As a 15-year-old kid, I raked leaves, mowed grass and was part of the grounds crew at the Capitol, paid $1.25 an hour. We navigated all those underground tunnels and hideaways where last January they took the vice president, the speaker and members of Congress to keep them safe.
As a 17-year-old, with a newly-broken leg and a walking cast, I was a page in the U.S. Senate. It was 1965, and we witnessed the passage and signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the Voting Rights Act … and we watched as opposition began to build against the war in Vietnam.
Years later, I served on the Church Committee, the select Senate Committee investigating our intelligence agencies. I worked in the Senate for five more years as a top aide to Sen. Frank Church of Idaho.
And for the decades since, I have spent countless hours in the House and Senate office buildings, and in the Capitol, as a political consultant to many members.
Never, in all those nearly 60 years, have I not been in awe of the Capitol, its beauty and grandeur, and what it stands for, the rights and responsibilities of a free people.
Always, as I gazed up at the rotunda as the light shone through, saw the paintings, Statuary Hall, the floor of the Senate and House, I felt lucky to be there. I never took that building — or its meaning — for granted.
Like so many others, I took the Jan. 6, 2021, attack personally.
As I watched on television those familiar staircases, passageways, people who were so violently attacked hour after hour, I was beyond emotional. I couldn’t believe it was happening; it was surreal — people from Trump rallies gone berserk, like something out of Game of Thrones.
This was more than a political event — more than a demonstration gone violent. It was, in a real sense, the culmination of a sitting president and his friends and advisors having rejected our system of government, representative democracy, fairness and any sense of propriety.
The fact that over the past year the vast majority of rank-and-file Republicans have continued to embrace a president with no moral compass, willing to say anything or do anything to stay in power, is truly despicable. Even those who were initially shocked and who denounced Trump, like Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Mellman: Voting rights or the filibuster? Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate MORE (R-Ky.), Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamKyrsten Sinema's courage, Washington hypocrisy and the politics of rage Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks MORE (R-S.C.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyJoining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE (R-Calif.), have now embraced him or gone silent. This is also despicable. What message does it send?
That violence is the wave of the future as increasing numbers of Americans seem to believe? That power by any means is, and will be, the future of the Republican Party?
How much honor and dignity and civility will these Republican leaders give up to stay in power — or to gain it? At what point do they say “enough is enough, count me out” as Lindsey Graham did on the Senate floor a year ago … before he flipped and went to Mar-a-Lago to play golf with Trump?
Sadly, most of the Republicans who have spent much of their lives in that Capitol have forsaken the impact of Jan. 6 and all it meant for them and our system of government and instead have embraced a treacherous political calculation: They have decided that they would rather — for the sake of re-election — cozy up to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE and the cabal peddling the Big Lie than do the right thing. History will judge them.
The Republican Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower and Reagan and the Bushes is on life support, if not already dead — all because these Republicans didn’t take Jan. 6 personally and seriously.
The mob did their best to destroy what the building stands for; these Republican leaders might just finish the job for them.
Peter Fenn is a long-time Democratic political strategist who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a top aide to Sen. Frank Church and was the first director of Democrats for the 80s, founded by Pamela Harriman. He also co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets. He serves on the board of the Frank Church Institute. Follow him on Twitter @peterhfenn.