Today marks one year since insurrectionists desecrated our nation’s Capitol.
In the aftermath of the attack, I, like many others, harbored hopes that the event would finally provide the shock needed to break the spell of Trumpism. If the long, sordid list of Trumpian outrages over the past four years couldn’t do it, surely a bloody frontal assault on our democracy would.
Indeed, in the days following the attack, we saw signs of a turn in the statements from various Republican leaders. But as time passed, those sparks of courage and moral conviction never found dry tinder. It became clear that the Republican party remains a fully captive fascist front, more so now than ever.
What does this mean for American democracy? Who really knows? But a few things seem clearer today than in the time before the insurrection.
First, we must recognize that the rules of our politics have radically changed. We no longer have two major parties committed to the protection and defense of the Constitution. The once grand Republican party has wholly abandoned the principles of rule of law, equal justice, and even truth itself. The Republican party exists today for no purpose other than the accumulation of power at whatever expense necessary, including the destruction of our democracy.
The proof of this is everywhere, especially in antidemocratic legislation in several states which would allow for the voiding of the presidential popular vote by state lawmakers. There can be no presumption of good faith for such a party. Therefore, we must not be cowed by appeals to the traditions of our democracy when they are turned against its very preservation. “Bipartisanship” can no longer be held up as a virtue, or a requirement for the passage of legislation. The filibuster must be narrowed or eliminated, as it now serves to protect states’ efforts to usher in a new era of Jim Crow. The taboo of “court packing” must be dispelled, as it prevents the Biden administration from seeking critical corrections to Republican abuses in recent years. Even the noble effort to eliminate gerrymandering has become a weapon against democracy, since only one political party has shown commitment to it.
It behooves us all to recognize that, unlike every other election in our lifetime before 2020, the next one could trigger the end of our democracy. No rules or traditions are worth preserving at such a cost.
Second, the threat is far bigger than one horrible man. More than 74 million votes were cast for Donald Trump in November 2020. That is over 11 million more than he received in 2016. We had four miserable years for Donald Trump to show us his character. He did so. And he gained votes. Not since the most trying days of the Civil Rights Movement have we witnessed a more stark gap between America the dream and America the reality. Even well after the insurrection, with all we know today, a large minority of the country is content to pretend it is overblown, or didn’t happen, or was a false flag operation of Antifa, or worse—an act of patriotism. These are our neighbors, our friends, and our family.
There was a time when we could all agree to disagree, secure in the belief that everyone held their views in good faith, that we all cared deeply for America and its foundational ideas.
But how can we believe this today?
I do not know what this means for how all of us should interact with such people, whom we have loved and cared about all of our lives. But I know for myself that I cannot in good conscience pretend “it’s just politics.”
Our present circumstances color my social interactions, and I have pulled back from a number of relationships. It’s hard, and it is costly. But by recognizing that the threat is deeply rooted in our own grass, and not just a sickness of current political leaders, we will be better guided to personal action, and better define the kind of world we want our children to inherit.
Third, we must be prepared for the worst, even while we work tirelessly to prevent it. Darker days may come. What will we do if Democrats lose the House, the Senate, and/or the White House to today’s Republicans? We must not lose faith and we must not be discouraged from an ongoing commitment to the foundational American ideas. We should be inspired by people in worse circumstances who have stood up for their rights at even greater risk—people of foreign lands who have struggled, with mixed results, against dictators; our Nation’s forbearers who fought the Revolutionary and Civil wars; those who ran the Underground Railroad; those who marched in the South at great peril 60 years ago. Resistance and protest must continue, especially if the darkest of days come. This is our covenant with past and future generations.
But for now, let’s not dwell on the worst of what may come, but take January 6th as a day of renewed commitment to preserving what we cherish. Recognize the challenges we face, the new political reality we live in, and the tactics we need to employ. Find ways to work toward grassroots gains for champions of our democracy. Live by our principles as best we can day to day.
Let’s do all we can to bridge the gap between America the dream and America the present reality.