Since May we have watched ever more stunning and audacious acts of violence committed in our great cities under the cover of “mostly peaceful” protests.
Perhaps we became jaded after more than three months of nightly riots accentuated by vandalism, looting, and attempts to burn public buildings and immolate police officers.
The sight of an angry mob of our fellow citizens busting into the U.S. Capitol, disrupting the House and Senate sessions and making a mockery of one the highest institutions in our republic is sickening and almost beyond comprehension.
Almost. We have been building to this for a very long time.
The politics of the past 20 years have become increasingly divisive, intolerant and personal. America has been divided on all issues into competing factions, each encouraged to believe in the infallibility of its position, to revile the position of opponents, and to doubt our foundational institutions. The rule of law be damned.
How did we reach a place where significant portions of the electorate believe either Donald Trump stole the election in 2016 or Joe Biden stole the election in 2020? When did we lose faith in each other?
Politicians, left and right, have become expert at stoking the flames, without regard to the potential damage.
Our elected officials — presidents, members of Congress, governors, mayors — have used the harshest, most inflammatory rhetoric against their opponents. They whip these mobs into a frenzy, send them out into the street and act surprised when bad actors embedded with legitimate protesters turn ugly. They deplore the violence while subtly suggesting that it was all somehow justified.
We should expect more from our elected officials, but the fault is in ourselves.
We have become all too occupied with the divisions, arranging ourselves neatly in one camp or another. We have listened only to those things that bolstered our world view. We allowed agitators and activists to use our fear and anger as a means to their own ends.
We stopped talking with and listening to each other. We have slapped vile labels on our neighbors and turned them into irredeemable enemies. And, when times are desperate, instinct dictates we deal harshly with an enemy.
Each of us passes through history so briefly that we often don’t appreciate the trials endured by previous generations. America has a fiery history. We’ve been here before.
Time and again our ancestors learned that there are more things that unite us than divide us; that we can respectfully disagree; that if not friends, we are not enemies; that the legitimacy of an argument is not determined by the force with which it is made; that we can restore trust in our institutions; that no mob rules.
We can pull ourselves from the brink. We must stop this now.