by Rockefeller Brothers Fund President and CEO Stephen Heintz
The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol yesterday was distinctly un-American and an affront to our system of democratic government. Politicians who supported or enabled, actively or tacitly, this insurrection must be held to account. Elected officials from every party and at every level of government nationwide who serve in our democratic system at the will of the people have the duty not only to denounce yesterday’s actions but to rectify the campaign of disinformation and flat-out lies that brought us to this point.
Joseph R. Biden, Jr., won the 2020 presidential election by vote of the Electoral College, fair and square, and after the Capitol was secured last evening, the Congress concluded its constitutional duty of certifying the Electoral College votes of the fifty states.
As a philanthropic foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund did not endeavor to advance any particular election outcome. We did support organizations across the country working for a free, fair, and safe process that would allow every American to cast their ballot, every ballot to be counted, and the count to be realized in peaceful transition or continuation of power. That endeavor has been tested more this election cycle than perhaps any in history.
Our democracy, while flawed, is intended to uphold freedom and justice for all Americans. But that doesn’t mean that every American is entitled to everything they want, all the time. In fact, the opposite is true: democracy is about accepting compromise that ensures every American the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That means rejecting rhetoric, symbols, and policies that aim to disenfranchise and intimidate fellow Americans. That means the rule of law and prosecution thereunder must apply equally to politician and constituent, rich and poor, police officer and civilian, black and white. That means elections are legitimate when they adhere to constitutional process and state law, not only when your candidate wins.
People are in pain, yes. Americans harbor deep distrust of institutions; rampant misinformation and intentional disinformation are eroding our trust in one another. Economic inequality has skyrocketed, and moneyed special interests drown out citizen voices in our politics. Nothing justifies the kind of violent attack we witnessed yesterday.
The 2020 election process has painfully illustrated the failures of our democracy, but they are decades in the making. There is no “golden age of American democracy” to fall back on, only an opportunity—and an urgent need—to reinvent democracy to meet the needs of today and tomorrow. Doing so is the charge of all Americans.
Philanthropy has a special obligation to advance this common purpose. Democracy is the basis for every other public good our foundations support; studies have shown that the strength of a country’s democracy correlates to public health, clearer air, quality of education, social services, and so much more. Long after the acute anxiety of the 2020 election season has dissipated, philanthropy must continue its investment in the reinvention of American democracy.
*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this statement referenced the ongoing struggle for Black and Indigenous lives with other examples of pain experienced by Americans today. This language may have been interpreted as falsely equating persistent racial injustice with the grievances expressed by those who violently raided the Capitol on Wednesday. The RBF remains committed to continued learning and growth on our path to becoming an anti-racist institution.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, co-chaired by RBF President Stephen Heintz with Danielle Allen and Eric Liu, also released a statement on the events in Washington, D.C.:
Our commission recommended many strategies for reinventing our American democracy. But they all boil down to something fragile and indispensable: faith in our Constitution and each other. When a president incites insurrection against the Constitution and the rule of law, and turns the people against each other and toward disunion, every leader of every institution in the United States must condemn it. We do so today. And we redouble our commitment to the work of building common purpose and making our constitutional democracy worth believing in.