On the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, let’s engage in a thought experiment.

Cast your mind back a decade ago to 2012. Incumbent president Barack Obama convincingly defeated Republican rival Mitt Romney in that year’s presidential election, winning 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206. Obama also bested Romney in the popular vote, winning almost 5 million more votes.

But Obama won Ohio, Florida and Virginia by relatively slender margins. If a small number of votes had shifted in those states, Obama would have only had two more electoral votes than the necessary 270 to be victorious. Then, let’s assume 15,000 votes changed out of almost 700,000 cast in New Hampshire that year. Romney would have taken New Hampshire, and won the White House.

Imagine that Obama had defiantly refused to accept the outcome, putting his loss down to a deep state plot and insisting he triumphed in a magnificent landslide. Then imagine he called state elections officials imploring them to “find” enough votes to change the results and keep him in power, or he urged them to say they “miscalculated” in their tallies, hinting that there might be trouble for them if they did not. Then, Obama dreamed up a plan where Joe Biden, his vice president, would refuse to accept electoral votes from certain states when it came time to certify the election.

Finally, in this alternate reality, a mob of Obama supporters descended on the U.S. Capitol in a last-ditch effort to derail Romney’s presidency, causing injuries and death, property damage and making America look like a lawless banana republic in the eyes of the world.

Obama’s many detractors would have been enraged, and rightly so. They would have denounced his outlandish lies and incendiary rhetoric about the election. They would have urged his immediate impeachment and removal. They would have insisted that charges be brought.

Many of those same Obama detractors were supporters of Obama’s actual successor. But they have mostly maintained a careful silence about what former President Trump perpetrated following the 2020 election, or have even been supportive of the effort to overturn the results of what was a free and fair election. Are they too wrapped up in the personality cult that surrounds the former president to realize what the implications would have been for the United States if Trump and his allies had nullified the election?

We wouldn’t have had a democracy anymore. One man would have become more important than the rule of law and our institutions.

Karl Rove, a political strategist for President George W. Bush, wrote the other day in The Wall Street Journal, “If Democrats had done what some Trump supporters did on that violent Jan. 6, Republicans would have criticized them mercilessly and been right to do so. Republicans would have torched any high official who encouraged violence or stood mute while it was waged and been right to do so. Republicans would have demanded an investigation to find who was responsible for the violence and been right to do so.”

To mark the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot on Thursday, President Biden pointed out that America has not been a nation where autocrats, dictators or strongmen have stood at the pinnacle of power and ruled by fiat. He explained, “That is not who we have ever been. And that is not who we should ever, ever be.”

We are a divided nation, without question. But we all should be able to agree with the president on that.

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