“This is not normal,” I tell my son. At 17, he’s old enough to understand that logically, even if he barely remembers a time when our president wasn’t an egomaniacal, violence-enabling, reality-show host. Even though our leadership will change for the better on January 20th, though, I worry as he heads towards adulthood in a country still deeply divided. Can we adults give him, and all young people and children, the country they need to grow into happy, healthy adults? Will the ideals of freedom and equality for all ever be more than distant visions?
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I do know that the violence at our nation’s capitol yesterday was more than just the work of the perpetrators on the spot. It was enabled by all of those who have turned a blind eye to Trump’s many immoral and likely illegal actions over the past four years, as Susan Ryan-Vollmar points out in this piece for WGBH. (Full disclosure: Susan is a friend and a former editor for work I’ve done elsewhere.) Goals like “building bridges” seem like limp platitudes when some are storming the gates of government.
I hope, though, that even as we bring the insurrectionists to justice, we remember that justice is not revenge, and that, as angered as we have been at the injustices of the past four years, we must now set an example of what real justice looks like. We must also each continue to examine ourselves and our actions, and the systems from which we benefit, in order to ensure we are not ourselves contributing to inequity and injustice—and are in fact working to stop them. We may not be able to change others’ hearts and minds directly, but we can lead by example, and work to change practices and policies that continue to oppress.
That won’t be easy when some continue to hurl blatant falsehoods and insults. When they go low, can we go high, as First Lady Michelle Obama urged us to do? That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to what happened in D.C. yesterday, nor suppressing our anger about it, but rather to turning that anger into energy for positive change, guided by our morals and the vision of the country we’d like to see, starting with our own communities.
2021 may not be starting out as the fresh ray of hope that many of us envisioned. I do believe, though, that we have the power to make it so. Hug your kids today, and let’s move forward together.