A Clarion Call for Democracy

Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch Statement
January 11, 2021
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Like all of you, I watched Wednesday’s deadly attack on the Capitol building, appalled by the violence incited by those unwilling to accept the results of a now congressionally certified presidential election and outraged by the diminution of the rule of law and the dishonoring of a symbol of American democracy. 

Twenty years ago, I co-curated “The American Presidency” exhibition. At its heart was the simple yet elegant premise that separates our democracy from other forms of government: the peaceful transfer of power. We have seen bitterly contested elections throughout history: John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson in 1824. The wartime contest in 1864 between Abraham Lincoln and his former general, George McClellan. The 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon that was decided by just over 100,000 votes. George W. Bush versus Al Gore, which came down to a few hundred votes in Florida and was decided by the Supreme Court. Despite the contentiousness of these elections, all set their disappointment aside to accept them for the good of the country and to allow our democracy to move forward.  

As members of an unruly mob brandished the Confederate flag in the halls of Congress, it was a reminder that this was not simply an attack on our democratic institutions, but a repudiation of our shared values. It was a violent rebuke of ideals people have fought and died for. It was an assault on the American Dream itself. The question is whether we awake stronger and more focused as a nation or succumb to one divided by partisanship.

This moment is a clarion call.  We must commit to working across the lines that divide us to make real the nation so many have long dreamed for, a truly beloved community. As the leader of an institution dedicated to exploring and sharing knowledge for the benefit of humanity, I am more determined than ever to provide our country the resources to help bring the nation together.