We failed, we can succeed

If you haven’t noticed it before, it was made a bit easier for you to see today: we’ve failed.

The failures are, at all levels, institutional. A lame duck president and his lemmings, too vain and disbelieving to face the inevitable, behaved in ways most seditious and terroristic. We have failed in the teaching of our civics. That so many continue down this path, listening to outlets that serve no purpose but to stir fear and anger, show we have failed in teaching media literacy. That so many have shown themselves so susceptible to this nonsense shows we have failed in teaching critical thinking.

A seditious mob descended on the United States Capitol while the elected representatives were doing the nation’s business. A woman died. The vice president and next several members of the presidential line of succession were in immediate danger. Someone erected a slapdash gallows in front of the building. Perhaps others will die in the hours and days to come. Dozens more were injured.

The failures are, at all levels, institutional. And, thus, the failures are, at every stage, also individual. Impressionable, angry people made these decisions, and they have been meet with condemnation and revulsion, with further consequences to no doubt follow.

In the days to come it will be natural to seek a single failure point. People will study video frame-by-frame and pour over photographs. Jobs will be lost. And there will be investigations, too. You simply can’t inconvenience Congress, foment a coup and commit terrorism on cable television and not trigger dozens of investigations. Some will yield startling results across a wide array of agencies and jurisdictions. Some will provide disappointing outcomes.

In these ways, and perhaps more, we’ll come to realize in the coming days, we have failed. It is a frightening thing to confront your failures. A challenging thing. A necessary thing.

How we succeed is no less challenging.

As I write this, the Congress has gone back to conducting the business of the people. In some ways glorious, in others no doubt quite frustrating indeed. That’s the way of the legislative branch. Sometime in the overnight, or tomorrow, they’ll plod their way through the ceremony and a new presidential administration will ultimately begin.

Today you heard from President Trump and President-elect Biden and you saw them in stark contrast. Tomorrow, and later this month, and, hopefully for the next many years over the course of many administrations of different parties and congressional configurations of different makeups, we will start to undo the damage we have inflicted on ourselves today, and in our recent past and, indeed, throughout our history.

History is an important word loaded with hints and allusions and inferences and truths. I like the pursuit of history. Telling the truth of a story is a noble thing. I like the humanness of it. It is not to be ignored. Ignoring things brings us here, seeing our problems manifest today.

If we simply stuck to the problems above — a narcissist-in-chief, failings of civics and literacy and critical thinking are ultimately as cultural as they are individual — the challenges to correct them are immense. But we like to think we are at our best when we are faced with immense challenges. It’s comforting, it fits us. And, friends, the immensity is before us.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I know we won’t always be good at reaching for all of the remedies, even the obvious ones.

But, without trying to sound platitudinous in a too-tough week, I want to celebrate the words that become the ideas that move us. I hold onto the idea that we are an experiment. No less an architect than Thomas Jefferson and no less a keen observer than Alexis de Tocqueville used the word to describe us. An experiment is still alive in the moment, where the possibilities lay, where we can still impact the outcome.

The American Experiment. It really began with those few simple words that can stir you each time you really think of them, the ones found right near the beginning, in the preamble that you, perhaps, learned in school. The words that said simply, we are here “to form a more perfect Union.”

We are flawed, but we are forming. As I am sad and shocked and share in the hurt of the nation tonight, I think of those words, “to form a more perfect Union.” There’s so much power there. It was given to us. The power is still alive, in our hands, in our national will, where the possibilities remain, and where we must still determine the outcome. This is how we will succeed.

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