Rev. Dr. King’s Question Demands Our Answer Today.
The destruction and rank desecration visited upon the United States Capitol by pro-Trump insurrectionists bore nightmarish witness to the world of how far many in the U.S. have strayed from our professed values.
The harm done to the iconic temple of our republic — to its stately marble and elegiac halls, its magnificent wood and carved stone, its towering beauty, its seeming invulnerability — was a harsh materialization of the sheer contempt for our democracy, for our vote, and for the rule of law so brazenly expressed by the president and thousands of his followers, cheered on, both in social media and post-riot polling by millions more.
But the deadly invasion of our Capitol on January 6 was only the most concrete representation of this assault on all we hold dear. The 400,000 American deaths due to the coronavirus, the vast majority of them needlessly, is the most grotesque and grievous act of criminal disregard on the part of top U.S. officials responsible for our protection, with the overwhelming loss borne by our most vulnerable communities.
The colossal suffering on the part of Black and Brown and Indigenous Americans throughout the pandemic is only one egregious example of the utter disdain long exhibited toward these communities by the president and his followers, who shamelessly and consistently have gone out of their way to disenfranchise communities of color, starve them of basic resources, and depict them, over and over again, as an existential threat to White survival.
The caging of thousands of children kidnapped from their immigrant parents is another egregious crime with a terrible legacy, with the government so careless in its cruelty as to have lost their whereabouts, making it all but impossible to reunite hundreds of families.
The serial rape of the environment, our precious natural patrimony, by enabling avaricious extractive industries to pillage and pollute our rivers, mountains, forests, and natural reserves, continues, with administration officials seemingly racing to do so on their way out the door.
The betrayal of our international commitments, alliances, and adherence to international law not only risks our national security but amplifies across the globe the despicable actions taken at home.
The world looks on, aghast. On the grim morning after the insurrection, a Kenyan friend wrote to express her concern. “The images of violent attackers inside Congress on Wednesday were a reminder of just how close to the precipice American democracy stands,” she wrote. “Our media here are saying how America tries to teach everyone about democracy, but what happened yesterday is [so far beyond] where anyone here in Africa has ever reached, in trying to storm Parliament.”
It’s high time we remember who we say we are and “the Republic for which” our U.S. Capitol stands. “The people’s house,” as the halls of Congress are known, symbolizes American democracy, but it does not define it. Rather, at its heart, democracy depends on our respect for human life, for the other, for one another’s vote, for the truth.
Whether it’s about wearing a mask, to protect each other; offering paid family leave and childcare to help care for each other and enable each other to survive this dreadful pandemic; responding humanely to the suffering of asylum seekers at the southern border; accepting difference; or acknowledging the outcome of a free and fair election, our appreciation of each other, of equal justice, and of the rule of law are crucial to the functioning of a civil society.
“Chaos, or community,” asked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate.
But King went further, calling for a “beloved community.” His vision requires compassion and empathy, a love that is both “creative and redemptive,” a love that “builds up and unites,” that leads to reconciliation, to “justice without violence,” to “living together as brothers.”
It is a vision, expressed by Rev. Dr. King more than 60 years ago, that sees worlds beyond where we now find ourselves. It is a vision that demands that we care for and value one another, and that we cherish and strive to perfect the hallowed institutions created by our forefathers and -mothers, not destroy them.
So what will it be, America?
Chaos, and with it, the crushing of individual rights, social norms, and the world’s faith in all we stand for?
Or “the beloved community” for which King so fervently yearned?
The choice is ours.