When an angry mob descended on the Capitol building Jan. 6, United States citizens bore witness to yet another startling example of the imbalance between self-expression and violence. The rioters entered the Capitol shouting and chanting false claims about a rigged election. The mob stormed into the Capitol building, causing widespread panic and the evacuation of Congress members. White House staff struggled to save electoral ballots out on the Senate floor before rioters could burn them.
In the weeks following the election of former Vice President Joe Biden, President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied the validity of the results. Trump has made many inflammatory statements, often in the form of tweets, urging his supporters to express their distrust of the results. Despite repeated confirmations of his loss, Trump tweeted the morning of Jan. 6, urging his followers attending a rally to march on the Capitol.
When Trump was elected four years ago, I was 15 years old. The day after the election, crowds of students and teachers stood together crying in the halls of my high school. I could see the fear in my mother’s face. Many of the adults in my life, probably in an attempt to calm my adolescent nerves, told me not to be afraid, to have hope. Trump would just be a blip in the national timeline, cooler heads would prevail, and eventually, politicians would behave like professionals again. The most powerful person in the free world would no longer be a life-long billionaire who often stoked the fires of hatred throughout his self-serving campaign. Since then, it seems like the chaos has not stopped. Innocent people were imprisoned in cages at our southern border, lawmakers continued to ignore the frequent killings of Black Americans by police, the integrity of the media was called into question and the president repeatedly tried to convince his followers that the deadly COVID-19 pandemic was a hoax.
I have grown into adulthood with an increasingly tense national climate constantly in the forefront of my mind. Four years in the span of this entire country’s history is not long, but we will likely be cleaning up Trump’s mess for generations. My generation will be responsible for restoring the progress Trump undermined. But Trump is not the only culprit; he’s a symptom of a larger disease which has been running rampant in the United States, and the world, for centuries. By using hatred as his main tool when constructing his public rhetoric, Trump has made people feel as though their worst instincts are correct, and worse yet, should be acted upon. People like the rioters in the Capitol building have been steadily undermining the morality of our country with their open displays of bigotry and ignorance, all while claiming to be champions for traditional conservative values.
Trump supporters like those who stormed the Capitol are not traditional conservatives. They are right-wing extremists who have allowed themselves to succumb to groupthink under Trump and believe that their hateful beliefs are acceptable. They claim to want to want to make America great again. They claim freedom as an excuse to incite violence and threaten our democratic system. They don’t love America. Their appalling acts of disrespect and violence towards our country prove they do not even understand what America stands for. Democracy, though the term has gained some subjectivity, is at its core a system where each vote counts, and each vote matters.
Trump supporters cannot destroy the fundamentals of our country simply because they are upset about the election results. Their petulance has turned to violence, and it’s, frankly, disgusting. For years, liberals have watched Trump tell lie after lie, commit humans rights violation after humans rights violation. The Capitol building riot is the culmination of four years of Trump inciting violence. And just weeks before Biden’s inauguration, Trump has directly told his followers to commit crimes.
Again, I am not surprised. Instead, I am disappointed and outraged. Honestly, I have no idea how to repair the fractured relationship between Trump’s extremist followers and a post-Trump government. I don’t know how to approach a productive discourse with a group of people who disregard facts, trade in violence and wear their hatred like a badge of honor. Some damage can likely never be undone. I am likely not the only American who is at a loss for words at the blatant attack against America as an institution at the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Our only option is to impeach the president, to prevent more harm being done both to citizens themselves and freedom as an idea. Based on how the last four years have gone, however, my hope in Pence or Republican congressmen to take rightful action against Trump remains limited.
But, I’m still an American. I still value democratic ideals of freedom, liberty, justice and equality. I still believe that our country is making (very, very slow) progress. To me, being an American and loving your country means persevering when faced with adversity, instead of revolting against it. I will continue in my efforts to move forward, when so many in our country would like to revert to a state filled with even more racism, sexism, bigotry and ignorance than there currently is. After today, I still love America not for what it is, but for what it could be.