January 9, 2021
It wasn’t until I studied history in college that I began to see the cracks in America’s façade—thanks to my privilege. American schools don’t teach much actual history. They teach a white-washed, nationalistic version of the highlights. All historical chroniclers have bias, and all nations present themselves in the best light, but the U.S. stages a picture of righteousness and superiority beyond most.
That image, so carefully groomed and maintained in our group consciousness, shattered again on January 6, 2021.
In a few hours of violence and contempt, our democratic principles barely withstood a pathetically small assault. It illustrated once more that we are not a nation of grace.
We are a nation of echoes, repeating grave errors that set brother against brother. We nurture an illusion of harmony, but this presidency laid bare the core of our dysfunction, as our commitment to democratic rule wavered, despite its short duration and supposed certainty. Telling ourselves, “That’s not who we are,” we’ve tried to deny how deep the rot still reaches. The past four years have enlightened many, perhaps, but also shone a light on how many are infected with that rot. Our government may not have fallen in a bloody coup yet, but I believe our divides are deeper than we realize.
Through the years, I’ve tried to hold on to optimism. I saw the startling risks in 2016 and added my voice to the warnings. Still, I too clung to the trust that our bedrock could withstand the dangers. Perhaps it has, for now.
But a range of emotions—fear, rage, disgust, despair—smothered hope as I watched Americans seething with hatred while they desecrated the Capitol under the guise of patriotism. Their loyalty was not in service to the country; it served the basest desires of a grotesque, craven shell of a man. That blind urge to follow his word, to take a path so unthinkable, based only on his lies, reverberates in the history we don’t study well enough.
We attempt to soothe the wounds with affirmations of unity and vows to “do better.” But I wonder what will change. Nearly a third of the electorate either chose not to or was unable to vote. While that’s record turnout, it shows apathy and suppression still at unconscionable levels. Worse, nearly half of voters supported the racism, naked greed, bitter hostility, and lust for power the outgoing president embodies. Half of our representatives, even after such a perverse assault on our institutions, even after they saw the damage being done to our nation’s soul, still used their position to regurgitate his lies and debase themselves in his name.
Perhaps this is the shock we needed. Maybe this will force us to acknowledge the precariousness of our diverse country. It sits at a crossroads; in one direction is a steep climb toward the goodness and decency we claim but too often feign; the other leads further down, to a dark place we vowed we’d never suffer again. Just as my hope has dimmed, so has that beacon of our ideals in the distance.
Can America escape its own history, and the example of others, finally, to reach that beacon? They say hope springs eternal, so I suppose it must persist as we strive to defeat the conflagration a man and his lackeys enflamed from millions of smoldering embers. But as for my hope…. It is faint. So very faint.
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