Letter from AHA Staff: Blocks from the Capitol, Reflecting on Fragility.

It’s 3:40 on Wednesday afternoon and as I sit in my home, blocks from the U.S. Capitol, siren after siren whir by my window and blaring horns are punctuated by the occasional helicopter overhead. Friends locked in the Capitol are texting to keep me updated on their safety. Members of Congress are taking cover in the balcony of the House Chamber. Someone has been shot. At least one undetonated explosive device was found. Virginia’s national guard is on its way.

I woke this morning with gratitude swelling in my heart as I pulled up the Georgia election data. While marvelling at the historic turnout in a runoff election designed to suppress votes, an apt movie line randomly popped into my head: “Earn this.” Organizers in Georgia, led by Black women, moved mountains to bring out more than 4.5 million voters. But yesterday’s election is only a beginning and I hope that members of Congress will earn the honor of their positions by remembering the people who sent them there and those who shifted the balance of power in Congress. Today, the job of those elected officials is to validate the electoral college votes that will seat our next president.

Too many senators and representatives failed to uphold their oaths today, as they echoed the lies of the President, not only in words, but terrifyingly in deeds by voting to reject the electorate’s voice. And what ought to have been a mundane procedure sadly devolved into chaos when Capitol Police allowed a stream of White nationalists to force their way into the U.S. Capitol.

We need to de-escalate the situation today, and then hold people—those who incited the violence and those who perpetrated it—accountable. To do otherwise would harden the veneer of legitimacy of their claims.

Members of Congress who had enabled Trump’s deceit reversed course in the wake of the terror. It seems they finally woke up to the consequences of their actions. But it is terrifying that they couldn’t fathom this violent progression of their support for an attempted coup. When congressional members say that our elections were fraudulent and object to the electoral count, they are manipulating people into believing that our democracy is broken. With the privilege of hindsight, I have to ask: while their actions may have been politically motivated, what did they think would happen if our nation’s most senior elected officials made baseless accusations of fraud? As Senator Romney just said on the floor, “the best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership.”

Telling the truth is a necessary first step. But, some of our nation’s leaders have fueled the fire by repeatedly lying and there is no easy path back from that. Our country needs to do serious and comprehensive reconciliation work to loosen the grip of lies on the core identities of Trump’s most fervent followers, and to ultimately prioritize facts and truthfulness as shared foundations of our democratic process.

Our democracy is a new and imperfect culmination of human ideas and values. Today is a reminder of its fragility, and ours. It’s a reminder of our worst human instincts. I’m not sure where we go from here, but earning a more perfect democracy will not be easy.