by: Bill Crane
On my first trips to Latin America nearing 15 years ago, I always made a point of visiting capital cities and whenever possible, their seat of government and occasionally the residence of their President or Prime Minister. I was often saddened on these tours, to see many of those government buildings, and almost always the President’s residence surrounded by high walls, tall iron fencing, and typically concertina razor wire on top. It saddened me that these republics were faced with such internal threats and fears to their comparatively fragile democracies.
And now, just days ahead of what is our traditional and well-established peaceful transition of power in Washington, D.C., our Capitol building is now surrounded by high fencing topped by concertina wire and more than 20,000 National Guard troops. From footage broadcast of pending Inaugural preparations, with the great Mall closed and visitors asked NOT to attend or participate, you might think we too have transitioned into a police state.
I went to Washington for 2001 and 2005 Inaugurations of President George W. Bush. I combined business travel with covering the two Inaugural celebrations…from the traditional transition breakfast at the White House, through the parades, swearing-in, and the evening balls. The 2000 contest, much like 2020 was close and hard-fought, ending in a tense, over-time recount in the state of Florida. Then Texas Governor George Bush appeared to have handily won his brother’s home state (Jeb Bush was then Florida’s Governor)…but as Election Night wore on…the contest there grew close. A concession was earlier given by then Vice-President Al Gore, and then withdrawn.
And for 36 days the eyes of the nation were riveted on recounts and related events across three Florida counties and reviewed by the Supreme Court of Florida in Tallahassee. And though tensions were high among Bush and Gore supporters, I don’t remember hearing of any pressure applied, brother to brother or by the Bush campaign, to sway the outcome or to challenge the integrity of elected officials in Tallahassee, Broward, Palm Beach, or Dade counties. While the Florida Supremes would continue the recounts, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually intervened with a one-vote majority decision, awarding the state of Florida and its electoral votes to George Bush, who would go on to win the Electoral College over Gore by five votes. Bush’s victory in Florida was by only 536 votes, Gore won the popular vote contest nationwide by more than half a million.
As Vice-President, Gore would preside over the Congressional certification of the victory of his opponent, George Bush. On that brisk January 20th morning in 2001, the air was quite chilly at the Clinton White House, as the Bush family arrived for the handoff. Later on the Inaugural Stage at the Capitol, Vice-President Gore sat stone-faced only a few yards from the incoming President and watched his swearing-in.
No riots, no arm twisting, no martyrs cry of a stolen election…no assaults on the integrity of multiple state Governors and elections officials… What was different here? Two adults were in that contest, as well as on that Inaugural stage. Many Democrats said that Bush was an illegitimate President and that he would never be fully accepted as having won the office outright.
And then, something truly horrific did happen, early in year one of the first Bush Administration, the attacks of 9/11 would cripple our economy and paralyze much of the nation in fear, killing thousands in New York and Washington, D.C. And thanks to the heroic efforts of United Airlines flight 93, our nation’s Capitol building and White House were spared attack and further destruction. In the months that followed our nation would pull together, preparing for potentially more attacks from external enemies.
Hopefully, it won’t take another 9/11 or outside threat to heal the wounds we have created and allowed to fester internally. As to the more recent Capitol assault, multiple investigations remain underway, and if Trump and his administration or campaign team are found to be directly involved in the organization or orchestration of the rally and riots of January 6th, there will be plenty of opportunity for later criminal prosecution. Perhaps Trump’s best path out of Washington would have been to resign in his final days, with a pre-arranged pardon by his long, loyal Vice-President, Mike Pence. But it’s hard to count on that on that Veep coming through, once he learned that fans of the boss spent their day at the Capitol carrying around a noose with his name on it.