It is time to rise above the vices of politics. Both the outgoing and incoming Presidents, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, have to move with caution, do what is right by the country and for unifying America.
By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
January 6 – when misguided dissidents chose to storm the American Bastille i.e., the Capitol Building – will go down in American history as another date in infamy. President Roosevelt had used that term to describe Japan’s dastardly attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Though the scale of physical destruction is hardly comparable, the blow to the national psyche from those two days is not dissimilar, and as shocking as the 9-11 attacks on America.
After listening to the President Trump’s speech in which he reiterated his and his supporters’ distrust of the election results and asked them to proceed “peacefully” to the Capitol to express their concern over the electoral process’s integrity, things went out of hand as the January 6th protest quickly morphed into a reckless, dangerous violent incursion with many smashing windows and doors to get inside the building and take over Congress offices and even the Speaker’s seat. Thankfully, Congress members were speedily moved to safety but they felt shocked, disoriented and traumatized at the real threat to their lives. Finally, after several hours, when the mayhem ended, they returned bravely to successfully confirm Joe Biden’s electoral triumph.
The nation stood frozen in shock at the ease with which the seat of power of this most powerful country and its security were breached and how hooligans transgressed the code of lawful protest and orderly behavior. While those in charge of law and order have moved swiftly to start rounding up miscreants, the nation has been united in condemning the act with some equating it to a planned coup.
With the recently won majority in both Houses along with the White House under their control, Democrats were swift to take immediate action. Within days, and to some somewhat unjustly, the House cut short the customary evidence-based impeachment procedure to hurriedly impeach Trump in just a few hours. The intent was punitive – to protect and preserve the nation’s integrity and impeach Trump for failing to do so, charging him with “incitement of insurrection”. The broader intent was to finish Trump, presenting him not only as “clear and present danger” but also to make him the first President ever to be impeached by the House twice, and importantly, after possible Senate approval, to prevent Trump from holding any electoral office in future.
Historians of the Presidency will determine what, why, and how of the “attempted coup” as well as the fairness of the impeachment of a President with just six days left for him to finish his term. For us, living in this moment and in highly politically charged times, January 6th is bound to have a more immediate, even devastating impact. Foremost is the blow to our faith in America’s invincibility and American Democracy’s infallibility. The fragility of our nation to defend itself against external or internal attack so potently exposed is almost as great as the feebleness and self-destructiveness of our polity. There is the helpless reckoning that we are living in a highly fractured country and a viciously mangled democracy.
All who have ever written about government, as Edmund Burke aptly noted, “are unanimous that among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.” John Adams too, correctly diagnosed Democracy’s ills when he said, “It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy… Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence and cruelty.”
The roots of our Black Wednesday (January 6, 2021) can be traced to the previous year – 2020 – which saw an initially peaceful and powerful protest movement by Blacks against police brutality and judicial and societal inequality degenerate into mob rule and mob violence. Civil rights movements under King and Chavez and Gandhi opposed unfairness and inhumane laws and social practices with principled dissent and self-restraint. They expressed their rage with quiet courage, not with incendiary bombs and violent tactics. As Black Rights soldiers of peace turned to violence, they took over some cities and established autonomous zones, bringing down local and state governments to their knees. For weeks on end, we saw rogue protesters burn down businesses, desecrate churches and national monuments, and attack police stations and federal buildings. The nation felt bewildered when the response to the outrage became divisive with Republicans condemning the loss of livelihoods, property, and police and other lives, and Democrats claiming it was not violent and even if it was, that violence was justified because as enslaved people, Blacks had the right to compensation and retribution.
But the genesis of a divided America goes beyond last year, to the 2016 election of Trump. Even before he was elected, anti-Trumpers had stepped in to deny him any acceptance or credibility. #Resistance overtook all limbs of our polity from media to bureaucrats to politicians and their financial backers in the business world, even to Hollywood. ‘Not my President’ was their loud common refrain. On his part, Trump did little to charm or disarm the opposition, instead adding fuel to fire with his divisive rhetoric.
Switch to 2020, why is it a surprise that 74 million who voted for Trump and saw him lose to Biden felt cheated and deemed it was their turn to oppose Biden’s confirmation by the Congress? That the elected political class was given a sense of what fear feels like when you or your home and business are under attack by a frenzied enraged and stick or flame carrying mob, is really the more earth-shattering impact of the latest mob protest. The Democrats who stood silently by when violent protests took over cities and businesses dismissing those incendiary acts as “the Summer of Love”, faced their moment of truth when violence reached their portals. Confronted now with a similar violence and mayhem, Democrats are not shy to deem and decry this as ‘the Winter of Insurrection’.
There is an old saying that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Kashmiri Muslims and Khalistanis have used this argument against the Indian Government. It behooves politicians to not inflame people’s disaffection but to defuse it by listening and reaching out. Biden’s administration has already thrown the gauntlet by allowing the House to impeach Trump whose supporters now feel even more aggrieved as the ones who have been indicted along with Trump. Not only have their concerns about electoral practices not been addressed or a commission announced to examine flawed electoral practices with a view to devising a reliable nation-wide election system free of tampering from external or domestic forces, but lists are being created to ban them from pursuing careers, running their businesses, even flying, renting rooms, and enjoying other accouterments of life. Actively and faithfully supported by the media, Trump and his supporters are being excommunicated from the digital world.
That is not a united America, as Biden promised, but a recklessly deliberately divided America. As people stand divided against one another, and the divisive memory of Trump continues to be the dividing line between members of the same family, this nation sits on the edge of a volcano whose lava has to be prevented from charring the entire country. Like Covid, violence infects all equally – rich or poor, black, brown yellow or white, gender and cross-gender, and red or blue. It is for us to resolve our political differences within the family and in the public square and in businesses and college and school campuses, but it is more for our elected leaders to shed their antagonism and start the healing.
For the two departing and incoming Presidents, it is time to rise above the stranglehold of vicious politics. As KT McFarland warns in a recent article on Fox News site, “Chaos will reign if Trump, Biden don’t unify America”. Trump, she asks, “needs to hang up his boxing gloves and tell his half of the country this: Whatever you may think about the election, my presidency is over. But the movement I launched is not. I will continue to fight for you by continuing to advocate for the policies that Made America Great Again during my administration.” And “Biden needs to tell his half of the country to back off and oppose the conviction of Trump at an impeachment trial because that will only divide our country further. He needs to tell his supporters to tear up their blacklists and stop seeking revenge against people who served our country in the Trump administration”. “And Biden needs to tell the Big Tech giants that control social media, along with left-wing journalists, to stop censoring those they disagree with.”
Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
Ms. Sohoni is a freelance writer and published author.