The Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, should not have been a surprise to anyone paying attention to the last five years of American politics. Trump’s brand, since the beginning, has been racism, bullying, false conspiracy theories, and above all, refusing to condemn white supremacy. While many of those who committed crimes on January 6th will face charges, there are plenty who will walk free. The thousands of people who attended Trump’s mask-less rallies across the country are still here. The 72% of Republicans who think that the election was fraudulent are still here. America has to come to terms that Donald Trump was not an anomaly. Millions of Americans fully support his behavior and actions, even today.
“How did it get this bad?”
The truth is, things have always been this bad for people of color in this country. The carefully crafted racist dog-whistles used by politicians in the past allowed many Americans to deny racism’s continued existence. Then, they could support the policies that would disproportionately impact Americans of color.
Trump only brought it out into the open. Subtlety and carefully worded arguments weren’t his strong suits. He also drew out the people who wouldn’t have been so public with their views before. The Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 should have been a warning to us all. That was the first very public instance of Trump refusing to denounce white supremacists.
However, the most dangerous people are the crowds doing the following. Right-wing extremism has only grown during Trump’s time in office. The people in these groups have been here all along – our neighbors, our co-workers, our family members. They could even be sitting next to you in the pew on Sunday, praying just as devoutly as your grandmother.
Trump made it uncomfortable even for white Americans, and that’s why we’re seeing a push for change now. While it’s going to be tempting to return to “politics as normal”, real change isn’t going to happen that way. We cannot allow a return to politics as usual without serious accountability. Trump had a slew of enablers in the Republican Party who are still in their respective positions of power. Real change and healing is possible, but not without punishing and ousting those who are responsible.
The millions of people who voted for Trump, and the ideals they support, are still among us. They will support the next Donald Trump who comes along. The next Donald Trump will be more insidious. America needs to acknowledge who and what led us here, but also take active steps to prevent it from happening again. It needs to be abundantly clear that the behavior we saw from Donald Trump, as well as the Trump-supporting Republican Party members in the last few months, is unacceptable. Bipartisan unity cannot be achieved until seditious members of the government have been thoroughly punished.
Once precedents are set, they will be hard to undo. If we allow these kinds of behaviors from elected officials and radicalized members of society, we will allow them in the future. We also leave the country vulnerable to the next, more radical leader who will take advantage of these factors. Only time will tell if we’re able to take steps to prevent this phenomenon from happening again.