It’s hard to describe the feeling of sitting in my room, just a few blocks from Capitol, watching the livestream of the joint session of congress to certify the election of Joe Biden, when all of the sudden entire legislative branch of our nation was rushed out of the chambers because a violent mob of domestic terrorists had breached the Capitols security.
After watching a few moments of President Trumps speech, I knew that Wednesday, January 6, 2021 would be a historic day for our country and that my city was about to experience violence. But I didn’t expect thousands of people to surround the Capitol and actually overtake it while the Vice President and Speaker of the House were inside. I didn’t expect to watch mobs carrying Trump flags smash the windows of this sacred building and break into the offices of our political leaders.
As I watched the scene from my computer and heard the sirens just outside my window, I was overcome with anger. The sitting President of the United States had encouraged this behavior and was doing nothing to stop it. For the past six years, the world has watched as an unqualified narcissist has swiftly and dramatically eroded the norms and values of our nation, and somehow, we have let him get away with it.
Day by day, we allowed him the ability to rise to the most powerful position in the world and then, using propaganda machines, spread lies and conspiracies that have convinced a large minority in our nation to doubt the veracity of the claims of anybody except him. And now, these people are doing exactly what Trump wanted them to do- terrorizing the politicians who refused to stand up and fight to overturn a free and fair election for the benefit of Trump.
What happened on January 6th, 2021 was not a surprise to anyone- this behavior is exactly what we’ve seen at nearly every rally Trump has hosted since he began his run for President. At the same time, what was so disconcerting about the insurrection at the Capitol was that it revealed just how fragile our democracy is. In a nation so deeply divided as ours, it is absolutely possible for an immoral leader like Donald Trump to incite a civil war that forever puts an end to the American experiment. It takes no grand conspiracy, no master planning, and no military force. It only requires disinformation, propaganda, and just enough allies within the government who are more concerned about maintaining their own power than about the truth.
We would be naive if we believe that we have made it through this moment- as I write, Donald Trump still has fourteen days in office, the mobs who attacked the capital are waking up in their hotels all across Washington D.C., and millions of Americans believe that what happened yesterday was a necessary show of force to save our country from an evil force that has stolen this election from them. Our country is more fractured than ever before at this moment and any potential healing will take years to occur.
As noted by many senators and representatives who gathered at the joint session of congress late in the evening after the Capitol was secured, America has lost our ability to disagree and debate. We have lost our ability to know the truth. We have allowed our media to devolve into opinion commentators on networks driven by the almighty dollar, who benefit from provoking drama instead of providing truth. We have become so isolated by and addicted to social media that every day we are endlessly scrolling, consuming information and opinions from people who share our worldview and caricature the others, and thus, live in an augmented state of reality. In many of these silos, we’ve permitted racism, sexism, and xenophobia of all types to flourish freely, allowing narratives to form that convince millions that movements for civil rights and equity are just covers for fascism, thus justifying their deeply held bigotries.
This is perhaps the defining modern moment of our nation- if we do not put our collective energy together towards dismantling the way of life we have become accustomed to over the past thirty or so years, there is only one logical outcome: the destruction of our democracy. The effort to heal our democracy is one that must take place at every level of society. We, the average citizens, must commit to the work of holding the media accountable to tell the truth, to embracing civil debate above demonization in our own circles, to refraining or abstaining from the social media that puts us in to ideological silos, and to holding our politicians accountable to do the right thing instead of blindly supporting them out of partisan allegiance.
If we are not willing to adopt this posture immediately, I do not believe that our country has a chance of enduring. Fate is giving us a final chance in 2021 to correct our course: the Biden-Harris administration has demonstrated a true willingness to bring the nation together and work towards healing our divides. But the work ultimately does not lie on their shoulders, but on ours. We must decide what the next week, year, and decade looks like for our nation. And today I am sincerely praying that we find the courage to choose wisely, so help us God.