Orlando Sentinel: Jan. 6 showed democracy endangered from within
Asked about the future of American democracy, Madeleine Albright called herself “an optimist who worries a lot.” I feel the same way.
Our shared outlook is likely shaped by our similar personal stories.
She was born in Czechoslovakia before World War II. Her family fled Nazism, then communism, and was given sanctuary in the United States. She rose to become the first female Secretary of State.
I was born in Vietnam after the Vietnam War. My family fled communism, was rescued by the U.S. Navy, and was given sanctuary in America. I became the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress.
I love America — and deplore those who threaten her security or violate her values. It doesn’t matter to me if the threat is external or internal, or comes from the extreme right or the extreme left.
Such patriotism is common among refugees. Having received America’s grace and generosity, we feel duty-bound to defend the nation that came to our rescue.
We understand America may sometimes fall short of its ideals, but we never take America for granted. We believe democracy — and democratic capitalism — are the best ways to promote security, justice and prosperity. We know what the alternatives look like, because our own families endured them until they escaped them.
As immigrants who’ve seen their native countries disfigured by dictatorship, we also recognize there is nothing inevitable about the success or survival of American democracy. It must be preserved and protected by patriots of all political stripes, generation after generation.
In recent years, Albright has warned that our democracy is endangered from within. The events of Jan. 6, 2021, proved her prophetic.
On that day, four decades after my family fled violence in Vietnam for security and stability in the United States, I was in the Capitol — fleeing my fellow Americans.
Members of the angry mob were lied to by powerful people willing to discard all of the things that actually make America great in their ruthless effort to retain power: a free and fair election, the rule of law, the peaceful transfer of power, our proud democratic traditions, and independent institutions essential to our system of checks and balances.
Many of those same people, some of whom are still in power or seek to regain power, are now trying to dismiss or downplay Jan. 6. One goal of the bipartisan congressional committee investigating the attack, on which I serve, is to hold those who incited the violence accountable — to the American public and in the judgment of history.
One year has elapsed since the assault on the seat and symbol of America’s democracy by its own citizens. It is a time for national reflection. We remember a heartbreaking and harrowing day on which we witnessed the worst of America, but also the best of America. We honor the law enforcement officers who kept members of Congress and staff safe and enabled a free and fair election to be properly certified.
This is also a moment for national resolve. Whether you were blessed to be born an American, or to become an American like me, we the American people — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — should unite and resolve to never take American democracy for granted, to cherish it, and to defend it. If we do not, we will lose it.