When our president undermines the credibility of our elections, how can we insist upon free and fair elections in Belarus or Ivory Coast? When our president’s rhetoric demonizes journalists and allows his supporters to assault them, how can we stand up for freedom of the press in the Philippines or Turkey? Can our allies depend on the power of our military deterrence and will our adversaries be deterred when we do not secure our own institutions? If we don’t confront and address these dangerous shortcomings, we invite accusations of hypocrisy. It feeds into the playbooks of authoritarian leaders around the world who argue that their systems are superior to democratic ones and that the United States practices respect for human rights only when it is convenient.
It’s clear to me that the damage President Trump and his enablers have inflicted will outlive his presidency. But it’s also clear that for our democracy to survive and for the United States to maintain its position as a defender of our values and freedoms around the world, we need to show our allies and adversaries that our democracy has weathered this test.
Congress began this task as soon as the Capitol was cleared Wednesday night, by returning to our work and voting to certify the results of the election. But for us to send the strongest message to the rest of the world that the rule of law still reigns in the United States, we have to hold Wednesday’s rioters and instigators accountable — chief among them the president.
First, Donald Trump does not deserve to be president. He should resign today. My Republican colleagues who have served as allies and enablers of the president should persuade him to do so. If he won’t, Vice President Mike Pence should take responsibility, invoke the 25th Amendment and remove him — which only the vice president and the cabinet have the power to do. If they fail to do either, Congress must promptly move ahead with its own remedies, including impeachment or censure.
Second, Mr. Trump’s supporters in Congress — especially those who fanned the flames of Wednesday’s violence with false claims of voter fraud — need to start telling the truth. They need to declare that Mr. Biden won in a free and fair election, and they need to join us on Jan. 20 in reasserting our democracy with the peaceful transfer of power. To those Republican lawmakers who have been calling for healing and unity: There can be reconciliation only with repentance.
We have a challenging nine days ahead of us. Our president is unhinged and has demonstrably abandoned his post. We need to find the right balance of protecting our country and making it clear that in the United States, a leader cannot seek to subvert our democracy without repercussions. Once Mr. Biden is sworn in, Congress must move swiftly to begin the work of healing our nation, including by confirming his capable and seasoned nominees and passing a bipartisan relief package to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jan. 6 genuinely tested us. How we respond will determine whether we choose continued division or to heal, repair and strengthen our democracy. The world is watching.
Chris Coons is a Democratic senator from Delaware.
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.