Editor’s note: This commentary is by Kevin Ellis, a partner in Ellis Mills, a communications consulting firm in Montpelier. He is a member of the board of the Vermont Journalism Trust, the parent organization of VTDigger.
In 1865, Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met in the parlor of a Virginia house to agree on terms of surrender that ended the Civil War.
Grant’s Union Army had Lee’s Confederates surrounded. And Lee, a Southerner, rebel, and pro-slavery general, recognized the inevitable. He had lost, and he knew it.
After some 750,000 deaths, Lee had a choice. He could continue to fight a guerilla action and extend the war. Or he could admit defeat. He was beaten fair and square. He conceded.
For his part, Grant famously allowed the beaten insurrectionist soldiers to keep a sidearm and a horse and return to their homes on boats and trains at federal expense. He also fed Lee’s army, which was starving.
“I am bound to be satisfied with anything you offer,” Lee told Grant. “It is more than I expected.”
Such graciousness on Grant’s part and Lee’s acceptance of defeat instead of fighting on have been examples to Americans for 150 years, teaching us the basic lesson of winning and losing.
Of all the traditions and practices lost during the criminal reign of Donald Trump and his enablers, the ability to admit defeat is one of the saddest and most dangerous.
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And that refusal — to admit you lost fair and square — is where we are today. The examples are everywhere. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who knows better from his days at Yale Law School and clerking at the Supreme Court, can’t accept the win of Joe Biden. Neither can Texas Sen.Ted Cruz. Neither can more than 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives.
And nor can 51 of my fellow Vermonters, who blithely traveled to D.C. by bus last week for the Trump rally to support a man who hates them and belittles them behind their backs. One of them even wrote at length about their trip recently, a kind of happy travelogue, like a high school field trip.
Essex Republican Party Chair Ron Lawrence explained that the riders traveled to D.C. to support their president. He said none of them joined the storming of the U.S. Capitol or took part in the murder of a Capitol police officer or the hunt for Vice President Mike Pence or Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They sang songs and prayed. Masks were optional.
In remarks to reporters, Lawrence called the event “wonderful,” “respectful,” and “cordial,” and added that they believe in law and order. In an incredible bit of tragic irony, Lawrence said that the Vermonters grew tired while walking to the Trump speech on the National Mall, where he called for them to march to the Capitol. So they sat and rested on benches at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
So nice of the former slaves honored by that museum to once again pull up a chair for the folks whose ancestors stole them from their homes and forced them to build the American South and killed hundreds of thousands in their quest to preserve white superiority. The irony.
Lawrence then explained that they grew concerned about catching the bus home to Vermont, so they skipped the storming of the Capitol to get to the train station.
Apparently, Lawrence and his ilk still believe Trump won the election, that Biden stole it, and they will continue working to overturn the election that has now been certified by the states, the courts, and the Congress of the United States.
That “cordial” gathering that Lawrence is so proud of killed five people, including a police officer, a former Air Force officer doped up on internet conspiracy theories, and three others. Confederate flags paraded through the Capitol. Capitol police officers were beaten. So much for law and order.
And now we learn that these terrorists were heavily armed and ready to take Pelosi hostage.
On video, they called Pelosi a bitch and traitor.
“Tell Pelosi we’re coming for that bitch. Tell f***ing Pelosi we’re coming for her.”
At least the Confederate soldiers had the guts to fight to the end. Not like these J.V. imposters who headed back to their hotels, leaving Capitol staff, mostly people of color, to clean up their mess. Just like the good ole days.
And now we are being asked to compare the coup attempt to the window-smashing by protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the police shot Jacob Blake in the back. So property destruction after white cops shooting black people is the same as the storming of the Capitol at the command of a deranged president.
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My son asked me this week what I thought would happen next. I’m optimistic, I told him, that Biden could be Grant and extend a hand of reconciliation to the other side. But the extended hand needs to be grabbed by a partner in peace who acknowledges defeat. We don’t have that now. The Republicans have no Gen. Lee. They only have Trump and Fox News, who will keep grifting them of money and filling their heads with conspiracy junk.
Trump will start a TV network and fan the flames. The danger will increase. And someone in Congress will get killed. And then we will start the vicious cycle all over again. Sadly, this is the beginning, not the end.
My governor in Vermont, Phil Scott, called for Trump to resign or be removed immediately. Scott is a man of real integrity. But is he really the most courageous Republican in the land?
Ron Lawrence said of his fellow protesters: “You could not ask to be part of a more respectful and caring group of people — who may at times talk tough about what needs to be done, but who also willingly thank the police for their service and are happy to see them there.”
Tell that to the family of Officer Brian Sicknick, who died because of the lies Trump tells and that you believe.
Tell that to the young staffers working for Speaker Pelosi and others who hid under tables behind locked doors while rioters/terrorists tried to steal the ballots and take hostage or kill senior members of the U.S. Congress.
As a young reporter in the 1980s, I spent many days in the Capitol. In those days, you could walk right up to a member of Congress and ask questions. It was great. No security. The best part was getting lost in the Capitol, riding elevators without permission.
Few imagined what happened last Wednesday, with heavily armed rioters storming the building, hunting for politicians, and trying to steal the legally approved ballots from the Electoral College.
Don’t blame Donald Trump for this. He is just a symptom of a larger and deeper sickness in our society. Blame Ron Lawrence and his 50 friends who believe these lies about their government.
One more thing — Lawrence said masks were optional on the bus trip. Guess they were super-spreaders in addition to insurrectionists.