I never imagined writing this. But I also never imagined witnessing what unfolded as I prepared for the Spring Semester this past week, working on courses while watching the Senate and the House certify the electoral college votes on the afternoon of January 6th. I watched, puzzled, as the Senator at the podium abruptly stopped speaking and aides rushed in to gather the Vice President and others. CNN pulled the sound from their feed and I began to wonder what had happened to stall the events, naively believing it was something as benign as missing documents or perhaps, a new objection. A few minutes passed before the first images appeared of the trespassers walking through the rotunda, even then, not showing signs of the tumult and chaos that would ensue. Watching the group traipse through the building I remember thinking “why would the police let the “protestors” inside the Capitol?”
It’s been four days now and I cannot expel the horrific scenes from my consciousness or stop hearing the police officer cry in agony as the Domestic Terrorists crushed him in a door he was trying to defend. I woke up today feeling compelled to express how I am feeling, to share my state of mind, to explain why I have so little room in my head for much else……not only because of what I observed on the news but primarily because the day after our Democracy was crudely and violently threatened, a person calmly said to me “I wish I had been there with them.”
I’ll be honest. I don’t know what to do with that information. That bell can’t be un-rung. I struggle to process how someone, anyone I might know, could even marginally support the actions of such a hateful and destructive mob, intent on, at the very least “disrupting” the election process and at worst, physically harming their “enemies.” To be fair, when this statement was made to me, we did not yet know of any deaths, the extent of the vile desecration or the likelihood that some of the terrorists were planning even more heinous crimes.
Four days later and I can’t stop reading everything I can find in a search for more answers – I know the “who” (some angry, some disturbed, some gullible supporters, many swept up in the mob mentality). And I’m fully aware of the “why” (because their beloved leader inspired and stoked their rage about an election he perceived and perpetuated was stolen from him, but who has been unable to produce any evidence to support this claim in numerous court cases). What I hoped to find in all the articles, and tweets and news shows I’ve been absorbing was some explanation, some awareness of the “how” – how otherwise ordinary Americans, living in our communities, could escalate to this extreme level of zealousness, resentment and blinding allegiance necessary to abandon all that is decent and turn violently on their countrymen and women. How anyone could watch the videos and wish that they could have been a part of such a despicable episode in our history. No doubt, the intensity of my feelings are linked to the images of the violation of one of our most symbolic spaces, a place where I walked with reverence and awe, speaking in a whisper as if I was on hallowed ground. What we all saw happening was truly impossible to comprehend, looking more like a movie set, wondering if at any moment Vin Diesel or the Rock would step around the corner and re-establish order, vanquishing the intruders.
I won’t have the answers anytime soon. I will have to concentrate and regain focus before classes start next week but for right now, I pray that someone with more wisdom than me will find the right balance of accountability and healing - a formula that seeks to hold those responsible while charting a path forward. Though it’s an oft-used quote and a bit clichéd I can’t stop thinking how it resonates more this week than perhaps all of the other times it has been used. In the House of Commons in 1948, Winton Churchill paraphrased Spanish philosopher George Santayana, saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We have much to learn from this place in time, and all of those times in our country’s history that brought us to this defining moment. There should be no ambiguity, no gray, no “good people on both sides” in situations like this. We have work to do.