In preparation for Election Day, Manhattan businesses boarded up in fear that violence would erupt if Donald Trump won reelection. They had seen or already experienced destruction during the summer, when George Floyd’s death and a series of deaths at the hands — or knee — of police set off legitimate protests as well as outright violent riots and looting. Now that our nation’s capital has had to become a militarized zone because of the violence that descended on the Capitol building itself — with both houses of Congress present — we know that violence is a bipartisan problem. It’s a poison in our national bloodstream. And it’s taken on a new, dangerous life. Four years ago, the day after Trump’s inauguration, protesters who already wanted him impeached led violent demonstrations in D.C. This year, people whipped up by the president seemed to be on the hunt for the vice president for simply doing his job.
This didn’t happen overnight, or just since Election Day, and it wasn’t merely inspired by or in reaction to the violence over the summer. It would be wrong to pretend it’s confined to Trump voters — or that all Trump voters are prone to violence or condone it. Not all Black Lives Matters protesters are violent; similarly, most of the people at the Trump rally were peaceful. No one should be canceled or shunned simply for having been there. Some were there because they don’t trust the media. Some were there because they fear that, under Democrats’ rule, their views on some fundamental issues, such as life and marriage, will become unacceptable. It was the minority who wound up inside the Capitol, some of them entering by force and others caught up in the moment.
However it happened, consequences are necessary. And there always must be when there is violence. Which is why we need to examine what all this violence says about who we have become as a people.
The Trump administration brought back federal executions, which a Biden administration will mercifully reverse. We should be haunted by some of the executions. All of those who were executed were convicted of heinous murders. And, in some of the cases, the murders were a result of illness and lives that never knew anything but the violence of abuse — raped repeatedly as a child, abandoned by a mother who wanted to kill you. These aren’t excuses, but they should be alarms to do better for children. As the coronavirus and our responses have brought with them a tidal wave of mental anguish for people, children in desperate home situations have become nearly invisible when schools aren’t open for physical attendance in the classroom.
And while we’re examining our conscience about the heightened tendency toward violence in our midst, let’s recall that the entertainment we consume matters. If it’s all violence and death, that becomes a part of us. It doesn’t cause someone to wake up one morning, get on a plane, and storm the Capitol building or loot a Best Buy under the guise of protesting racial injustice, but some “entertainment” does desensitize us to just how evil it is to hurt or kill or dehumanize. And don’t we dehumanize in all sorts of ways, whether by being transactional in our daily lives or indifferent (or worse) to people we encounter who are begging for money or who are off to the side, overcome by addiction?
And we absolutely have to address abortion in a new way. It’s the most intimate violence there is. And with the rise of chemical abortion, women are now sometimes sent home to deal with it on their own. To know you chose the death of your child? If women only knew how many opponents of abortion pray — and not in any kind of judgmental way — for those who have found themselves having an abortion. We know there’s anguish. There is often so much fear and a loss of freedom. It’s so often the opposite of what the rhetoric suggests.
Joe Biden has suggested that he was elected to help us heal as a nation. If he is going to make good on that promise, he could take a new position on abortion — and become a transformational leader. Yes, his Church tells him that abortion is wrong, but Pope Francis himself has repeatedly said that abortion is not a religious issue, it’s a human-rights issue. Abortion is wrong because it takes a life and destroys the most natural bond there is. Abortion kills human life, and it’s killing us. A near half century of this is making us into a people who are finding it more and more difficult to come together for the common good. Our differences are making it harder to unite around anything. So we board up windows and barricade government buildings for fear of what people might do, believing the worst about institutions and leaders and our neighbors. When we pressure a woman to deny the humanity of the child in her womb, whom and what can we trust?
There are so many elements to the pandemic that are ailing the hearts of our nation, but we’d be delusional to ignore the long-term consequences of abortion on our culture. When we throw away our most vulnerable, we’ll seek to throw away elections and opponents and everyone we’ve come to perceive as an enemy in any way. The throwaway culture is a prompt for national reflection, and every leader can help guide us to something more life-giving and tender. So much is so harsh these days. Consider our rhetoric, consider our politics as pseudo-religion, consider our laws and protocols that say that those who are most vulnerable are less than human.
We don’t have to be an angry, violent people. Rid ourselves of unnecessary violence and death, and we may be able to begin again to see what’s worth preserving — the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have some thoughts, for starters.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.