Yesterday was a remarkable day. It was terrible to see rioters storming the Capitol, interrupting democratic processes. It was horrifying to hear there was loss of life, and injuries. It was eerie when a curfew was put in place in our town, a few miles across the river from the District. But it was also heartening to see Congress come back together hours after to complete the job they started. It was heartening to hear talk of unity, even if it was just for the cameras. Listening to the quavering voices, and seeing the shaken faces, I don’t think it was all just for the cameras.
A lot of thoughts ran through my head as these events unfolded. I thought a lot about John Adams and other founders of the country. I thought of their strong beliefs in a free and open society. John Adams (not the best president we’ve ever had, but my favorite) defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre when no one else would. He did so because he believed strongly in the right to a vigorous defense, even for those he might disagree with. As I watched the rioters try to shout down the news reporter with calls of “fake news!” I thought of how much education and learning meant to the founding of the country. The founders saw education as a fundamental part of democracy. It reminded me of something else Adams famously said:
I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children the right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
I couldn’t help but think of the last time the Capitol building was breached during the War of 1812. I thought of the soldiers who fought defending our freedoms from the Revolution right down to the present moment.
I felt ashamed.
I viscerally felt the judgment of all those who came before us who managed peaceful transitions of power, in times of war and in times of peace in an unbroken chain from Washington’s retirement after 2 terms as President, through Obama’s last day in office.
Our kids watched these events unfold on the TV. They experienced the curfew that resulted. This morning, I can hear my son’s virtual class discussing those events, the teachers helping the students try to understand what happened.
I woke up this morning to see that Congress confirmed the electoral votes, and confirmed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next President and Vice President of the United States. Democracy in America won the day, despite those who tried to see it fail. But I can’t escape that feeling of shame. I feel the eyes of history, the eyes of past Presidents and of future generations looks at us, taking us by the collective collars, and saying, “How could you let this happen? How could you let it get this far?”
Years ago, I used to go for walks along the National Mall, stopping at the various monuments. I especially liked walking through the Jefferson Memorial, and standing in front of the statue of Lincoln at his Memorial. I had an urge to do that today. I feel our entire history when I stand in front of Lincoln and it is a powerful feeling. But I can’t do it now, not because of curfews or rioters downtown.
Right now, I couldn’t bear to stand under Lincoln’s solemn gaze. The shame I feel wouldn’t allow it.