Are you confused, angry and sad about the mess at the U.S. Capitol last week? Me too.
Let’s start by clarifying what happened, and what didn’t. It was not a coup attempt. Naming the looters and wannabes who stormed the doors of Congress as members of a coup vastly inflates their potential of success. What were they going to do? Launch an attack on Iran? Disband the Department of Education? Appoint a Supreme Court Justice?
Their short-term goal was achieved — they occupied a public space and trashed a few offices — but their actions had no structural impact. It was a publicity stunt.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t horrific and surreal — especially for those who were terrorized, injured or killed — but that posse of goons never had a chance to overthrow the government. If they — or the millions cheering them on via social media — expected a world power to fall apart at the sight of zip ties and tactical helmets, they miscalculated.
It’s unnerving to learn that investigators found guns, pipe bombs and molotov cocktail ingredients afterward, but even if they had been deployed, the impact would have been less than a mosquito bite on an organization of the size and scope of the federal government.
So, why did the mob — and the shocked millions watching TV — think it stood a chance of success? Like it or not, we humans have a primal reverence for leadership. Donald Trump has had a few accomplishments as a president, and one of his greatest is to foster a myth of monarchy, the notion that an outspoken bully could alter the will of a nation, that he and a few thousand angry people could topple a 244-year-old government by frightening people and vandalizing a building.
With Trump‘s eager abetting, we ignore our Constitution and naively buy into tribalism. The idea that a larger-than-life figure can rule and manage a sprawling collection of diverse and dispersed ideas, communities and people might find a home in the movies, but not in real life.
Trump and his mob did achieve their goal of creating fear and division, and all but guaranteed a massive show of force next week at President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. And, they might succeed at getting Congress to spend time on censuring or impeaching Trump instead of fixing the country. An impeachment trial would make a lot of us feel good, and if successful, would strip Trump of the ability to pretend to be running in 2024 (thereby gumming up national politics for years), but I worry that it would also distract from the hard work that has to be done as we recover from his disastrous leadership.
Plus, focusing all our ire on Trump — while it feels good — ignores the syndrome by treating the symptom. Trump came to power as a result of centuries of cognitive dissonance in our nation, as we preached a gospel of equality while denying it to many. Trump may be impeached, censured or driven out by his Cabinet, but we can’t let him be a scapegoat for the issues that allowed him to come to power.
It’s time for our country to engage in a “searching and fearless moral inventory” as we contemplate the next chapter in our history. For those of us who want to celebrate Trump’s departure, by all means, party down.
Then, we have work to do.
Ray Holley is ready to stop accepting the things he cannot change, and start changing the things he cannot accept. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.