Like most, if not all, of you I have been “unpacking” the events of this past week over the last few days. In this moment of massive COVID fatalities nationwide, the deaths of 5, the injury of 50, the arrest of 80 in the nation’s capital may seem like small potatoes, but the violent and seditious attack on the halls of government has reverberated across the country in ways that few of us can ignore.
But what to make of it…
One thing, perhaps the first thing, to note is that this attempted coup not only failed but seems to have had the very opposite effect that it sought. Far from keeping the current president in power, the terrorists simply managed to hasten his ignominious exit and expand the storm clouds of opprobrium under which he will be leaving office. It has exposed his allies in the government and heaped coals upon their heads, many have chosen to resign, many more are simply keeping their heads down, none are interested in continuing to engage in undermining democracy right now. He has been denied his habitual access to popular social media. It turns out that he does not rule the world after all.
It has also shown us all, ever more clearly, what it is we are dealing with on numerous fronts.
At the same time that increasing numbers of participants in this riot are attempting to shift the blame onto secret agents from Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA the FBI is being flooded with information and identifications from citizen detectives who are combing through the thousands of photos and videos posted online by the rioters themselves. Many more of these “patriots” are waking up to the consequences of having tried to overthrow the government. If I had to guess I would say that White-wing domestic terrorism is about to move way up on the list of Justice Department priorities and not before time.
The Wednesday events also exposed again the inherent injustice in the way the law is so often applied. Far from being outlandishly over-prepared for a protest, the way law enforcement generally is when the protesters are black, here the preparation was impressively underwhelming, and in some cases apparently all too welcoming, The fact that so very many of the rioters were of the white-supremacist variety and that so many law enforcement officials were snapping pictures with them (and otherwise using every iota of self-restraint in dealing with them) does little to instill any confidence in the unprejudiced application of the law. This too may be subject to renewing both comprehensive review and action.
It is hard to see much good news coming out of this violent revolutionary attack, but I can identify a couple of things that give me hope. America has been suffering for so long with the deep systemic wounds of racism and classism. On Wednesday the infection surfaced anew in Washington and flooded the capital with a purulence of desperate anger, fear, and ignorance. The beast of white supremacy took a massive hit in this last election cycle and it is flailing and cursing and sputtering as it collapses. It gives the rest of us an almost unprecedented opportunity to press on in dealing with it in new and powerful ways. So I hope we will not squander the chance to continue addressing it on a national political stage.
More than this though, I am heartened by the degree to which our democratic institutions withstood such an unprecedented onslaught. As shocking as these events may have been, democracy itself refused to fold to the seduction of tyranny. In the end, even those within the government who had committed themselves to rebellion thought better of it and scrambled to put democracy first in light of the day’s trials. The point is not that they changed their minds and have become better people (I doubt it was anything more than a swift political calculation) but that democracy itself, in the end, proved up to the task.
When the smoke cleared after the attempted coup, we were still a nation, elections still mattered, We the People stood firm, and a tyrant went down in flames.