Miriam Webster defines insurrection as “a usually violent attempt to take control of a government.” I still wrestle with what I saw that day. It was a day characterized by contradiction, with many champions of Law and Order engaging in lawlessness and chaos. It was a day of sadness, as the most recognizable symbol of American sovereignty was ransacked by its citizens. It was a day of denial, as pundits and self-proclaimed patriots attempted to minimize the actions of this mob, as our elected leaders across the political spectrum crouched in fear in the House Chamber. It was a day of shocking reality when suddenly the political upheaval that seems to reside in other countries, at other times, visited the front doorsteps of the citadel of democracy. Personally, it was a day that reminded me that under no circumstances would a similar multitude of brown faced Americans be offered the same courtesy and accommodation on government grounds.
America is not immune from anarchy and rebellion; in fact, it was birthed from such tumultuous waters a recent 250 years ago. It’s not the first time the Capitol has been attacked, although this occurrence was different. The violent images of January 6 serve as visual testaments that the kingdoms of men are fragile, and freedom is a delicate vase on the edge of a cliff.
On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin exited Independence Hall. A crowd of Americans had gathered, eagerly awaiting the news that would change the course of modern history. The delegates had met for several months, deciding how the new country would be governed. According to a journal by one of the delegates, Elizabeth Willing Powel, a pivotal woman of the founding era, asked Benjamin Franklin, ‘What do we have, a republic or a monarchy?’ Franklin replied, ‘A republic if you can keep it.’ Our responsibility is to keep it.”
Franklin knew what we, in retrospect, have come to understand; keeping a constitutional republic is not easy. There is no perfect form of earthly government. They all have pros and cons, as their human custodians fall short in myriad ways. However, we have inherited both a blessing to be protected and a responsibility to be actively engaged in improving. While deadly attacks are expected to come from abroad, sometimes the fatal deathblows originate from within, when leaders fan the flames of polarization, fettering the prospects of unity for the pursuit of power.
As appalling as January 6 was, it was predictable. We, the people, allowed inciting rhetoric to compound unchecked. Some became sycophants, unpaid apologists of every exceptional or unacceptable action and word spoken by our side of the aisle because we saw our identity in their success. America may have survived that day, but the fault lines are deep, and wounds are still festering. A republic fails when partisan violence prevails over compromise, and threatening language is more common than decency. A republic fails when mistrust, baseless or factual is left unresolved and begins to erode the fabric of community and country.
Conflict always reveals character. Right now, the republic desperately needs peacemakers; if we want to keep it.