As I watch the unimaginable scenes of insurrection from our nation’s capital, where our entire Congress was held hostage by the actions of a deluded and deranged mob, I am filled with anger. Righteous anger. Because while what we are watching is horrifying, it is not surprising.
This is the inevitable result of four years of lies from President Donald Trump. Four years of the president demonizing his opponents. Four years of unaccountable abuses of power. Four years of reckless rhetoric and thinly veiled threats of violence. Four years of stoking of white racial resentment, anxiety and fear. Of naked appeals to his thugs and inciting Proud Boy gangs to “stand by.” And of repeated refusals on his part to promise a peaceful transfer of power. Make no mistake, this is the only place that the presidency of Donald Trump could lead: a violent assault upon the nation’s democracy.
What we saw today is a clear declaration that many white people would rather live in a white dictatorship than in a multiracial democracy.
We cannot feign surprise, because for years, the core of Mr. Trump’s appeal has been stoking white resentment at the changing face of America. What we saw today is a clear declaration that many white people would rather live in a white dictatorship than in a multiracial democracy. If democracy means sharing power with people of color, especially Black people, then they want no part of it. Today is the inevitable consequence of the nation’s tolerance of white racism.
But Trump is not solely responsible for this debacle. Here is where the wisdom of the Catholic moral tradition is achingly relevant. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that one shares in the evil of another “by omitting the counsel that would have hindered the wrongdoing” and by “silence, by not preventing, by not denouncing.”
What we witnessed in Washington is a direct consequence of four years of enabling complicity, cynical appeasement and cowardly silence. It is the consequence of those who knew that the president is grossly incompetent for the office, but said nothing. It is the result of those who repeated his lies about a stolen election to curry short-term favor. It is the consequence of political leaders who refused to confront his unprecedented destruction of democratic norms out of fear of a presidential tweet.
It is also the consequence of the complicit silence and active support of religious leaders who refused to confront the cancer of white nationalism that this president endorses and who excused all manner of his wrongdoing, incompetence and brutality by saying these were not the “pre-eminent evil” that should determine a Catholic’s vote.
What we witnessed in Washington is a direct consequence of four years of enabling complicity, cynical appeasement and cowardly silence.
St. Pope John Paul II declared, “Truth is the mother, basis, and foundation of justice.” What we saw today is the consequence when truth is ignored, trampled and dismissed. And when lies are repeated, winked at or cynically embraced. We cannot have justice when charade passes for reality, when racist delusion is passed by in silence, when political cynicism passes for public service.
The fundamental question confronting the nation is: Will we strive to be a nation of liberty and justice for all? Or only for some? For those who are white and angry? For those who look like and pray like us? Until we face those questions, we dare not act surprised by the horror that we saw at the Capitol today. Or when it happens again.