January 6th: There’s No Writing it Off as Un-American

We’re all asking “What happens next?” That’s the wrong question.

This question leads us to talk about the Biden administration and what it will take to return to normal. It’s the wrong question.

Reporting on the mob in the U.S. Capitol, Al Jazeera published the headline, “America is Coming Undone.” Robin Wright included this perspective in her piece for The New Yorker, “What does America’s revolt mean for everybody else?” She lists reactions from authoritarian leaders (gleeful), America’s allies (appalled), and ambassadors from around the world (heartbroken). These perspectives all imply ideas about what happens next.

Wright refers to a “European diplomat” who suggested that we have to do more than merely calling this episode “un-American” and trying to move on. The diplomat offered, “what happened today is the result of what happened before,” and warned that the attack “will have an impact on all democracies.”

With the world’s attention on the viability of democracy itself, we have to turn our attention to questions that help us see the work ahead of us, not just the next administration. We have to resist questions that allow us to think we can simply put this behind us.

We have to stop saying, “This is not who we are.”

To understand what is happening today, we have to talk clearly, maybe more clearly than ever, about what happened before. Near the end of the day on January 6th, Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter to MLK, Jr., posted:

“We need to stop sayng ‘This is now who we are in America.’

Indeed this is not who and what the United States should be, but denial won’t make the injustices and inhumane ideologies less so. We can’t change without the truth.”

—Bernice A. King, “Be A King” or @BerniceKing on Twitter

Reflecting on the same event, David Remnick wrote in The Yorker, “Was Charlottesville not who we are? Did more than seventy million people not vote for the Inciter-in-Chief? Surely, these events are part of who we are, part of the American picture.”

Repeating familiar phrases like this and focusing on the next administration’s ability to return to normalcy mark out a path to forgetting and hoping for the best. With a deliberate focus on that question of what happened before that brought us to that moment, we can do better.

It’s an odd proposition—to look backward to see how to move forward. Let’s turn our attention from the stories of the individuals who joined the mob and consider the ideas some journalists have presented for us to consider as a collective people.

Questions We Need to Ask

Can Joe Biden Make America Great Again?

by Finton O’Toole

published January 16, 2021

Can President Biden turn the national conversation towards confronting the “hollow promise of the American Dream” and lead a new awakening of real equality? Or, as Finton O’Toole wrote in The Guardian, “Can Joe Biden make America great again?

The Inaction of Capitol Police Was by Design

by Kellie Carter Jacksn

published January 8, 2021

Are we willing to confront the “double system of justice?” Historian Kellie Carter Jackson reminds us WEB DuBois used this phrase to explain the color lines in our policing, “which erred on the white side by undue leniency and … practical immunity.”

‘Stop the Steal’ Didn’t Start with Trump

by Jamelle Bouie

published January 15, 2021

Can we transform the uncertainty of this moment into willpower for confronting antidemocratic strategies that have persisted in our politics? Jamelle Bouie reminds us that these antidemocratic strategies didn’t start with Trump.

A QAnon ‘Digital Soldier’ Marches On, Undeterred by Theory’s Unraveling

by Kevin Roose

published January 20, 2021

Can we reach the disaffected Americans who responded to conspiratorial thinking and became part of a movement that undermines trust in democratic institutions? Kevin Roose tells the story of one “meme queen,” her Facebook page, and her sense of purpose.

Standing at a Fault Line with Better Questions

We used the pages of The New Yorker Magazine to learn from an international perspective in November. They had published a video titled “The American Bureau,” and it prompted us to ask, “What are we learning about American democracy?” A reporter for NOS in Holland, Arjen Van Der Horst, appears early in the short video and says:

“It feels like America is at a fault line. Like this is an end of an era.”

—Arjen Van Der Horst, reporter for NOS in Holland

Now we can see this fault line for ourselves. We can feel how uncertain and unstable democracy is, even in the United States of America. To resume our idea of ourselves as a model to the world, we need to work together and create space for the questions listed here. We have to start the conversation over what happened before and commit ourselves to carry those lessons into our plans for what happens next.

If American democracy is something you like to keep an eye on, you might appreciate our newlsetter too.

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