Ends and Beginnings

A couple of months ago I suggested that given the destructive, chaotic behavior of the soon to be departed Chief Executive it was hard to know what else we should worry about his doing. Since the election his desperation has grown along with the outrageousness of his actions. We’ve all remarked on his being aided and abetted by his Republican supporters in the House and Senate who either vocally defend him or remain silent. They are accomplices, not enablers. Many of the mute criticize Trump in private but lack the guts to say anything publicly, but they’re just as complicit.

We’ve been through all of that, and this isn’t intended to be an I-told-you-so note.

The world is turned upside down. We need to be protected from the person we look to for protection. Bad as previous presidents have been, we never had to worry that they were willing to risk everything for their own well-being regardless of the consequences for the rest of us. But now we do, and what’s so hard to understand is how his followers can’t seem to comprehend that consideration for their well-being exists only in his rhetoric but nowhere in his actions. He has cast a spell.

On January 6 we got a small taste of the kind of mayhem that a skillful demagogue can cause. We have to hope that a proper investigation will be held into the absolute failure of law enforcement’s preparation for what occurred. That’s especially important because of the overwhelming force that was present last summer when the Nation’s Capital hosted Black Lives Matter protests. Then gratuitous force was used against peaceful demonstrators, Black and White. On January 6, an unprepared police force was overwhelmed by a violent mob of mostly White men, some carrying weapons in violation of local laws.

Unprecedented though they were, the events of January 6 didn’t happen in a vacuum.We didn’t need a fortune teller to predict what could happen. Donald Trump has been fostering this behavior for years, before he was elected and since. We may have been shocked, but we certainly should not have been surprised.

Here are some of the lessons we have—or should have—learned over the past four years:

       * The Big Lie didn’t die with Nazi Germany. Goebbels may have perfected it, and Trump may or may not have studied it, but he has been masterful at using it, over and over again. It turns out that even in America, repeating the same message at every given opportunity works, whether it’s true or not.
       * Hypocrisy is alive and well in America. What was unfair yesterday turns out to be virtuous today—if it works for us. Consistency—whether foolish or not—is the hobgoblin of little minds. The mantra now is, “Get over it.” And if you’re worried about it, find some rationalization—whether it makes sense or not—for justifying your turnabout.
       * Why should we think that this is a one off,  unique occurrence? If it happened once, why not again? Conditions haven’t changed. Now the worry is the Inauguration.
       *We can’t assume that our representatives will fulfill their obligations or uphold their oaths of office. We knew that in the abstract. We’ve now seen that demonstrated in real time. We’ve seen very few profiles in courage in the past five years. Honorable politicians faced with rejection have decided to abandon the field rather than stand up for their principles. As a result, as we’re flooded with negativity there’s no response. The Republican Party has been done in not by Trump alone but also by the cowardice and ambition of those who tremble in his presence.


Okay. That’s all water under the bridge. We can’t and shouldn’t forget what’s happened, but we have to move on. What’s the point? The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Whether Thomas Jefferson wrote it or not—and he apparently didn’t—it is a truism. What we’ve learned over the past four years, and especially in the past two months, is that we can’t take our democracy for granted. We can’t afford the luxury of seeing our liberty, our freedom, our democracy as entitlements. If we thought it can’t happen here, January 6 showed otherwise.

The next four years and beyond are going to be a challenge for all of us. We have to support the institutions that are foundational to our democracy: the courts, the non-partisan media, our communities, civic organizations and deserving elected officials. We have to pay attention, show up, speak up and, of course, vote.

In a way, we can see the events of January 6, 2021 as a valuable warning. Down through the ages some things don’t change. Given the opportunity by a skillful demagogue and an apathetic public, the mob is all too willing to emerge from its hiding place and act. But we are the majority. Individually, we’re insignificant. Together we’re a multitude. Find an organization. Or create one. “When bad men combine,” Edmund Burke wrote, “the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” Putting it another way, he said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

We can hope that among the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump last year that many millions have had the scales fall from their eyes as they witnessed his performance in his last days. We can hope, but don’t count on it.

January 20 isn’t the end. That’s just the beginning.


  1. Mary Logan on January 8, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    Larry – thank you once again for sharing your wisdom and insight so skillfully. Thanks, too, for this reminder: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

  2. Susan Friedman on January 9, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    Really beautifully written

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