We are two Americas.
America is defined by contradiction. This country put a man on the moon, produced the civil rights movement and fought for freedom in consecutive world wars. This country also enslaved black men and women for generations, interned Japanese Americans in WWII and detained immigrant children in cages. Ours is a constant struggle between what we are and what we could be. We aspire with great hope to be the shining city on a hill—it is because of that hope that failure hurts so deeply.
Our national duality was on full display this week in alternating brilliance and horror. Tuesday, the state of Georgia elected two Democratic candidates to the Senate in the most costly, consequential runoff election in US history. More black Americans voted in this contest (a runoff!) than any other state election since our nation’s founding. They sent Georgia’s first black Senator, who preaches from Martin Luther King Jr.’s very pulpit, and a Jewish 33 year-old to Washington to wrest back control of a chamber that has long opposed voting rights.
Georgia’s was a momentous victory for freedom. The consequence of these elections cannot be overstated. After everything America has endured during the Trump presidency, Democrats will control both chambers of Congress and the White House.
What happened in Georgia is a clear rebuke of Trumpism, but it is equally a testament to the tireless dedication of grassroots organizing and a commitment to cause. That is the only explanation for the remarkable outcomes on Tuesday. Americans didn’t quit when it would have been easy to surrender to the unrelenting authoritarian assaults on our democracy.
Before election officials could finish counting the ballots in Georgia, an equally disheartening scene unfolded in our nation’s capital. Goaded on by a bellicose and wounded President, an angry mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol in a violent act of domestic terrorism. The scene dripped with both irony and, sadly, American blood. Four people have been confirmed dead in the aftermath. For the first time since the War of 1812, our nation’s Capitol was breached by hostile parties.
I watched, dumbstruck, as images of zealous “patriots” streamed through broken windows and walked the floor of the Senate. Adorned in conspiracy theory garb and military paraphernalia, they traipsed around the chambers of our government’s seat as if it were some bold triumph. All the while, the President and his complicit lackeys refused to muster the moral courage to intervene. I swore an oath to protect and defend the constitution with my life, and I shed a tear as I watched the worst of what our nation has become. Ours is a seething, divided country with blatant racism and sedition on public display.
Make no mistake, the rest of the world was watching as well. What moral authority can we cling to after scenes from a banana republic played out in Washington? I can’t imagine how we pick up the pieces of our democracy or where we go from here, but I know that our nation is hanging on by the thinnest of threads. It was a sad, fitting coda to a presidency that has lacked in every fathomable dimension.
I am inspired by the good that can be wrought from both our democracy and our people when we are at our best. It was on full display in Georgia this week. I am equally appalled by the depths to which we stoop with such ease, as we did yet again in Washington. This battle between our demons and better angels has no clear path to victory. America, somehow, remains up for grabs.
There is hope for democracy yet, but I for one won’t hold my breath.