“How do we teach kids about this tomorrow?”
This seems to be the question every American social studies teacher is asking themselves this evening, clutching the notion of the American republic in their hands like a broken teacup. As America continues to be ripped in two from its seams to its soul, we have, over the course of the past 2 decades, watched a continual march towards two very drastically different worlds, filled with different beliefs and biases. We have effectively walled off who “we” are in comparison to who “they,” the outsiders, the bad Americans are (or, more importantly, are not). But let us pause and teach it as it is, as it was, and as we hope it will be.
The first consideration is that President Trump, from his election in 2016, declared that he would not approve the results of the election if he were to lose. He is now living up to that promise, and despite there being no fastidious evidence of corruption, has continued to deny defeat. Instead, President Trump has led his moment of foment, declaring himself to be the cure to the broken system of our institutions. And he most certainly has an audience for these claims.
His star power, recently declared the “most admired man in America” by Gallup, has not relented. And as incumbent Republican Senators Loeffler and Perdue seemingly lost their re-election bids in Georgia and therefore the party’s check on President-Elect Biden, it was too much for him to deal with. It was apparently a bridge too far for his followers to cross as well.
The March for Trump rally led to a storming of the United States Capitol by a group (mob, protestors, dissidents – whatever you want to call them) of people is unprecedented. From the lockdown of the Capitol to one person being shot, to 13 weapons confiscated, to the Confederate Flag waved for the first time ever in Statuary Hall, to the Capitol Police being injured, and to the photo of a man scaling the walls of the House Chamber to take the seat of the Speaker — if only to pull out his phone and take a selfie. It was surreal.
Earlier in the day on the other side of the building, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke on the floor of his chamber, with a bit of nervousness, calling his vote to approve the Electoral College – something that, up until this point in most of American history has been ritual if not routine – “the most important of his career.” It was bizarre. When he pointed the finger at his fellow Republican colleagues leading the charge to discredit the election: “we cannot declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. If we overrule them, we could damage our republic forever.”
In 1838, a young Abraham Lincoln fired a warning to the Young Men’s Lyceum about the possibility of a tyrant overtaking the nation. “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”
This echoed the call of General George Washington, who, in his Farewell Address, warned us of the greatest tyrant. “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”
The despot they warned us about wasn’t Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, or Barack Obama. That tyrant was ourselves. Click To Tweet
And have we ever usurped America. These days everyone’s a political expert, a Senator-in-waiting, or a talking head filled with indignation. American political self-righteousness is eclipsed only by the naivete in forgetting what it’s like to lose, to be humbled, to operate with dignity, or to work together.
What will it take for our reign to end? To come to terms with ourselves?
For Democrats, liberals, progressives – it’s admitting where we went wrong. From the political stunts of the impeachment to the crying and canceling of classes after the 2016 election, to standing by President Obama’s side as he carried out an unprecedented amount of Executive Orders and deaths by the hands of drone strikes. Our hands aren’t clean.
In the wake of the Trump presidency, the reckoning for Republicans will be larger. Standing by a man who served as a vessel for the conservative cause despite the many warning signs that he’d pursue regime over a republic, to his Evangelical court prophets who have placed him at the left hand of God, to Senator McConnell who, in his first speech after Obama’s election said that his number 1 priority was to make Obama a one-term President, to now those who have carried the creed, albeit a small number of dissidents, in taking the seat of government.
For all Americans, it comes to terms with the frustration of a broken government, one that pays folks $200,000 salaries and costs millions of dollars to play in the election and leads to an 8% approval rating for Congress. Most don’t have the wherewithal or gall to actually stand for something other than their party. That’s incredibly frustrating.
As a majority White nation, noting the possible outcomes of today if it were a Black Lives Matter, indigenous, or immigrant group storming the Capitol should be a lasting consideration. (Note: it wouldn’t have been this “calm”)
But it wasn’t. It was a group of terrorists.
The days immediately ahead will not be pretty. We have not yet reached the precipice, and January 20th isn’t a new dawn for America, either. While President-Elect Biden’s words are loud and clear – “through war and strife, America has endured much and we will endure here and now… today’s reminder is democracy is fragile” – we need to heed them.
The way forward is to repair the chipped edges of the republic’s fragility. In Japan, when a teacup is broken, it is not trashed. Instead, it is reset with its broken parts connected by gold. Its imperfections and cracks, instead of making it useless, honor the cup’s rich, imperfect story.
That, my fellow history teachers, is how we’ll teach kids tomorrow. And all the tomorrows that follow.
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