Four years ago President Trump declared that “American carnage stops right here” – here being the U.S. Capitol at which he was delivering his inaugural address. That is also where the carnage of an unprecedented desecration by American citizens of their own national shrine to democracy began and ended on Wednesday, Jan. 6.
The carnage was five dead, more than four dozen injured and the world’s oldest democracy gravely wounded. This on top of last summer’s nationwide protests of the killing of Black people by police, the terrorizing of immigrants by the federal government, an economy brought to its knees, almost 375,000 Americans dead among more than 22 million infected with the coronavirus and Americans divided into camps over what is right and what is true.
The wounds of division are so broad that in about two weeks when duly elected President Joe Biden takes the oath of office, he will become the leader of millions of people who will oppose his legitimacy and his every action, as well as that of his party.
Under the U.S. Constitution we’re free to disagree, to state our opinions, to wave our flags and banners – but peacefully. We are Americans, one nation under God. We are brothers and sisters, not mobs of anarchists. We must learn to agree on the common good where we can and disagree, if we must, with charity.
President Trump’s term is nearly at an end. How do we go forward now? We’ve got a great many national crises that need all our unified energies. They must not be wasted on deepening divisions so this group or that can strut that they alone are the defenders of America. Leave the slogans, the conspiracies and the falsehoods behind.
Trump clearly did not win the presidential election. The preponderance of evidence indicates no massive and secret fraud that “stole” the election. A dangerous precedent emerges when a president or his followers coerce state lawmakers to overturn the will of voters and prevent federal legislators from accomplishing the peaceful transfer of power.
Maybe we’ve hit bottom of this “American carnage,” and perhaps we need a gut check to face the crisis of this moment when democracy, truth and civic virtue are under siege.
Americans have had to face misguided notions before, and we’ve overcome them. Isolationism faded after Pearl Harbor and the U.S. led its allies in defeating global fascism. The civil rights movement marched forward despite entrenched racism that has only ebbed, never vanished.
America can overcome its darkest impulses. Through respectful and peaceful dialogue Americans can again redefine who we are and chart where we are going. But we must hold our leaders — and ourselves — to the highest principles.
Truth matters. Virtue matters.
They are not heavenly abstractions. They are fundamental to human society and they should be the bedrock qualities we first assess of our chosen leaders, before their policy proposals.
An America led by people characterized neither by truth nor virtue, or tolerated uncritically by their followers, cannot endure as we know it. If we accept corrupt leaders, we risk becoming a corrupt republic. Or, eventually, not a democratic republic, but a dictatorship.
In one day we glimpsed America in 2021: public servants working in a democratic Congress to transfer power to our next elected president despite a mob running amok. Democracy has held, for now.
We can keep it, if we choose, through diligence and reliance on God’s grace, and with the help of Mary, Mother of the Americas, to whom we turn our prayers in this hour of need.
Gambino is the editor of CatholicPhilly.com.
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