Thistlethwaite: Our democracy is still in danger
The attack on Jan. 6, 2021, on the United States Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters is a day we must remember with both horror and resolve. It was a dangerous attempt to overthrow the lawful workings of our democracy.
We must resolve never to let that happen again.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the United States was attacked, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt rightly called that “a date which will live in infamy.”
So must Jan. 6, 2021, be remembered. Infamous, not patriotic. Dangerous, not brave.
It was, in fact, an insurrection, “an act or instance of revolting against civil authorities or an established government.”
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But there has been perhaps an even more dangerous attack on the legitimacy of our government since then. It is the slower moving insurrection, “The Big Lie” that the election of 2020 was stolen from Trump.
The drumbeat of this patent falsehood, disproved over and over with actual facts, is already eroding confidence in the 2022 and 2024 elections.
In a new NPR/Ipsos poll, an astonishing two-thirds of Republican respondents agreed with the verifiably false claim that “voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election,” the central tenet of Trump’s Big Lie.
One thing I know from teaching religion for so many decades is that the feeling of being aggrieved, of being wronged, is often at the root of people feeling they are justified in “breaking the rules” to make a change. It is a perverse form of morality, the idea that it is actually ethical to do wrong if you have been wronged.
In other words, you’re justified because you have been victimized. Not so, though many believe that.
Republicans in many states have successfully passed bills restricting voting, especially in districts dominated by Democrats. These are patently undemocratic but vigorously justified. It’s a dangerous trend.
Equally alarming is the patently insurrectionist moves to gain greater control over the local mechanics of elections, from voter registration all the way to certifying results. These bills have a marked similarity to Trump’s campaign to subvert his loss, when supporters suggested the idea of legislatures overriding the will of voters.
Mark my words. Extreme efforts will continue to be made to promote The Big Lie that Trump lost because of non-existent voter fraud. That will be used in 2022 and beyond to stoke a sense in Republicans of being victims and that they are therefore justified in using any means at their disposal, including subverting democratic processes, to ensure the election of Republicans.
Feeling aggrieved because you think you have been wronged is a festering, treacherous emotion. It can seem to justify the unjustifiable.
To save our democracy, we have to realize that there is this emotional undercurrent that must be addressed. We cannot communicate well just by mounting the rational arguments that democracies rise or fall on the will of majorities. Speaking directly to the emotional tsunami that drives anti-democratic actions has to occur.
We can start by having Jan. 6, 2021, condemned at every quarter as an unjustified attempt at an insurrection.
And we have to say it, and say it, and say it.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president emerita and professor emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.