Head of School Tad Roach gave these remarks to the community following the events in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021.
I appreciate the community gathering together tonight, for this kind of gathering is very much a part of the soul and spirit of this school: coming together to reflect on moments of difficulty, conflict, chaos, and tragedy in our nation.
As you probably know, today as the House of Representatives and the Senate met to certify the election of President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris, an angry and aggressive mob, galvanized and encouraged by President Trump, gathered in front of the Capitol and then stormed the building, disrupting this ceremony of democratic succession that lies at the foundation of our democracy.
After a prolonged period of violence, destruction of property, trespassing, and chaos (including periods of repeated requests for the President to pull his supporters back), a combination of the National Guard, DC Police, and agents of the FBI restored order. During the evening news, NBC reported one death that occurred during the rampage. In addition to the chaos and destruction everywhere, members of the news media were subjected to harassment, insults, and threats—again a direct response to the President’s words earlier in the day, blaming the media for what he called a rigged and fraudulent election.
What we witnessed today in our nation’s capital and in one of the very buildings that symbolizes the enduring strength and majesty of our democracy will remain as one of the most devastating and destructive days in our nation’s history. We saw a member of the mob carrying a Confederate flag through the Capitol; we saw a man wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "Camp Auschwitz" on the front. We saw members of the mob break windows, invade and ransack Congressional offices, and occupy the Senate and House Chambers.
These acts and slogans have built up steadily over the past few years as our leaders have encouraged and refused to confront the existential danger of extremist and white supremacy movements in the country. We remember Charlottesville; we remember Pittsburgh; we remember Charleston; we remember the debate this fall and the President’s refusal to denounce white supremacy groups. He asked them “to stand back and stand by”; today many appeared upon his invitation, responded, and acted on his call.
But ultimately, the events of January 6, 2021 will serve, I believe, as the beginning of the rebirth and reassertion of democratic values, integrity, and virtues in this divided nation. We will recover, we will awaken, we will strengthen the very foundation of our democracy attacked so outrageously today.
Something changed today, a recognition among citizens that democracy cannot survive without the careful stewardship, respect, and collaboration of both political parties. It is terrible that it took this day for many to see, recognize or admit the disease, the virus, the poison coursing through our national character, but our day of democratic epiphany has arrived. Many have warned us that this day of disintegration and chaos had already arrived and would ultimately worsen. Others stayed silent, hoping that this move towards violence would go away by itself. Others today find themselves complicit in sacrificing their values either out of fear, intimidation, or hopes of future advancement.
President-Elect Biden declared our democracy is under assault unlike anything we’ve ever seen in modern times. Senator Mitt Romney remarked: “What happened today was an insurrection incited by the President of the United States.”
One of my heroines, Sherrilyn Ifill, leader of The Legal Defense Fund, wrote the following as she reacted to the sight of the Confederate flag at the Capitol: “This photo was one that made me sit quiet for a moment tonight.” Senator Corey Booker declared: “We must rise from this nadir of shame. We must repair our democracy. We must heal our nation.”
You see, it is the sacred responsibility of leadership to strengthen, inspire, protect, and honor the mission and abiding spirit of the institutions they serve. It is the responsibility of leadership to leave an institution stronger than when they arrived, and ready to soar to new heights in the next administration. In American democracy, the most sacred tradition, performed admirably in every instance up to now, is for a sitting President to accept defeat and welcome their successor.
In addition, it is the responsibility of leadership to develop the trust, love, admiration, and commitment of their followers not to protect the leader’s ego, interests, or priorities, but to serve the institution or nation they all represent.
A leader can inspire courage, sacrifice, collaboration, and resilience by appealing to the mission of the institution or the democracy or in contrast, a leader can use power to manipulate people, anger them, arouse them, embolden them, and convince them that the best way to rescue the foundation of the state is to destroy the foundation of the state. Any leader can succeed in creating hatred, intolerance, violence, and chaos. History is replete with portraits of leaders who play to the very worst aspects of humanity.
Great leaders, in contrast, seek peace, reconciliation, mercy, understanding. They expand civil rights, equality, dignity, compassion, and love. They see their work as serving a powerful national and public good. They understand how to support and recognize and honor powerful and transformational social reform—the expansion and cultivation of human rights. They understand the vital importance of condemning, opposing, and eliminating the scourge of domestic terrorism and racism.
The events of today are particularly appalling in the context of what we all witnessed last summer in Washington—when peaceful protesters, responding to the murder of George Floyd, calling for reform, justice, and equality in America, were condemned, tear-gassed, dispersed for a presidential photo in front of an Episcopal Church in Washington.
One of the greatest ironies of this national conversation about a rigged or fraudulent election that the President has talked about both in 2016 and in 2020 is this:
The voting fraud perpetrated on the democracy did not originate in the States, or in voting machines, or in the post office, or in the media, or in the courts, or with a flawed review of the Attorney General’s office, or the ultimate permission or acquiescence of the Vice President’s office. All those groups acted lawfully, in the spirit of service to the democracy.
The voting fraud scheme originated in the office and the character of a leader who refused to accept the democratic verdict of the American people, a leader who threatened and expected others to sacrifice their integrity in service to his will.
Tonight, refusing to be intimidated by the mob, Congress returned to their historic chambers to resume counting the electoral votes. The tone, tenor, and culture of the discussions that ensued took on a new measure of dignity, thoughtfulness, and integrity.
We saw today what happens when leadership seeks power, authority, and violence over law, truth, and honor.
May we never forget the lessons of this day.