Curren: Local Government Must Do Its Part to Protect the American Republic
By Erik Curren
[Remarks made at the Staunton City Council meeting on January 14, 2021]
Good evening, Madam Mayor and members of City Council.
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” So said founding father John Adams.
Can we prove him wrong?
Many Americans take our democratic republic for granted. But history shows that democracy is fragile. The default condition of humankind is actually autocracy, traced across thousands of years of rule by kings, emperors, popes, caliphs, shoguns, maharajas, and generalissimos.
Each of you has taken an oath to the Constitution of the United States, which carries a grave responsibility to protect our democracy.
Democracies depend on valid elections. So I ask you to consider the case of two unusual elections, each held during the pandemic, and each with many mail-in ballots.
First, our local election in May 2020. Three candidates, including me, lost our bid for reelection to Staunton City Council. None of us liked the result.
Yet, though vote totals were close in at least one race, none of us asked for a recount, as allowed by state law. And certainly, none of us started a public campaign to discredit the election and overturn the results. None of us gave speeches urging followers to storm City Hall.
Instead, we accepted the will of the voters. At the time, I wished you all well. And since I remain committed to Staunton’s prosperity, I continue to hope for your success.
Contrast that with the presidential election held in the fall.
For months in advance, Donald Trump said that if he lost, the election would be invalid. When he did lose to Joe Biden in November, Trump started a cynical propaganda campaign with the Trumpian name “Stop the Steal” to overturn the election results and keep himself in office for four more years.
Many leaders of his party, including our own member of Congress, supported Trump’s baseless accusations of election fraud. This dangerous game led to the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, including known members of domestic terrorist groups, attempting a coup on January 6.
“Stop the Steal” was always a lie. There was no steal to stop. State election officials and courts across the country affirmed that Biden’s win was free and fair. Trump’s own election commissioners said that “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.”
At first, “Stop the Steal” seemed like harmless politicking, merely a way to rile up Trump’s base and boost party fundraising.
But then came last Wednesday, January 6, 2021, a date that will live in infamy.
A Capitol police officer and others killed. A gallows erected by a mob demanding to hang Vice President Mike Pence. Just think about that — they wanted to hang the vice president. Attackers with plastic handcuffs trying to kidnap or kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. The People’s House defiled – broken windows, furniture hauled off, Nazi regalia and a Confederate flag flaunted in the sacred temple of the American republic.
This despicable attack has struck fear into the hearts of Americans from coast to coast. In Staunton, the danger of more violence on Inauguration Day next week in Washington, in capitals of all 50 states, and even locally, is the top issue on our citizens’ minds right now, whether they voted Democratic, Republican, or independent.
We want reassurance from our local elected officials. I don’t know if any of you participated in Trump’s rally in Washington last week. Nor if any of you spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally held at Staunton Mall last fall. I hope not. The actions of elected officials set a powerful example for our citizens.
Fortunately, America is a country of second chances. And there’s still time to get on the right side of history. I call on Staunton City Council to issue a statement to reassure our citizens that you stand against violent insurrection incited by a would-be modern-day dictator and that you stand for America’s 244-year-old democracy:
First, affirm that the November election was free, fair, and secure and that Joe Biden was rightfully elected as the next president of the United States.
Second, denounce the attack on the U.S. Capitol of January 6 and call for Donald J. Trump to be held accountable for inciting violent insurrection.
Third, commit to protect Staunton citizens in the future from unlawful activity of violent domestic terrorist groups in our area.
As Abraham Lincoln said, “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the Courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who would pervert the Constitution.”
For eight years, Erik Curren served as an elected member of city council in Staunton, VA. He is the author of three books, most recently “The Solar Patriot: A Citizen’s Guide to Helping America Win Clean Energy Independence.” Learn more at erikcurren.com.