I didn’t write anything this past week about the happening in D.C. There was a surfeit of writers on the topic, and I wanted to let my own thoughts marinate for a while in my brain juices before I committed them to the public domain.
Yes, it was a stain on our impression of ourselves as a shining light at the top of the hill. Yes, there are questions to be answered: why were the Capitol police so easily defeated? Why did the Army Secretary delay all day about sending in troops, and then only let them assemble on a street far from the Capitol and without any riot vehicles? If this had been a mainly Black insurrection, would there have been lots of gunfire, busted bones and mass arrests by militarized police as in Portland and Seattle?
But our democracy did survive. Congress resumed its session, counted Electoral College ballots and declared Joe Biden the winner by more than 7 million votes.
We’re not perfect. Never have been. I was reading a story about another American insurrection incident. That was the Battle of Canal Street in New Orleans, a 1874 attempt by 5,000 members of the White League — a white, anti-Reconstruction, paramilitary group trying to take over the Republican state government of Louisiana. They attacked and overpowered the police, then the capital, and were only repelled three days later by federal troops. Seven police were killed. Four of the rioters, and one journalist. Not one of the insurgents was ever prosecuted.
The recent D.C. event should cause us to put on our thinking caps. How well have we governed ourselves? How just are we?
Other countries do see us as a violent people because of our gun culture of open-and-concealed carry and the daily shootings of several dozen people in Chicago. We have not much questioned constantly sending our military forces into other countries: Panama, Grenada, Libya, Haiti. We basically militarily occupied South Vietnam and called all the shots of that country’s militarized government.
We criticize China’s treatment of its Uighur minority but refuse to recognize institutional racism at home. We are buddies with the hand-me-down dictatorship in Saudia Arabia, but won’t work with Cuba because it has a communist government, which is no threat to our national security. We also deplore the crackdown on Hong Kong’s citizens while we bless Israel to suppress the Palestinians who were kicked out of their homeland.
We ignored Josef Stalin murdering his people by the burial pitful so long as he was our ally against Nazi Germany in WWII.
We have great inequality of access to necessities of life in this nation. We’re really in no position to criticize that in Venezuela or Brazil.
Maybe D.C., as painful as it was, will be some sort of wake-up call that The People’s Government in that Capitol Building needs to do a much better job of uplifting our own version of what Argentina’s Eva Peron called the “descamisados” — the shirtless ones, the poor, the disenfranchised; those who feel looked down upon by an increasingly elite American upper class with high education and fat bank accounts. A friend said to me last night: “We could pick members of Congress by a lottery rather than an election and we couldn’t be any worse off than we are.”
I am not about hating America. And I have no sympathy for that D.C. gang. That was dumb and disgraceful and made no friends in or outside the U.S.
But let’s not ignore the deep-down distrust, unhappiness and antipathy that unleashed that thoughtless fury.
Hitler harnessed it, starting in 1933. Castro harnessed it in 1957. Kim is doing it now. So are the drug cartels in Mexico, who depend on popular dislike of corrupt police and incompetent political leaders. Trump did it, too, in 2020, drawing 74 million votes — 11 million more than in 2016.
I hope the new Administration and the coming 117th Congress recognize that there’s an unmistakeable signal that 2021 cannot be just another year of partisan bickering, campaign slush funds, meaningless speeches and exotic White House dinners while families from closed coal and steel and railroad and Rust Belt towns don’t go to a doctor or dentist because they can’t pay the bills.