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90%. Americans were desperate for a politician who would change that, and then-candidate Trump convinced people he was the right person for that job.

He also came to power in the wake of our nation’s first African American president and as our nation was going through a racial reckoning and a social media revolution. With a sympathizer in the White House, people motivated by racism and white supremacy felt safe and even encouraged. These factors combined to create a cult-like following that believes and spreads the mistruths Trump spews. The lies and deception about the election results tipped the scales and those devout followers were at-the-ready to defend their leader at any cost.

If Congress doesn’t address the issues of economic inequality and racism, I fear we may give another opportunity to a would-be populist tyrant. We can’t let that happen.

I am not naïve about the motives of the president or his followers. Donald Trump is guilty of sedition and his mob tried to overthrow the will of the American people. On Jan. 6, we came very close to losing American democracy.

We can’t let this go. If we do, I believe there is a distinct possibility my children and yours will no longer live in the country our Founders envisioned.

View the opinion editorial.