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.
Here are some of the lessons we have—or should have—learned over the past four years:
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.”
January 20 isn’t the end. That’s just the beginning.