Of all t he emotions Americans experienced watching tens of thousands of their fellow citizens storm our citadel of democracy, surprise shouldn’t have been among them. The powder keg had been building for a long time, and the assault on the U.S. Capitol merely was its detonation.
Like other significant moments in our history, what happened Wednesday should have been expected. The Civil War didn’t happen because one person made an incendiary speech or a legislator took an unfavorable action in the halls of Congress. Fascism’s rise that resulted in the Second World War had its roots in the circumstances created by the end of World War I and Western leaders’ choosing appeasement over confrontation. And the mob’s desecration of our iconic building that represents the government of the people came about because of repeated unwillingness to address division and confront evil.
Simply put, the powder that ignited Wednesday was in each one of us who looked the other way or excused violence that satisfied our world view.
Widespread violence and looting in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle that continue to this day are justified in the name of bringing awareness to racial injustices. Armed militia members unhappy with restrictions put in place to control the spread of COVID-19 stormed the Michigan statehouse to applause from those decrying their view it is government overreach.
Supporters of the actions on either side legitimize them as lawful protests. Opponents call participants rioters, thugs and anarchists. They call for mass arrests, stiff punishments and people to follow the rule of law. That is until they disagree with the government. Then whatever happens couldn’t have been helped.
But they could have been helped. They could have been helped by seeking resolution instead of division for personal and political gain. They could have been helped by seeing fellow Americans as people with different opinions instead of enemies. They could have been helped by confronting violence instead of justifying it.
They could have been helped by practicing self-examination instead of pointing self-righteous fingers, but not placing caveats on rights and wrongs.
Few will forget the images of a woman needlessly losing her life in the halls of the U.S. Capitol after she joined the insurrection, the American flag being replaced by a Trump flag or the invaders walking out with souvenirs. They shouldn’t. And they shouldn’t forget who allowed it all to happen.
All those who have fomented and carried out violence in Minneapolis, Charlottesville, Seattle, Michigan, the nation’s capital and everywhere else — on both sides of the political spectrum — should be arrested and prosecuted. The time for excusing the behavior of the worst among us because they are the minority while we embolden them with our silence must end.
The best weapon we can wield against the hate and division leading to the destruction of our country is a mirror in which we ask ourselves if we can do more to open our hearts to our fellow Americans and our minds to the reality of what we have done to one another.