I watched the events at the U.S. Capitol yesterday in despair. Though outraged and horrified by the angry mob’s actions, I couldn’t help but pity them, even sympathize with them. They have been misled into believing they are patriots protecting democracy, whipped into a seditious frenzy. That didn’t happen by accident. 

For too long, elected officials have played a cynical game. Donald Trump is the manifestation of its extreme - the embodiment of the sort of tyranny that this nation’s founders warned and intended to guard against. They did so with checks and balances that require leaders to put country ahead of partisan or personal interests. They assumed leaders would be honorable.

Leadership in a democracy parallels the role communicators play in business and society. Power in a democratic government, as in business, is derived from the people. As Arthur W. Page said, business in a democratic society cannot exist without the public’s permission and approval. Communicators maintain that social license to operate by earning trust, operating with consideration of the greater good. The enterprise of American democracy has recently failed to live up to these ideals.

The Page Principles were crafted to help communications leaders serve as the critical conscience of the enterprise. Though leaders of all kinds would do well to abide every one of them - especially, if not minimally, the first - there is one that is particularly salient today: conduct public relations as if the whole enterprise depends on it. 

Lawmakers chose, presumably for political reasons, and even after the consequences became evident, to humor lies intended to undermine faith in a democratically elected government. Their thought must have been that there would be no cost or harm - at least not to them personally - in doing so, that the political rewards would be worth it. They justified their actions as serving the will of the people, ignoring that said people had been intentionally misled into believing a great lie. 

Yesterday’s ugliness is a reminder that the public’s trust is fragile and that freedom and democracy are not assured. The failure of leaders - one in particular - to act in good faith is threatening the republic. 

The enterprise of democracy depends on leaders having the courage to do what is right. Those who have abdicated that responsibility dishonor their office. History should judge them accordingly.