I have seen my share of heart-stopping headlines. In The New York Times, I read “MEN WALK ON MOON,” “NIXON RESIGNS,” “U.S. ATTACKED” and the one-word, stand-alone headline from Nov. 5, 2008: “OBAMA.” These bold, 96-point headlines are saved for momentous, ground-shifting news. One editor famously said that if a headline writer wanted to go bigger than 96 point, it better read, “THE SECOND COMING.”
Last week, the day after armed Trump supporters stormed and invaded the Capitol building, the Times blasted, “TRUMP INCITES MOB.” The San Francisco Chronicle went with one word, “INSURRECTION,” and The Guardian, in England, wrote, “ANARCHY IN THE USA.” Even though I saw the mob storming the Capitol in real time on television, I still could not fully absorb the impact of what was happening. Trump followers were incited by the president of the United States to loot and damage the Capitol building because inside, a fully legitimate election was about to be formally signed and sealed.
The raging violence of the mob was shocking, even though, in hindsight, it was inevitable. The president has been stoking this fire for years. But “anarchy” in the USA? Photos flashing around the world of crazed vandals desecrating our cherished monuments, breaking through windows to ransack the speaker’s desk? It looked like a Halloween melee gone berserk, complete with weird hats and freaky masks. One man wore a T-shirt that read “Camp Auschwitz.” They were clownish and rabid, rather than organized in any way. They got lucky, because law enforcement agencies weren’t organized, either, and so the mob raged for way too long, before the cavalry arrived.
These people are Trump’s posse. He owns them; he owns the events of Jan. 6. And I sure hope we do more as a society than take away his freaking Twitter account. No one knows what will happen in the coming days, but in order to set the country right, every one of the thugs in the Capitol building that day, and every single one of the enablers and inciters, up to and including Trump himself, have to be held accountable for their parts in the riot. Otherwise, what has been undone, what the mob did to destabilize our government, can never be reconciled. It won’t do to wipe off the fingerprints and pick up the broken pieces. How can we feel good about ourselves as a country until the violators are brought to justice?
We Americans have always known our story. It is part of our national narrative. It goes like this: We are winners. We are optimists. We have a can-do attitude that allows us to face down our enemies and conquer any challenge that life presents. We invent things, fix things and help others. We are smart as hell, and we don’t come in second.
Slowly, that narrative has unraveled. It didn’t happen last week when the Trumpers stormed the Capitol; it has been happening since Trump took office. Our pride and position have been diminished, and our reputation has been sullied. Serendipity played a part as well, with a worldwide pandemic landing on our doorstep, crushing us into small, isolated spaces.
So, the new narrative is: In a creepy confluence of circumstances, a charismatic but fatally flawed leader rose to power in America at the same time that millions of people were drifting, feeling disenfranchised as the rich got richer and more powerful. A match was struck in the weeds of this discontent, and the conflagration began. It is still consuming our nation. Witness the events of Jan. 6.
We have become reactive rather than proactive. Our leaders have had a failure of imagination. Rather than foreseeing and avoiding problems, we’re in the business of doing patches and fixes and cleanups. Wasn’t anyone reading Trump’s tweets when he was urging followers to come to Washington? Couldn’t anyone in the National Guard or the Capitol Police possibly have foreseen the danger ahead?
We begin to reclaim our dignity by finding and arresting the people who ran amok last week. We begin by giving our new president and his people a chance to do the right things. People can disagree. They can raise their voices loud and long and vote their hearts and minds, but they cannot break windows in the people’s house or plant pipe bombs around the capital of the United States.
Something has permanently shifted in our collective consciousness. Something unthinkable is possible that was not possible before: TRUMP INCITES MOB.
Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.