Yesterday, watching the United States Capitol building under siege I was both surprised and not surprised.
I’ve come to believe that we are in the present quagmire precisely because we asked for this. Or maybe I should say, we allowed this to happen.
Let me explain…
President Donald Trump
Some will quickly conclude that President Trump is responsible for yesterday’s national embarrassment. I believe (and am not the first one to suggest) that Trump is not the problem, but rather a symptom of the problem. He was the populist solution for a large swath of desperate people who felt trampled and ignored by the country they love. Just as President Obama before him was likewise a populist solution for a large (but different) swath of desperate people who felt trampled and ignored by the country they love.
Even before the last few presidents were at the helm, public trust in our longstanding and most important institutions were eroding. Our country has been sacrificing sacred virtues on the altar of progress for decades now. We stopped treasuring humility and we rewarded arrogance. We exchanged modesty for indecency. Rather than stressing self-control, we idolized self-indulgence. We blurred the lines of objectivity and encouraged people to find their “own” truth. We mocked nobility and celebrated absurdity.
Lest you dismiss me as sounding archaic and puritanical, might I suggest that believing it’s possible to have a civil society without a moral compass is perhaps naive.
We’ve heard lately that “words have consequences.” This is true. One could also say that “ideas have consequences” and ideas precede actions. One cannot and should not try to explain the invasion into our nation’s capitol without addressing the ideas that created a context which made such a siege possible.
Without question, Donald Trump is the most polarizing political figure in my lifetime. I know very few people who do not hold strong opinions about the man toward one extreme or the other. I’ve heard that friends and family of mine have wondered what my opinions about the man were. Only those who asked me directly (which weren’t many) learned the answer. It became nearly impossible to have a rational conversation about the man without people flying off the handle one way or the other.
To me, Trump was never a savior. He was never an ethical, moral leader. He was never articulate or persuasive. In fact, his popularity grew in part because he said plainly all the things that nobody was supposed to say—some of which needed to be said, and others of which should’ve never been said. For a country that was founded on the principles of liberty and small, limited government, he was the predictable outcome of a nation that had since grown into a large, uncontrollable, globe-dominating empire.
Don’t get me wrong, such an empire came with lavish luxuries that we all enjoyed, but the scale and magnitude had become unsustainable. The United States became the monster it was supposed to prevent. So people began to view Trump the same way you’d view a battering ram. He seemed like the only blunt object strong enough to hit back against such a colossal foe. 75 million people didn’t vote for Trump because they thought his tweets would heal the world. Most just wanted the elitist, imperial boot off their necks.
Since the 2020 election, Trump and his campaign’s legal team have insisted that he was robbed and only lost because the whole thing was rigged. More importantly, recent polls found that roughly 40% of voting Americans (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) also believe that the election was rigged. Whether or not that claim is true, the worst way to handle such a grave concern was to ignore or ridicule those asking the questions.
Most of the court cases weren’t settled based on the merits of the evidence, they were thrown out because of “standing” or procedural technicalities. It very well may have been true that there was insufficient evidence of fraud to change the outcome of the election, but what troubled his supporters is that they felt like they didn’t even get their day in court. They also appealed to their state legislatures to investigate. Some held evidentiary hearings showcasing thousands of signed affidavits under penalty of perjury from election workers who testified to irregularities and possible fraud. Very little was done in response.
Again, I’m not trying to say one way or the other whether or not the election was fraudulent. My point is that a large percentage of the voting population expressed concerns about the election and they felt like their voices were not heard. So they stormed the castle.
Riots are good or bad?…make up your mind
We heard several journalists and political commentators last summer explain that many of the riots which grew out of the BLM protests, were “cries for help” from desperate people, and were effective means of achieving important social change. The violence and destruction of those riots were excused as unfortunate, but Dr. King’s words were often invoked: “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
So is anyone really that surprised when a ragtag group on the fringe who were tired of being mocked and ignored, resorted to the approach that was dignified and celebrated just six months prior?
Personally, there were things that I absolutely hated about Trump’s presidency, but he also had some great achievements. Yesterday he had a chance to preserve the legacy of the good things he accomplished in his term (record low black & hispanic unemployment, higher wages for the middle class, revitalized the industrial/manufacturing sector, energy independence, prison reform which disproportionately hurt minorities, renegotiated NAFTA, renegotiated NATO, deregulated the American economy, lowered taxes, scaling down Middle East wars, starting zero new wars, several peace deals including 3 in the Middle East, the Platinum Plan which invests $500 billion into neglected black communities, etc). Yesterday he should’ve seen the writing on the wall. He had exhausted all avenues to challenge the election results, and he was down to his final Hail Mary, hoping that Congress would intervene. His angry followers were clamoring for justice. He could’ve channeled that energy and enthusiasm toward improving voter integrity, but he didn’t. When the clumsy mob ransacked the capitol, he was slow and reluctant to calm the turbulence.
Caveat: I am a huge fanboy of our nation’s founders and the Revolution they fought to achieve independence. So you won’t hear me disparage the rumblings of a revolutionary uprising. But is that what we saw yesterday? I personally think there could be a time and place where such a demonstration would be justified. There is nothing more American than protesting for one’s rights. In fact, one problem I had with the riots last summer was that the rage and mayhem punished innocent people (mostly in poor neighborhoods), small business owners, and private property, instead of being directed toward their alleged oppressors.
But yesterday, I didn’t see a new 1776 revolution. Our capitol was not attacked by a well-trained militia. I don’t even think you could describe it as an organized resistance. It was overrun by selfie-stick morons in viking hats that looked like a local chapter of the Duck Dynasty fan club. And I don’t mean to make light of the situation either, because 4 people died yesterday. The unnecessary and premature loss of life is always tragic.
The founders read the works of Plato, Aristotle, Adam Smith, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the like. They were smart, brave, and dignified. They fought for a common, principled cause. Yesterday, on the other hand, was a haphazard embarrassment. If it was supposed to be a revolution, it was a pathetic one.
I wonder if our culture is even capable of such an achievement. Where are the Thomas Jeffersons, John Adams, Thomas Paines, John Jays, Frederick Douglass, Patrick Henrys, and Benjamin Franklins of our day? There are certainly noble causes worth fighting for in our day, but do we have the leaders capable of winning such victories? I worry that the erosions I alluded to earlier have made longing for the emergence of such heroes virtually hopeless. And I’m not just casting stones, because I’m ashamed of myself for not becoming what I aspire to be.
Men Without Chests
Roughly 80 years ago C.S. Lewis wrote and published the book The Abolition of Man. In it he describes a society that abandons objective truth and morality for relativism. He suggested that such a society would decay and whither, producing mostly intellectual people who behave like animals. He described them as “men without chests.” When a society neglects the cultivation of morality in the hearts of its people, calamity will surely follow. He wrote “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
I was sad yesterday, but not for all the reasons we saw flowing through our social media news feeds. I long for better, nobler men and women to elevate our society. I yearn for us as a nation to continue striving toward a more perfect union. But until we rediscover virtue, courage, and decency, regrettably I fear that we will continue to cannibalize each other. God have mercy.