What happened Wednesday in Washington was wrong, despicable and inevitable. But it was the natural conclusion to events building for the last four years and culminating in one of the most disturbing scenes we are ever likely to witness in our lifetimes.
An angry mob taking over the US Capitol incited by words from the President himself. Make no mistake the blame for Wednesday’s actions lay directly at the President's feet after making statement like"
“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” telling the crowd, to head to the Capitol and later “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
He couldn’t have picked worse words to tell an angry mob already overheated by lies of a stolen election. The result was entirely predictable.
Now we find ourselves deeply divided and angry. But as bad as the President’s actions were, he isn’t alone when assessing blame for the dark place we now find ourselves in.
Democrats, the media, social media and ourselves bear varying degrees of responsibility.
The actions Wednesday were to a large degree the culmination of four years of Republican frustrations with an increasingly biased media, egged on by Democrats dishonest efforts to remove the president from office from day one. False claims of Russian collusion and the shameful impeachment process led to an increasingly deep divide that now seems impossible to breach.
Social media has turned us into a society of anonymous bomb throwers hiding behind a computer screen and normalized our worst instincts. Attacking others personally, spewing unfounded claims, conspiracy theories and the most hateful rhetoric imaginable has become acceptable and commonplace. Why? Because there are no consequences. I imagine that few would say face to face the things gleefully typed out in the security of their home.
And of course the President bears responsibility as well, not just for his hateful words Wednesday, but for years of antagonism towards the media and his opponents, innumerable lies and his disgraceful refusal to accept the loss of the election.
As individuals we’ve retreated to our respective camps and hardened our positions to the point that we are more willing to believe the most outrageous internet claims than give our opponents the benefit of the doubt. Tragically, the anger isn’t limited to just politicians, it’s affecting neighbors, friends and even family members.
It saddens me that there are people I’ve known and cared about for years, but whose Facebook posts I now skip over - unwilling to engage in the unending political backbiting. Casual conversations that were once easy, are now more carefully considered if not avoided altogether.
Joe Biden has said he wants to unify the country. Good for him, I hope he can, but it is going to be difficult and will involve more than bland platitudes in campaign speeches. He will need to honestly and sincerely reach out to thousands of people who have lost faith in the government. At this point I don’t know if he can do it. I don’t know if he will be strong enough to stand up to the formidable forces that see political advantage in hatred.
In the end we are the answer. Supporters of both sides must begin to recognize the faults not just in their opponents but in themselves. I know this is a little like the beauty pageant contestants who say they want “world peace.” But really what is the alternative and where do we go from here?
Politicians won’t lead us. Nor will media commenters, this one included. We each have to find it within ourselves to be better, more understanding, more tolerant and less likely to think the worst of others. It won't be easy and someone will have to make the first step. So far that hasn't happened - if anything positions are hardening.
But if we are unwilling to look within ourselves how can we expect others to do what we refuse. We don’t all have to agree, we just have to be a bit more tolerant, a bit more open to opposing ideas and a belief that our community, our society, is more important than winning an argument on the internet.
Over 160 years ago former President Abraham Lincoln said it far better than I ever could.
"I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that with you, and not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office-seekers, but with you, is the question, "Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation"
Abraham Lincoln - Feb. 11, 1861 - Speech to Gov. Morton in Indianapolis.