This Is America 

Joslyn Varkey, Staff Writer

On Wednesday, January 6th, a mob of domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol after being encouraged by their leader. For the first time since the War of 1812, the Capitol building had been breached. Windows were smashed, papers strewn, and timeless artifacts tattered. Up until this point, the confederate flag had never flown in the Capitol, not even during the Civil War. Another first for a history making presidency. As always when something goes wrong, public figures began to share their all too familiar banalities. Our President – Elect, Joe Biden, the head of JPMorgan Chase, our senators and many others claimed that this wasn’t America, that we were better than this. “This” referring to the blatant coup that took place on American soil. An armed mob, conspiracy theorists, and an open display of white male entitlement. This is exactly who we are. In the words of revered author James Baldwin, “A bill is coming in that I fear America is not prepared to pay.”

When  looking back on recent events, it is clear that there are, and always have been, two Americas. In one, troops of the national guard wear no identifying information on their uniforms and stand in the front of the Lincoln Memorial. They are there in anticipation of violence from those peacefully protesting the unjust death of George Floyd. In this America, heavily armed police officers are unleashed on harmless and unarmed civilians protesting racial injustice. They were deemed violent. They were called thugs. And in the other, thousands of domestic terrorists breach the Capitol. They don their familiar red hats and carry their familiar blue flags. They make no effort to hide their face; they want to be seen. They have no fear about the repercussions they would face if identified. In this America, a man sits in Nancy Pelosi’s office with his feet resting on a desk. Another man lifts a lectern while turning and smiling for the camera. Capitol police all but ushered them into the building and took selfies with the so called protestors. In this America, the president explicitly invited terrorists to have a party at the Capitol. “You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

When going further in America history, it is evident that the two Americas have always existed, one in the other’s shadow. In 1861, in an appalling parallel to recent events, the South initiated a Civil War rather than peacefully transferring power to Abraham Lincoln. They dreamed of flying their flag in our government buildings. And we made it happen. To cement the parallelism, several “protestors” were seen wearing shirts that read “Civil War 2.” After the Civil War, the two Americas did not vanish or merge. They existed just as they had before. One America bestowed segregation laws, “separate but equal”, and another era of Jim Crow upon its twin while the other tried to escape the shadow. Over time they evolved from Jim Crow laws to pointed glances in the streets, clutched bags, and huddled children.

This is what America is. It’s what we always have been. To say that this is not who we are would be to say that our society, in which we hold POC to the standards of the white man, is not to blame. If this were not America, this would never have happened. This wasn’t a stand alone event. Centuries of unchecked and unopposed white entitlement and white ableism led to this. To be white in America is to storm the Capitol and face very little resistance. It is to take photos with the very same cops who should be attempting to stop you. It is to view law enforcement as your friends, rather than as a threat to your safety. To be white in America is to cheer your acts of terrorism in a hotel lobby instead of in a jail cell. They are not foreign insurrectionists, they are us. They live with us and they work with us. They’ve always been here and they’re not going away. It is well past time for us to acknowledge this, to let it fully take effect in our minds. 

Wednesday’s events were just another much needed example of America’s failed hubris. Our history books portray us as invincible, as elite, as the greatest country in the world. In our eyes, we are unstoppable, unbreakable, irreproachable. We are without flaw, we are the embodiment of perfection. Wednesday’s events broke through the wall of American propaganda and showed us the ugly truth of who we really are. We are a failed superpower, rotting from the inside out, barely able to stand. In the words of acclaimed author James Baldwin, “… that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom – loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world’s most direct and virile, that American women are pure.”

Barack Obama is known for having famously spoken of a more perfect union. After this week’s events, America has proven that not only can we not perfect our union but that there never was a union to begin with. As time passes on, we seem to be growing more and more divided, the chasm of our differences lying between us. Our current president only adds fuel to the ever growing divide. Donald Trump, a leader who leads not by action but by tweets, proved to America that with enough money, you can do anything. He encourages our extremists and praises our white supremacists. He has never lied to us about who he is and we willingly chose him. This is who we are. America; the nation led by the silver tongued conman. 

In a thin silver lining, Wednesday also brought the news that Warnock and Ossoff had won their respective elections. For the first time in what feels like ages, Democrats will control the House, the Senate, and fill the presidency. With this will come the droll but inevitable opinion that now more than ever is the time for compromise, for centrism. This opinion is flawed. There can never be any compromise with politicians who hoard power like it’s currency, with those who create the very conditions that enabled Wednesday’s insurrection, who ultimately caused great damage to the country. They cannot be argued with and they cannot be cajoled. The Democrats need to put their power to use without fearing the reactions of Republican voters and legislators. While there is a limit to how much can be done with the slight majority they hold in the Senate, the most must be made of it. If this opportunity for equity is squandered, they will be no better than their Republican counterparts. The war for our nation’s image, for our principles, wages on still but perhaps it can be ceased by the incoming administration and the 117th Congress.

While we may display outward shock at Wednesday’s events, this isn’t new to us. Just flipping through a high school history textbook proves that we are the very same thing we try to distance ourselves from. We have always been this way. America is a country forged in blood, founded on stolen land, built by stolen people. Violence is as American as apple pie. The guardrails of our laws that we swore would protect our democracy have fallen down and deteriorated. But have they not always been rusted and rickety? Or were they nothing more than smoke and mirrors created to appeal to our own ego and sense of superiority? To reflect back on Biden’s statement, “the scenes of violence do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are.” No, this was a perfect example of everything America is and what it always has been. Repeating “this is not who we are” will not make it true. We value wealth over wisdom, ambition over morality. Despite our attempts to whitewash our history, the truth is there if only we open our eyes. Our hands are red with the stains of our own blood. This is the United States of America.