The Capitol Riot, White Supremacy, and Post-Trump America

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 offered a pair of contrasting events that portent the dynamism of political life in post-Trump America. On the one hand, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won historic victories in their Georgia Senate races. On the other, the violent attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in our nation’s capital is a serious threat to the nation and its citizens.

The full toll of the events that day continue to be tallied and continue to shock the conscience. The murder of Capitol Police Officers Brian Sicknick. The two explosive devices were fortunately discovered before they could be detonated. The palpable anger from the crowd as they overran the barricades and officers meant to constrain them. The destruction of the Capitol building, replete with blood, urination, and defecation. The video of a lone Black Capitol Police officer, Eugene Goodman, being confronted and chased by a crowd of angry White insurrectionists through the halls. The perpetrators of the Capitol Riot exhibited all the hallmarks of a lynch mob, unmoved by calls for law and order, and determined to take matters into their own hands.

Beyond that, the glaring difference in the treatment given by law enforcement to Black Lives Matter protesters over the past several months and the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol building is a vivid illustration of unequal treatment that is part of the complex web of systemic racism that pervades our nation.

The current crisis presents a choice. In the words of the late Congressmen John Lewis, democracy is an act. We can either choose to protect and expand our democratic values so that more voices are valued and heard, as in the example of the state of Georgia, or we can continue to ignore the poisonous ideology of racial division that has fueled this current chaos to our own peril.

Writing last week for the New York Times Timothy Snyder of Yale University, in a piece entitled “The American Abyss,” pointed out the racial roots of our division and our need to confront it head-on. “The racism structured into every aspect of the coup attempt,” Snyder wrote, “is a call to heed our own history. Serious attention to the past helps us to see risks but also suggests future possibilities. We cannot be a democratic republic if we tell lies about race, big or small. Democracy is not about minimizing the vote nor ignoring it, neither a matter of gaming nor of breaking a system, but of accepting the equality of others, heeding their voices and counting their votes.”

Now is the moment for us to act and to invest in a greater future for us all.