AnthonyTPope via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons.
Shocking does not even begin to describe the events that unfolded in Washington yesterday. It was the largest terror attack on American soil since 9/11, planned for weeks on social media sites such as Parler, and incited by the President of the United States. The divisions in American society have grown beyond just politics, or differences in opinion.
What we witnessed yesterday was a coup attempt, a violent taking-over of our Capitol, with intent to stop one of the basic functions of our democracy. It was not a protest or even a riot, it was an act of terrorism, designed to threaten the American people and our elected leaders into submission to an authoritarian demagogue.
This is not normal, this is not politics, this is not how a reasonable society behaves. For young people, such as myself, growing up in this climate of ludicrosity and division, for the future leaders of our country, let this be an example of what not to do.
The story of the siege of the Capitol doesn’t begin with Donald Trump, though he certainly played a starring role. Though the Republican Party and its officials, who have spent the last two months calling into question the legitimacy of our democratic process, carry a lot of blame, divisive rhetoric used by both major parties has led to our current predicament. Decades of uncooperation, petty eye-for-an-eye-ism, and weaponization by both parties of government institutions such as the Supreme Court and executive agencies brought us to the seminal moment when President Trump ordered his supporters to march on the Capitol.
Declining decency in the highest ranks of our national government have led the American public in general to feel increasingly defensive. Every policy discussion for all of our lives has been turned into a holy war by both parties, and made people on both sides feel as if their very existence is threatened. The kind of existential fear peddled by American politicians for decades now, makes even the most levelheaded person lash out and behave irrationally.
This is the first lesson to be learned: division, uncompromise, and inflammatory policy serve no one. The future political leaders of our generation must learn how to respect one another and work together to better their communities and our nation. The moment civil discourse breaks down and self control is lost, is the moment that the slide towards either anarchy or authoritarianism begins.
Donald Trump holds great personal responsibility for the events of January 6th. He has spent the last four years courting favor with enablers of foreign dictators, shady leaders themselves, self proclaimed neo-nazis such as the proud boys, and far-right extremist personalities. He has turned blatant and bald-faced lying into a standard tool of the modern politician.
Since his first presidential campaign began in 2016, Trump has sought to erode public trust in the media with such catchphrases as “fake news” and “the leftist media.” He has repeatedly ignored facts about everything from crime statistics to the coronavirus pandemic, opting to create his own narrative in which he stars as both the victim and the hero.
He has fueled dangerous conspiracies such as QAnon, ordered police to attack and brutalize peaceful protestors, and refused to condemn white supremacism and fascist groups. All this has emboldened these various extremists and enemies to civil society, and allowed their noxious views to grow and flourish.
This is the second lesson for our generation: allowing any shred of fascism, authoritarianism, or any other ideology contradictory to democracy to remain in our country will lead to its destruction. All racist, hateful, and violent ideologies must be denounced and explicitly condemned, or the attacks will only get worse.
The day after the attack on the Capitol, already some are attempting to explain it away and justify it. Far-right media is attempting to blame the far left, and a few have even justified it as an expression of the constitutional right to protest or an example of some sort of civil disobedience. However, the majority of the members of congress in both chambers who were previously seeking to overturn the results of the election have apologized and condemned the attacks of yesterday. Several cabinet members have resigned in protest, and the “sedition caucus” of 13 senators challenging the election results has shrunk to 6.
While it would have been most honorable to have never engaged in such reckless behavior as questioning the legitimacy of a fair election, there is dignity in taking responsibility for one’s actions and apologizing. Everybody makes mistakes, and only the petty, immature, and childish refuse to admit that fact.
This is the final lesson for our future leaders: take responsibility, admit wrongdoing, and accept the consequences. I strongly suspect that our leaders who have apologized for their part in the attack on the Capitol will fare better in their future bids for re-election than their counterparts who refuse to do so; the first mark of courage, maturity, and leadership is the ability to admit defeat.
While the full repercussions of the terroristic attacks on January 6th are as yet unknown, this must be a reckoning for American politics, if our democracy is to survive. Our generation is now inheriting a country bitterly divided, and it is up to us to stop the spiral towards chaos and mob rule. Learn from these events, don’t let this opportunity to build a better world pass by.