If the old qualities of granitelike rectitude and fidelity to law and the Constitution are one path back to decency, justice is another. There are times to temper justice with mercy: This, however, is not one of them.
Justice, then. Let the rioters and looters be tracked down, one by one, prosecuted, and, if convicted, incarcerated for the maximum periods allowed by the law. Let the political cowards and opportunists in the Senate and the House be driven from office in the next election, while in the meanwhile their funding from individuals and corporations is cut off (as it is beginning to be). Let the rest of us throw their dereliction of duty in their face, no matter the subject to which they attempt to divert our attention. Let the small but not unimportant collection of intellectuals who set us on this path with talk of a “Flight 93 election” or who excused or dismissed attacks on Trump also receive no let up from such reminders. Let them, and the political appointees who facilitated or sought to explain away this administration’s abuses of office, become unemployable in their chosen fields.
The understandable urge for the Biden administration will be to bring the country together, a noble and desirable aim. But that should not in any way hold back the machinery of justice, whose operation should be as relentless and as thorough as only a mobilized federal government can be. And with persistent rebuking, shunning, and shaming, the rest of us have a role to play as well. The penalties for this assault—not only on the Capitol building or even on the bodies of American legislators, but on the principles of free government—need to be as severe as the restraints of law allow. As for forgiveness, that can wait until years—many years—from now.