Of course, this is true. Donald Trump has left the White House. The violence that rocked Capitol Hill on January 6 was not repeated.
But just because the constitutional system worked doesn’t mean it was inevitable that this would happen. It didn’t work so much as it survived. Indeed, what was extraordinary about the past few weeks was just how frail our constitutional system can be in an era of intense polarization and when one party has been radicalized. When a President and his party are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve and retain power, it’s possible that the system we cherish won’t function. Had Republicans controlled the House of Representatives or had the election been closer, it isn’t hard to imagine how the effort to overturn the results might have been successful.
Under tremendous stress, the system depended on individuals and organizations who took steps to rein in the chaos. There were of course the millions of voters and activists who mobilized over the years to make certain that Democrats and independents leaning their way turned out and enjoyed a sizable popular vote victory in 2020.
The system also wouldn’t have worked had it not been for the judges ruling on challenges to voting in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania who rebuffed the administration’s campaign to discredit legitimate votes based on false claims of voter fraud. The judges spanned those appointed by Democratic presidents to others appointed by Trump himself, none of whom were willing to move forward with his claims. Had any of them done so, the dominos could have fallen very quickly in a different direction.
These are perilous times, and we shouldn’t try to move forward in order to magically heal. The problems exposed in our system are real. We can’t always depend on people doing the right thing. That means we need our new leaders to spend time investigating what happened to make sure that stronger checks and balances are put into place to prevent any unhinged presidents from doing what Donald Trump did in future lame-duck periods. Otherwise, the outcome might be very different the next time around.
This piece has been updated to note the role of Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who was honored at the Inauguration.