Even with a veteran journalist at the keyboard, it's almost impossible to find words strong enough to condemn what happened at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. Describing an attack the likes of which the country hasn't seen since 1814 - and assigning blame for it - is a uniquely challenging business.
And it's a risky business, too - for politicians who need votes to stay in power, and for the free press, which needs advertisers, readers and viewers to stay afloat. The politicians who hitched their wagons to the star of President Donald Trump had an agonizing decision to make as the mob of insurgents descended upon their hallowed halls: Do they cut the leather from the wagon, or at least be honest about what they witnessed - or do they collapse into a heap of excuses and deflection to sustain the support of the base?
The free press is another matter, although speaking truth to power has become increasingly costly. The constant drumbeat against the "enemy of the people" has led too many Americans down a dark path to embrace authoritarianism, or at least anarchy. But even when politicians forget the oath they swore to the Constitution, the media cannot escape the fact that the very duty with which they were charged by the Founders has been enshrined in that same document.
Without the First Amendment, and the sweeping liberties it grants us, our democratic republic is almost certain to collapse. But if the free press doesn't use these protections the way they were intended, the country will falter, anyway.
That's why the free press is duty-bound to lay at the feet of Mr. Trump a good part of the responsibility for what happened last week. There can be no doubt about the intent behind his repeated and rancid tweets, nor can anyone deny his words to supporters: his invitation to travel to D.C. to have a "wild time"; his initial pledge to lead fans in a march to the Capitol; his profession of "love" for those who launched the assault; and his embracing of this and other violent acts before he finally called for calm and told the insurrectionists to go home.
But he did not back off his unsubstantiated claim that the election was stolen from him, and his incessant lies are what riled up his followers in the first place. He has continued insisting his was the greatest first presidential term in history. He implied he would be back for a second bite at the apple, and added the battle has only just begun. That, in many ways, is more terrifying than what happened last week.
The Grand Old Party deserves better. So does the country, and the entire world. There must be a way to prevent this cycle of terror, overt bigotry, and deadly hatred from cycling back around. It's unlikely that Trump could be "reimpeached," and even if the House managed that fete before he's forced out, the Senate in its current form still might not convict. Those still clinging desperately to Trump's shredded coattails probably won't invoke the 25th Amendment, either - although they should.
All Americans, despite our vast differences, must find the way to say in a unified voice: "Never again." We must pledge allegiance to our country, rather than a self-centered reality TV star. It will take courage, and we may pay a price, but we can do no less if we are to protect our personal integrity, our children's future, our country - and our precious Constitution.