The chaos in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday was shocking to just about everyone who watched it. 

Matt Leonard File photo

Some found understanding in the desperation behind the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol, as protesters stormed the houses of Congress following a pro-Trump rally earlier in the day. Others decried the actions of the hundreds who, for a time, took over both chambers, calling it “unsettling.”

“I think the pundits are trying to boil it down to simple things so they can make a self-aggrandizing, self-righteous statement about it,” Auburn Republican Matt Leonard said, “but this is really about what’s been boiling for months, if not years.” 

According to Leonard and others, the unsettling sight of tens of thousands of Americans storming the Capitol is the result of a political chasm that’s never been more extreme. 

“The country is divided,” Leonard said in a phone interview. “We’re conflicted. And this isn’t about Trump. It isn’t about Biden. It’s about people losing faith in their government.” 

At Central Maine Community College in Auburn, political science professor Karl Trautman had likewise been expecting some kind of violent eruption.  

“I’m shocked and I’m disappointed,” Trautman said. “But I’m not 100% surprised.” 

In his view, violent rhetoric and unproven allegations of election fraud provided the fuel for the kind of conflagration seen in the nation’s Capitol on Wednesday. 

“The rhetoric has been building to this point for a long time,” Trautman said. “The president is a person who, let’s be honest, never gives up. So when he kept on telling people that the election was stolen and told people to come to Washington, it’s what law enforcement is calling incitement. It’s just terrible. It’s absolutely horrible.” 

To Trautman, the scene in D.C. was reminiscent of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, a kind of political chaos Americans aren’t accustomed to seeing at home. 

“And I just think, oh, my gosh. I can’t believe this is happening,” Trautman said.  

Nate Libby

Nate Libby, Democratic senator from Lewiston, was still getting caught up — and trying to get his head around the situation — Wednesday afternoon. 

“It’s unsettling,” Libby said. “It’s ugly. One of the defining characteristics of modern American politics is that we settle our disagreements in a peaceful way. And this chaos on the part of an anarchist mob in our nation’s Capitol does not represent how our system of government operates. And the president of the United States, who has been stoking these flames, bears enormous responsibility. He has basically abdicated his role as a president who has lost an election and who has a responsibility to help bring our country together and to oversee a peaceful transition of power.” 

Tim Lajoie, a former Lewiston city councilor and mayoral candidate, sees it a different way. Tens of millions of Americans believe the elections were fraudulent and with Democrats now taking control, those people have no choice but to air their grievances and demand further investigation. 

“It’s now or never,” Lajoie said. 

He believes that when Democrats take control, they will not move to unite the country as they have claimed they will. 

“They will move to consolidate their control so fast that we won’t be able to trust another election, nor regain control of our government,” Lajoie said. “One-party rule is never a good idea in a republic and Democrats have shown no willingness to listen to Republican ideas.” 

Leonard believes that what politicians should fear most of all in the wake of Wednesday’s tumult is that the American people come together in spite of their differences. Average people, he believes, want things to get better one way or another. 

“When you look at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, instead of being a linear line, it’s really a circle,” Leonard said. “You’re seeing extreme frustration on the left and on the right. They’re actually coming together and they’re going to meet. I think at that point, our elected officials should be terrified, because then they won’t have an ability to continue to divide us. We’ll be united in our frustration and we’ll call for change.” 

At CMCC, Trautman shares that sentiment. 

“I’m not sure if this is wishful thinking,” he said, “but maybe we reached a point when the U.S. Capitol was breached where Republicans and Democrats will actually begin to see more in common and begin to come together a little bit to protect American institutions of Congress and ratchet down the rhetoric.” 

Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, speaks on the floor of the Maine Senate last month. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In a joint news release Wednesday night, Senate Republican leader Jeffrey Timberlake of Turner and House Republican leader Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford said they support the protests but condemn the violence.

“Like most Americans, we watched with disappointment at what unfolded in our nation’s Capitol buildings,” the pair wrote. “Let us be clear — this is not who we are as Americans and it certainly is not who we are as Mainers.

House Republican leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, looks over the schedule Wednesday in the Augusta Civic Center on opening day of the 130th Maine Legislature. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“We support the rights of citizens to conduct peaceful protests, but condemn the destruction of property and violence in any form of protest. All protests that lead to these types of results are completely unacceptable.

“Two years of violence and destruction under the cover of peaceful protests have left our nation outraged by this type of behavior,” Timberlake and Dillingham wrote. “Clearly we must commit ourselves to following the rule of law and peacefully respecting those who disagree with us.”

Jared Golden released a statement shortly after 9 p.m. and placed blame for the violence directly on the president.

“This is a sad day for our country,” Golden wrote. “Donald Trump called for these rallies, and he helped incite them to riot with his speech today. While we should not be surprised by the president’s actions — he has been signaling his intentions for months — he should be held accountable for today’s violence. But regardless of whether or not Congress can agree to act to hold the president accountable, make no mistake: he will be removed from office on Jan. 20, and Joe Biden will assume the presidency.

“Today’s events, while tragic, also present us with opportunities,” Golden continued. “The opportunity to stare into the ugly depths of what could lie ahead if we continue down this partisan and angry path. The opportunity to choose a different path and to recommit ourselves to our democracy, to our country, and to our fellow Americans. I hope that we choose to come together to seize these opportunities.”

Peter Laverdiere of Oxford is the elector for Republican Donald Trump in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Peter Laverdiere of Oxford, who cast the lone electoral vote for Trump in Maine on Dec. 14, insists that people have a right to protest since so many questions about the election have gone unanswered. But he also believes that it was likely outside agitators and not Trump supporters responsible for the most severe violence in Washington on Wednesday.

Trump-loyalists have asserted that the attack on the capitol was staged by outside agitators posing as Trump supporters, but there is no evidence of that is true.

Eric Brakey, former Republican senator from Auburn, was flying Wednesday and as he landed at an airport, he was just learning about the drama unfolding in D.C. 

“I’m still trying to get my head around it,” he said. 

By early Wednesday night, the news was filled with images of members of Congress and their staffs cowering on floors and behind chairs as protesters stormed the building. 

To Leonard, those images serve as an avatar of the mess that has been made of American politics. 

“If you’re fearful of the people who elected you to office to represent them,” he said, “then something is very wrong with our system.” 

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said Wednesday, “I’m concerned based on reactions I’m seeing, we haven’t seen the worst of it yet or hit rock bottom — which probably needs to occur before we move forward.”

Trautman, the CMCC professor, did not try to guess what will happen next, but he was clinging to hope that ultimately, people will start to see the trouble we’re in and get working together to fix it.

“When something is in danger,” he said, “when you see it slipping away, maybe people will realize how important it is to protect our democracy because this is really, really important.”


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