This news organization and community journalism institution focuses on local news, leaving national and world events to larger news sources. But there are times when our close-to-home happenings are overtaken by historical occurrences. Certainly, the violent attack on Jan. 6, 2021 of our U.S. Capitol and Congress was such a date.
And, now, there will be another historical moment when our new president Joseph R. Biden delivers his inaugural address on Jan. 20. What he says, or doesn’t say, will sway our nation’s immediate course and spark our own sets of conversations in our homes, workplaces and throughout our sheltered-in-place Sonoma County.
We are writing this piece in advance of Biden’s speech but we are certain it will evoke comparisons to Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address of March 4, 1861 when Lincoln urged the swelling of the chorus of the Union to be touched “by the better angels of our nature.” Calls for unity or forgiveness by Biden will not be enough. Lincoln’s better angels never appeared and our nation exploded into civil war just weeks later. We are at risk of the torment and citizen-upon-citizen violence happening again. This is not a time to forgive and forget.
After too many years of too many Americans seeing their political opponents and ideological opposites as bitter enemies, our country needs much more than kind words of consolation. We need an American reckoning. The violent wrongs and the seething lies of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, the nationalists, fascists, white supremacists and radical conspiracy theorists are not to be forgiven; they must be stopped.
President Biden must call these people out, not for revenge or punishment, but for accountability and restitution. Biden, or even the moral leadership of the Republican party, may never convert these anti-democratic and hate-driven mobs to appreciate civility, compassion or true character. But the least we must teach them is that, in a true democracy, winners and losers share one final outcome. There is no winner-take-all in a democracy. Minorities have the same guaranteed rights as members of any majority. The democratic bargain is that all citizens must be respected, included and shown tolerance.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us,” Lincoln said in his second inaugural speech on March 4, 1865, “let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
As we attempt to divorce our nation from the twice-impeached imperialist Donald Trump, we must restore faith in free and fair elections. We must address the structural racism and social injustices the past four years have laid bare. We must uniformly denounce and prosecute all forms of political violence, as we work to ameliorate the malady of intolerance among us.
In his speech, our new president must be forceful in his demands for civility and the restoration of our democratic norms. We have been shown the paper-thin fragility of our democracy. We may never realize how close we came to watching our elected congressional representatives be maimed or killed on our TVs on Jan. 6. How can this be forgiven? How can it ever be forgotten?
After winning the closest presidential election in U.S. history, new president George W. Bush in 2001 said in his inaugural speech that he, too, saw a divided America, where “we share a continent, but not a country.” He appealed for all Americans to remember and return to their shared democratic values, “a single nation of justice and opportunity.”
Biden’s challenge — and ours — is much stiffer just two decades after Bush’s call for compassion. Jan. 6 showed us that some of the most incumbent values that informed our Founding Fathers to write our U.S. Constitution, written as an instrument to “form a more perfect union,” are no longer held sacred — or even tolerated — by legions of fellow Americans. We must assume this number includes some of our Sonoma County neighbors. We all have a part to play in America’s necessary reckoning.