“This Is Who We’ve Become”

I’ve been blogging long enough to hesitate before responding too quickly to current events. But today is going to be an exception.

To be honest, I’d paid no attention to events in Washington, DC for most of the day. I knew that the process of Congress formally certifying Joe Biden’s election as president would be more chaotic than usual. I’d followed the Georgia Senate run-off returns last night and suspected that the Democrats’ apparent double victory would make any pro-Trump rally today even less rational. I fully expected Donald Trump to say and tweet things that would make everything worse.

But I’ve been so focused on dealing with a major home repair issue that I hadn’t even turned on the TV today. But then I flipped over to Facebook just over an hour ago and saw my Bethel colleague Chris Moore post this:

Please don’t say, “This isn’t who we are. We’re better than this.”

This is who we’ve become. We are not better than this, right now.

What was “this”?, I asked. Then turned on the news and saw something at once infuriating and heartbreaking.

Watching the shocking events at the Capitol made me think back to the summer of 1984, when I visited that building for the first time. Not yet ten years old, that week in Washington was the trip of a lifetime for a young history and politics buff. Somehow, my parents even arranged for me to spend time with one of our senators: first in his office for a photo; then a quick ride on the congressional subway took me up to the gallery of the Senate chamber to watch him make a short speech.

I don’t remember any of the details, only the feeling: this is special.

With time, I’ve come to a more conflicted feeling about American political institutions, but I still feel it: this is special.

Not perfect. Not sacred. Not deserving of my highest allegiance. But special. Emblematic of a centuries-old political experiment in reconciling what often seems irreconcilable: justice and power, equality and opportunity, individual freedom and the common good, conviction and compromise, tradition and progress.

Licensed by Creative Commons (Geoff Livingston)

Not a perfect union, but a perfectible one. Chris puts it well in the rest of his Facebook post:

We are not better than this, right now. But we should be. We can be. I will persist in that hope. Hope that we can return to an embrace of truth, empirical reality, and a sense of common welfare for the republic. Hope that we can reject tribalism, malicious misinformation, and false prophets.

Nothing lasts forever, but I hope to pass a stronger government to my children.

I do, too, and made a point of having our kids (whom we took to Washington a few years ago) watch some of this news with me.

The problems Chris identifies run deep and span the political spectrum. We all have to do better.

But in early January 2021, Democrats are not undermining democracy, and progressives are not profaning our institutions. It’s a Republican president and his conservative enablers who have brought us to this point, cynically inflaming the resentments and feeding the delusions of millions of Americans willing to give their votes, their money, their trust, and their passion to the worst confidence scheme in our country’s recent history. What conservative writer Kevin Williamson wrote yesterday is certainly not less true today: “No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again.”

Fortunately, some Republicans get it. Mitt Romney, most of all. GOP officeholders in places like Georgia who administered fair elections under impossible circumstances. And the senator who hosted me in 1984: Dave Durenberger.

Earlier this year, he endorsed the candidacy of Joe Biden, lamenting that his party’s historic values “have given way to blind allegiance to a president who has abandoned nearly every core principle that once defined the GOP. We believe that the re-election of Donald Trump would be disastrous for the country and ruinous for the Republican Party.”

Turns out that the defeat of Trump — if Trump and Trumpists refused to accept so democratic an outcome — can also bring the country almost to disaster, and the GOP even closer to ruin. Hopefully, today’s events will be the last straw, and the first step in Durenberger’s party — or a more worthy successor — “[finding] its way back” to what he called “its ethical and moral roots.”