After the Attack on the U.S. Capitol

The last 2 days will be a period that few of us will forget.  For only the second time in our  nation’s history the Capitol building was violently stormed by outside forces.  In 1812 it was the British who ransacked Washington, DC.  In 2021 it was a raucous mob of white nationalists and supporters of our current President.  They had just listened to an incendiary speech by Mr. Trump standing before the Whitehouse.  If you did not watch the speech, I encourage people of all political persuasions to do so. 

Like many of you, I find myself experiencing multiple and simultaneous reactions and emotions.  First, I am angry and frustrated as a citizen who believes that objective truth is crucial to the life of a democracy.  Our current President has a long history of telling lies and spreading mistruths, but his insistence that he won the November election is perhaps the most damning of all these fabrications.  Despite all 50 states having improved their election processes and security; despite every single lawsuit alleging some form of election fraud brought by Mr. Trump and his supporters being rejected or tossed out of court (and in some cases by judges appointed by this Administration); despite his own Election Security Advisor insisting that the votes cast on November 3 were secure and documented;  the President has continued to insist he won an election that he lost.  He has repeated this baseless lie over and over again and enlisted the support of a range of disreputable characters, lawyers and networks for his cause.   And yet, we know this is not objectively true.  In the incendiary speech he made on Wednesday near the White House he continued to declare the election was being stolen from him and riling up those in attendance.  In the ensuing chaotic march and attack, four protesters died in and around the Capitol Complex and at least one Capitol Police Officer was killed after being attacked with a fire extinguisher.  If someone yells fire in a theater when there is no fire, are they at all responsible if people are injured or killed in the ensuing chaos?

My second reaction is one of embarrassment, as an American in an increasingly interconnected world.  I had acquaintances in the UK, Canada and Germany reach out to me this last week and they all were in total shock that such an event could occur in the United States of all places.  In the country that is supposed to be the standard bearer for democracy and rule of law, we have what appears to be a clumsy, ill-conceived coup-attempt and an unstable President.  Reasonable people from the U.S. and around the world are left to wonder how our current state of affairs here helps our adversaries and harms America’s standing around the world.

Third, I find myself inspired by some of the less prominent stories reported over the last few days, and the many instances of officials and citizens stepping up to protect our democracy and stand up for our country.  I think of Mitt Romney’s speech in the Senate and the story about Rep. Andy Kim from New Jersey. I found the article about Rep. Kim especially touching: in the wee hours of Wednesday night Rep. Kim spent several hours on his hands and knees helping to clean up the trash and debris left in the Capitol Rotunda; a space that he and many other Americans consider sacred.

There is no doubt there will be many questions asked, reports written and recommendations made in the coming days. There also needs to be a reckoning of sorts with how it has come to this.  As a person of faith, I believe that telling the truth matters – it’s one of the Ten Commandments after all.  I also believe we need to find ways to bridge the divides and address the debilitating polarization and resentments that are being exploited by our current President and others in here in 21st century America.

As I read through the various accounts and analyses of Wednesday’s insurrection, I find myself ultimately wanting to declare, “America is better than this.”  Regardless of where any of us fall on the political spectrum, surely we can agree with that.  E pluribus Unum.

This Sunday we welcome back to First Parish Church the Rev. Mary Margaret Earl, Executive Director of the UU Urban Ministry in Roxbury.  Our congregation has enjoyed a connection to the Urban Ministry for more than 60 years.  I hope you can join us for Mary Margaret’s message.  She will also join us for a few minutes of our Fellowship Hour on Zoom on Sunday at 11:30 AM.

See you in church.  Jeff