The Storming of Capitol: a lesson for the rest of us?
In the 2013 Hollywood movie White House Down, a group of disgruntled secret service agents orchestrates a siege of the White House. But the premise was so farfetched that most people just treated the movie as just another example of Hollywood’s overactive imagination. Naturally, the film became a hit at the box office. Well, something like that happened on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. With four dead and fifty-two people arrested, the date will surely go down as a day of infamy in America.
But while the film ended with a typical Hollywood ending, the storming of Capitol will not end like the film – with a hero saving the day. Indeed, there will be repercussions and consequences. But more importantly, it marks a point in modern history, or at least in 21st-century history, that Americans tried to enact – as US President Joe Biden termed it – “insurrection.” And that surely deserves a moment of reflection.
Essentially, the storming occurred because the protestors, as Trump supporters, were unhappy that their candidate had lost the 2020 US Presidential Elections. As a result, they sought to disrupt the certification of Electoral College votes during a joint session of Congress. But the event was not something that came from nowhere. It was the culmination of months of divisive rhetoric that was partly encouraged by Trump, who wanted supporters to help him to overturn the result.
But be that as it may, the storming of Capitol on January 6, 2021, was not an aberration or one-off event. Throughout these past few years, there have been signs that people are increasingly fed up and angry with how their leaders have been running the country. Indeed, the event was but another sign of a country at war with itself. So, make no mistakes about it; what happened was not the result of foreigners or outsiders invading Capitol Hill. Rather, they were the actions of Americans who were unhappy about the results of the 2020 Presidential elections as well as many other issues affecting them on a personal level, such as employment, health, culture, social and political insecurity, and disenfranchisement.
Indeed, it was really an event of Americans fighting against themselves. As an outsider looking in, it was not a pleasant or welcoming sight. Indeed, such acts are never pleasant at all. So, while some have expressed a certain sense of glee about the whole event, it would really be misguided for anyone to indulge in the sense of schadenfreude about the whole thing. That is because such an event can happen anywhere in the world – indeed, they have occurred elsewhere in other countries. So, for those who try to gloat, we need to be very careful at laughing at the misfortune of others – if not least, we neglect to learn from it.
What happened in America is important not because it happened in America. Rather, what happened is important because it shows that no one, nowhere, and no place is immune to civil unrest and demonstrations – not even the heart and center of Democracy. Indeed, the storming of Capitol is important because it is but just another example of how the cultivation of a socio-cultural landscape is important to the conduct and flow of civil society.
After all, what can be more symbolic of Democracy than the idea of free and informed people coming together to debate and participate on who to cast their votes for during elections, and when results are out, allow for a peaceful and stable transfer of power? But in a social landscape where politics become like sports, where politicians are judged not so much on the rigor, coherency, and profits of their policies and plans but on how they can rouse emotions by demonizing the other, and where there is so much emphasis on “winners” and “losers,” such a landscape can only be a toxic and unhealthy way of conducting important affairs of the state.
But, as President Kennedy once suggested, a crisis is not necessary all doom and gloom. Indeed, it also presents an opportunity for constructive actions. So, while the event that took place on Capitol on January 6, 2021, may demoralize the spirit, we might do well to take counsel from another quote from President Kennedy’s as he advises us; “We must neither run with the crowd nor deride it – but seek sober counsel for it – and for ourselves.”