In July of 2018, I sat outside the U.S. Capitol Building enjoying lunch with a friend in the blistering D.C. sun. We were discussing the politics of the day while preparing for an afternoon meeting. This was not an ordinary day in The District. Secretary Pompeo was testifying before Congress which heightened the level of security around the building. I remember telling my colleague how unique it was to be on The Hill on what was thought to be a historical day. At some point during the course of the conversation, it occurred to me just how humbling it was to be in that space. Walking through the Capitol Building is a step back in time. Each step is a step in the footprints and in the shadows of some of America’s greatest leaders. Last week, those shadows were trampled on as the Capitol was breached by an outraged mob of protesters.
Those images will likely be etched in our minds for days and years to come. Especially for those who hold so much admiration for the political process. The attack on the Capitol was an attack on the systems of government and the democracy we all hold dear. The anger and the hate that was manifested within those sacred halls is symptomatic of the Republic’s far deadlier disease. For those in my generation, we are witnessing more social unrest than ever before.
In response to the events of the day, I made the mistake of opening social media. Overcome by a mix of emotions, I simply asked, “What Have We Become?” What was intended to be a hypothetical question, spiraled out of control. That post, since removed, quickly became an outlet for my “friends” to engage in throwing even more stones at one another. Who knew a simple question could ignite such passion and be such a trigger. Each comment was like listening to the chorus line from Billy Joel’s hit song “We Didn’t Start The Fire!”
The flames of that “fire” continue to rage on and are not likely to be extinguished soon. It is foolish to believe that the violence is over and that a “changing of the guards” will dampen its flames. The division and the hatred that has inspired such social unrest is likely to worsen before it improves.
My voice is likely to get lost in the mix of thousands of others who have spoken on the events of last week. It has left me wondering if the energy that has been tapped into will only escalate into more violence. The future of the Republic and the institutions of government are in peril and for the moment, it appears we are all looking for someone to blame.
The optimist in me still believes in America’s ability to self-correct its path and heal from long wounds that have now been re-opened. The truth is the depth of those wounds never healed. The hope in the Republic rests in our ability to re-learn how to resolve matters of different opinion by returning to civil dialogue. Diversity of beliefs, opinions, and ideologies used to be the countries greatest strengths. Now those differences have been weaponized and have left us fractured.
In a letter to Thomas Mercer, Edmund Burke, famously wrote:
“Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength. Whereas, when they lie dispersed, without concert, order, or discipline, communication is uncertain, counsel difficult, and resistance impracticable. Where men are not acquainted with each other’s principles, nor experienced in each other’s talents, nor at all practised in their mutual habitudes and dispositions by joint efforts in business; no personal confidence, no friendship, no common interest, subsisting among them; it is evidently impossible that they can act a public part with uniformity, perseverance, or efficacy.”
Burke’s words serve as a reminder that the only path for healing rests in our ability to come together once again as a nation. For the moment, that possibility seems grim.