We Did This to Ourselves

For years I’ve braced myself for a potential foreign attack on the Capitol. I never thought the invaders would be U.S. citizens.

Pro-Trump extremists break the windows of the Capitol building. Photo: Pacific Press/Getty Images

As a child of the 9/11 era, there are a lot of headlines I thought I might eventually see. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, I thought I might see that a plane had hit the Sears Tower in my hometown of Chicago. After Barack Obama was elected president, I thought I might see that a white supremacist had assassinated him. The only thing that surprises me about a mass shooting is not the act of violence, but a particularly high death toll.

I was not prepared for this.

On a day in which the leadership of the federal government was gathered in one of the most secure buildings in the country to oversee a peaceful transition of power, a hostile element was able to overwhelm its security and get inside. In other words, an invasion.

For a moment, let’s set aside the fact that the way police treated these invaders demonstrates that law enforcement does know how to deescalate violent situations without opening fire. Let’s set aside the fact that had the insurrectionists been predominantly racial minorities, scores of them would have been shot. Let’s set aside the fact that these invaders were far from being the “patriots” that a certain first daughter called them; they brandished the symbols of America’s sworn enemies. Let’s even set aside the fact that a woman died.

Let’s instead focus on the stark reality of the day’s events: The U.S. Capitol was breached with Congress inside.

For the first time in more than 200 years, the halls of the heart of the U.S. government were invaded by denizens of the United States itself.

This invasion didn’t come from Russia. Or China. Or a United Kingdom that has decided that 244 years of independence was quite enough, thank you. After years of hearing our political leaders say that to defeat threats to our nation, we had to “fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here,” the invasion didn’t come from Iraq or Afghanistan. For all the talk of radical Islamic terror, it didn’t come from Iran. For all the bluster about socialism, it didn’t come from Venezuela. And for all the bluster about communism, it didn’t come from Cuba. For all we heard about caravans and drugs and murderers and rapists and the need for a big beautiful wall to keep them all out, it didn’t come from Mexico. For all we heard about radical leftists, it didn’t come from antifa and Black Lives Matter. And for all we heard about America First, it didn’t come from “shithole” countries.

For the first time in more than 200 years, the halls of the heart of the U.S. government were invaded by denizens of the United States itself.

The man ultimately responsible for that is, for two more weeks, the president of the United States.

Even after they were forced to flee for their lives from people who believed them, Republican leaders continued on with their farcical premise of a tainted election. This was not some freakish aberration; it was the logical endpoint of Republican politics dating all the way back to the Tea Party.

And in so doing, both the man and his movement demonstrated what the most marginalized people in this country have been screaming since its founding: The greatest threat to the United States of America has always been itself.

King George didn’t force us to maintain slavery for a century. We did.

Osama bin Laden didn’t force us to pass the Patriot Act. We did.

Kaiser Wilhelm didn’t force us to treat women like second-class citizens. We did.

Adolf Hitler didn’t force us to put Japanese Americans in internment camps. We did.

Joseph Stalin didn’t force us into McCarthyism. We did.

Ho Chi Minh didn’t force us to brutalize civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s any more than Kim Jong Un forced us to do the same this year. We did.

Xi Jinping didn’t force us to ignore the science around surviving a global pandemic in the name of personal freedom. We did.

All the armies and all the weapons formed against us in the world did not force us to undercut our own claim as the greatest democracy by assiduously trying to keep people from voting — relying on felony disenfranchisement and voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting or same-day registration or fucking jars of jelly beans or brazenly trying to overturn the results once they had.

We did.

Leaders on both sides of the proverbial aisle have condemned the events of the day, saying over and over again that this is not who we are. But it is. It always has been. It always will be until we stop pretending otherwise.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that it took this long for the country to notice, and that it needed someone as flagrantly inept as Donald Trump and his merry men to be the messengers. And for all those who needed to wait this long to see this empty shell of a man for who he really is and his most ardent followers for who they were, I do hope the past four years of lib-owning were worth it.

Writer. Nerd. Shithole-American. A monster of many words trying to be a man of all of them.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store