Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared as a Braver Angels newsletter. To subscribe to Braver Angels, sign up here.
From the Center
This piece is from a writer rated Center.
"You can tell more than one story about what’s happening, but what’s undeniable is that something is broken in our country. Badly, badly broken. It reminds me of when Notre Dame burned. Except this time it’s us, it’s yours and mine, it’s our country, it’s our heartland. And it’s worse, much worse, because it wasn’t an accidental fire." -April Lawson
From Braver Angels Hold America Together gathering; 1-12-21, with Governor Gary Herbert and Congressman Dean Phillips.
If you're a long time subscriber to this newsletter you may have noticed that you have not heard from me for a few weeks. After taking some time off for the holidays I came down with Covid-19 at the beginning of the year.
It hasn't been too bad, all told. I am fortunate to be young(ish), healthy and not especially vulnerable to the worst affects of the disease. I am very grateful.
Yet even at that I am only now emerging from a period that left me tethered to my bed with waves of pain passing through my chest that rendered my tired body unable to sleep. For a length of days my muscles ached, my head was cloudy, my throat was sore. And in that state I got to consider anew the reality of the fact that we live in a moment where we are losing between 3,000 and 4,000 of our fellow Americans to this virus every day. A moment in which hospital overcrowding is forcing other sick people to be turned away in ambulances. A moment in which people all over America are suffering and dying alone.
I had been hazily contemplating the breadth of this tragedy as I lay in my bed on the 6th of January when my Braver Angels colleague Ciaran O'Connor told me to turn on the news. Lying there, weak and depressed already, I witnessed something that all the madness of 2020 had somehow not prepared me to see.
Through unbelieving eyes I witnessed the storming of the Capitol, the temple of American democracy, by a throng of our fellow citizens driven mad by distrust of our institutions and the belief that we have witnessed a stolen election.
Blood was shed. Five Americans were ultimately left dead, including a Capitol Police officer (a second officer committed suicide in the aftermath). Members of Congress hid in terror as the rotunda was breached. I lay in bed weakly, helplessly, and watched our republic befouled before the world.
It was precisely our concern over the possibility of election related violence that led Braver Angels to circulate our Hold America Together letter asking our countrymen to disavow force as a response to the election. We prepared our volunteers across the country to respond in case of outbreaks of unrest following election day.
The initial aftermath was peaceful. For those tempted to assert that the political violence we witnessed this month is a unique quality of the the America right, It ought not be forgotten that the night of the election, on November 4th shops, homes and government buildings were boarded up or guarded in Washington D.C. and major cities all across America in anticipation of the chaos that might follow not only should Donald Trump have lost, but also should he have won. Social and political violence has not been one sided in America. Nor has the partisan rhetoric and excuse making that has surrounded it.
The violence at the Capitol may have been uniquely appalling, however, because it was an attack on a sacred symbol of American democracy. Far worse perhaps, in the eyes of many if not most Americans the emotions that boiled over into this rebellious rampage were cynically and recklessly stirred by some of our foremost political leaders in a futile attempt to alter the course of history at the last possible moment.
It is natural then that many of us should now be thinking in terms of accountability. It is natural that many of us should now be thinking in terms of lines to be drawn, in politics and in relationships. It is natural that some of us are speaking in the language of social excommunication for those whose sympathies we might feel to be enabling the outrages we saw perpetrated at the Capitol and the claims that preceded them.
And it is also natural that many of us should be fearful of this excommunication. It is natural that we should feel targeted now on account of our politics. It is natural that we should feel resentful of being lumped in with people whose actions we denounce, and which bear no resemblance to the values we may hold (particularly as conservatives or Republicans).
It is fair that Americans should be thinking in terms of accountability for those we may consider directly and indirectly responsible for the events on the 6th. It is fair Americans feel that they must look for ways to resist the deplatforming and social targeting they fear will be unjustly aimed at them because of this event. The stage is now set for a new escalation of our cold civil-war.
But in the end, Braver Angels is here to help Americans choose another way.
The violence that unfolded in the Capitol could never merely be the result of the actions of a few lawless individuals, or the ill-chosen words of a few pundits and politicians. A long arc of disintegrating trust between the American people and their institutions, and the American people and one another, has allowed us to careen into alternate realities where a few desperately feel that there is no recourse by which to redress their grievances save violence. Meanwhile many more feel unwilling to communicate across the divides that allow this despair to rise.
This was true before the storming of the Capitol. This was true before the violence that swept across America over the summer. It is the mutual alienation of the American people that tills the soil for chaos and rends the fabric of democracy.
Calling each other out is not the path by which we repair the tears of democratic society. We must call each other in.
How we do so of course is a matter that requires a great amount of thoughtful reflection, and it is reasonable for distinctions to be considered in our attitudes towards our neighbors as fellow Americans and leaders we may feel to be operating in bad faith.
These are the themes Ciaran O'Connor discusses with radical Black feminist, Professor Loretta Ross, in our most recent episode of the Braver Angels Podcast:
"I can establish common ground with anyone who is simply trying to be a good person." -Professor Loretta Ross
Fundamentally however it is the effort to rebuild the core of goodwill in society that creates the space for community to emerge between us. It is the widening of the circle of patriotic-empathy in America that allows for truth to not only be told but for truth to also be heard.
This is the work of Braver Angels. It is the labor of American renewal.
Let us keep the fires of hope alive for our country. This moment marks a new beginning for the course of our nation if that is what we choose for this to be.
-John Wood, Jr.