The Not-So-Peaceful Transfer of Power
When I stepped out of the house on the afternoon of January 6 to pick up my kids from their neighborhood pandemic learning pod in Washington, D.C., it was very quiet. A planned playdate with their podmates—a rare luxury in COVID times—had been canceled in anticipation of the citywide curfew just announced by the mayor. Perhaps because my block was so devoid of its usual bustle, I could hear yelling in the distance. Not normal city noise; a kind of sustained, angry ranting.
I was too far from the U.S. Capitol to hear the conflict there, as supporters of President Donald Trump smashed their way into the building and forced an evacuation. Though I’d been doomscrolling all afternoon, I didn’t know that at that moment a rioter was being shot by a Capitol Police officer. I didn’t know that at least four others would eventually die as a result of the melee.
But looking south, I could see a trickle of people with placards coming up my street. Tired protesters are not a terribly unusual sight in D.C. of late, where there has been plenty to protest. But these folks appeared to be hustling away from something at a sharp clip. Somewhere in the distance, the yelling continued. It seemed to be getting closer.
I picked up my kids and walked them home. They ate yogurt and apples and chattered about Minecraft. I wasn’t in danger. My city wasn’t consumed with violence. The federal government continued to function. But I wouldn’t call D.C. on the day Congress was set to certify the electoral votes, marking a milestone in the transition of power, exactly peaceful, either.
What does it mean to execute a peaceful transfer of power? I’m not alone in having brandished that phrase as something of a talisman in the past. America is a young country, relatively speaking, and chaotic at times. But one thing you can say for us is that our record of peaceful transitions of power is really quite impressive. It’s one of our best attributes as a nation, and predictably pulling off such handoffs is central
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