Welcome to class, students. Today we’re going to review the historic events of Jan. 6, 2021, in the United States of America. Who can tell me what that date means?
Come on, kids. It was only 40 years ago! The people who lived through it were sure it would live in infamy forever. I was just a baby, but my Great-Aunt Mary, may she rest in peace, used to tell me stories, about how scary and sad and yet inevitable that day seemed when it happened.
No, Josh, 40 years ago was not the Middle Ages.
Jan. 6, 2021. Anyone?
Insurrection Day! Correct, Ava! Thank God someone did the assigned reading.
It was a Wednesday, and the Democrats were happy that morning because down in Georgia, they had just won two seats in the U.S. Senate and it looked like they would finally have some power again. But in the middle of the afternoon, while members of Congress were inside the U.S. Capitol debating whether to affirm the election of the new president — his name was Joe Biden — a mob of terrorists broke into the building.
No, no. Not foreign terrorists. They called themselves Americans, but a lot of them were militants who believed more in white supremacy than in democracy for all. Do I need to point out that that is very un-American?
So on that day, the mob scaled walls and broke windows. They waved Confederate flags and guns. They plopped boots on lawmakers’ desks. They took selfies in front of a makeshift gallows, as if this assault were really just a gleeful game. Someone even scratched “Murder the Media” on a Capitol door.
And why, you’re wondering, did they do it?
Well, there was a president named Donald Trump. Anyone heard of him?
Yes, he was “The Apprentice” guy, but that’s not all. President Trump was famous as a bully, a liar, a narcissist and a man accustomed to getting whatever he wanted. He was addicted to fame. He had two great fears. One was being called a loser. The other was being ignored. So after he lost his bid for a second term, he incited his followers by claiming the election was stolen.
“Incite” is a fancy way of saying he encouraged them to be violent. Those suckers — pardon my French, kids — didn’t realize they were like toy soldiers he manipulated in his own private war.
Most of Trump’s followers, but not all, were white, and he preyed on their fears of how the country was changing.
One change was the economy. Did you know there used to be a coal industry, kids? No one besides Ava? Anyway, as the economy changed, income inequality deepened, which hurt people of all skin colors. At the same time, the number of Americans with dark skin, and Americans of non-Christian faiths, was growing, and those changes showed up in everything from politics to Netflix. A lot of white people felt they were being marginalized.
Correct, Ava. That’s how the other people had always felt.
But let’s acknowledge that big change can be scary. A good president would have helped people move through the change and understand it. Instead, Donald Trump stoked his followers’ fears of losing their identity, their status and what they thought of as “their” country. He held on to his power by convincing them that he would protect them from losing theirs.
Then came Jan. 6, 2021. He went to a rally and repeated his lies that the election had been stolen. He encouraged his supporters to go to the Capitol, where the vote was being made official. Like faithful soldiers, they went.
Why didn’t the police stop them? Good question, Ava.
To be fair, they tried. But it’s also fair to guess that if the insurrectionists had been Black or brown or foreign-born, a lot of them would have been thrown in jail or shot in the name of law and order. These terrorists got off easy.
What’s that, Josh? Why didn’t other Republicans stop Trump’s outrages before it went that far?
Simple. They were afraid of losing his voters. It took the shock of Insurrection Day to get them to stand up to the bully.
Their names? Almost no one remembers or cares. And that’s part of my point, kids. Most so-called important people are forgotten as fast as everybody else. What remains — even if it’s not remembered — is the consequences of actions.
Insurrection Day was a long time ago, kids, but it still shapes our country, just as that day was shaped by the history that came before it. To understand who we are, we need to understand what happened before we were here.
Yes, Ava, you have one last question? Ooof. Tough one: Should we have any sympathy for the insurrectionists?
I don’t know if sympathy is the right word. But it helps to understand that they had been misled by their leaders. They’d been fed lies about a stolen election. By the president. By his enablers. By certain segments of the media. It’s not crazy to wonder if they would have acted better if they’d had a better leader.
And that’s today’s main lesson. Leaders are a reflection of the people they lead, but the good leaders are more than reflections. They’re guides. Through words and actions, they help steer their followers to a better future.
Donald Trump failed. How about Joe Biden? That’s history for another day.