Last week, Americans watched a mob storm the U.S. Capitol. They saw images of shattered windows, ransacked offices, and bloody clashes between rioters and Capitol Police officers.
And on that day and the weeks that led to it, they heard from leaders who fed them corrosive lies rather than addressing their real anxieties.
The destruction, which included the tragic loss of five lives, took place in the same building on whose portico Abraham Lincoln spoke of “the mystic chords of memory.” When struck, they give voice to the common past and experiences connecting the American people. “We are not enemies, but friends,” he reminded Americans after taking the oath of office in 1861.
The damage to the Capitol Building, as heartbreaking as it is, will be repaired. Our institutions are even sturdier: The mob failed in its attempt to obstruct the voters’ will. Power will soon peacefully transition to a new administration, as it has continually since 1789.
And while it is not the election result I wished for, it is one I swore an oath under God to uphold. Our institutions and the right of self-government will be preserved.
What worries me, however, is the fading echo of the chords Lincoln spoke of. Today it seems that too many of us indeed think of each other as enemies rather than friends.
It has become sadly important to state this: Violence, no matter the venue, no matter the cause, is not a legitimate means of achieving social change or relieving political frustrations. And it is paramount to repeat this once again after shots were cowardly fired into the Tippecanoe County Democratic Headquarters on Thursday.
There will never be an excuse for this behavior. We must ask though, why have so many been driven to such desperate measures? And why have populist movements, on the left and right, emerged and gained so many followers?
In the past several decades, we have witnessed incredible transformations to the way we work and live. Interrelated changes, such as globalization and a technological revolution, have outpaced our ability to adapt, creating challenges for individuals, communities, and regions.
As a result, many Americans feel left behind, left out, anxious, frustrated, and at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
In fact, there’s a sense among many that the system is, in ways big and small, “rigged.” With nowhere else to turn, we place our passions in the outcome of elections, we pin our hopes on control of government.
No doubt, politics are important – but increasingly we see those who vote differently than us not as fellow Americans with different opinions, but instead as adversaries with the worst intentions. We must not define ourselves or our fellow citizens by how we vote.
Let us step back, take a breath and keep this in perspective. And perhaps we should do less shouting and more listening.
Grace isn’t always easy. But if we engage in the work of understanding and giving audience to perspectives and life experiences that are not our own, we can pull back from this precipice.
As a Republican, in the coming days and years, I will dedicate myself to the continuing project of building a party that works for the good of all Americans – especially those who feel alienated and lost.
The events of the past week have demonstrated that we have to do more than channel the anger of citizens who feel shut out; we have to do more than give voice to their resentments.
We must focus on what is driving their anger and disempowerment, and understand the true nature of the challenges it brings.
Then, rather than offering vague promises, we can put forward real solutions that bring our principles – belief in limited government, faith in communities, and reverence for institutions – in line with our problem solving. Rather than provide additional ammunition in an ongoing tribal war, we should seek to serve every American and mend a splintering nation.
This is the path forward: Empathy for and patience with our fellow citizens and a genuine effort to address the roots of the disenfranchisement that has led America to this painful moment.
The physical reminders of last Wednesday’s riot will soon be swept away.
The nation will not so quickly forget. But instead of seeking retribution, we can use these scars to remind ourselves that we are one people with a shared past and a common future.
And when we do this, those mystic chords of memory will indeed ring once again, heralding brighter days ahead – for all Americans.