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Why Be Surprised? Fear and Hope during Covid-19

Photo credits, clockwise from upper left: Kristine Wook, Cristina Eisenberg, Nathen Domlo,

By Roberta J. Hill

On January 6, 2121, TV news showed several thousand protesters moving from the Trump rally to the U. S. Capitol where Congress convened to confirm electoral college votes for Candidate Joe Biden, installing the new president. A newsman with his microphone asked two women in the crowd what they planned. The middle-aged women had driven from the South. Wearing a camouflage jacket, one said, “We’re going to pull them out by their hair.” Her group planned to drag senators and congressmen and women out of the building. Then what? Humiliate them? Beat them? Shoot them? She was furious, her indignant resentment displayed the energy of what was called later, “an insurrection”. She seemed to have ignored the illegality of her intended actions. Her remarks showed a coordinated plan to take over the government.

Where were water cannons, helicopters, black buses for the arrested, attack dogs, tear gas, smoke bombs, small armored vehicles and such force used against others like the DAPL Water Warriors and Black Lives Matter protesters? The Capitol police held insurgents back with what looked like bicycle racks. As the attack progressed, one lone black officer stood waving his nightstick on a stairwell while angry white people swelled up the stairs. He ran up to the next stairwell. Where were fellow officers? The police believed the white “protestors” were not terrorists. The FBI’s warnings did not get sent. The event illustrated our nation’s structural racism.

I remain frightened by the supporters of white supremacy and by secret groups promoting instability and unreality. I’m afraid of the way they perceive themselves as justified to use violence for political ends. I am afraid for my loved ones–Indigenous, Black, Brown, Immigrants, Citizens, colleagues, students on visas. The insurrectionists’ self-righteousness hides their greed and desire for illegitimate power. The same energy caused the Sand Creek Massacre and many other massacres of Native People. This energy caused genocide in many African American communities, for example: Wilmington, Delaware; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Harrison, Arkansas. Yet, I cultivate hope because the majority of the citizens used their political will to elect President Biden.

Terror is an organized use of violence to gain political power, to attack civilians and innocent people, to silence and frighten in order to establish a total transformation of the political order, in this case, installing an illegitimate leader. Terror is anti-democratic. Since 2010, nine successful coup d’états have occurred worldwide, with many more attempts. They are sometimes followed by civil war and always by state oppression, imprisonment and sometimes massacres.

Democracy is grounded in respect for the truth and a willingness to compromise. Democracy requires open-minded citizens who willingly discuss the facts and seek to comprehend the truth in order to solve problems. The pandemic and social media have isolated us, so we need to break from that isolation. We have a flawed democracy once again facing many crises. Perhaps we need two or three national holidays for the election: two to discuss across boundaries and the last day to vote. In the second impeachment hearing, Senator Leahy (D, Vt.) gave evidence showing that President Trump created a months-long, illogical premise: he should not lose. President Trump created a false reality and urged his followers toward violence. I am afraid of any ideology that legitimizes violence, instability, unreality: the foundations of totalitarian regimes. The insurgents scared our leaders, but once it was stopped, they gathered again to confirm President Biden. Unfortunately, they did not get a consensus to stop future white supremacist terrorism. The Republicans didn’t support impeachment. Some attacked the few who did; some Senators denied their constituents’ votes.

In Upheaval: Turning Points for Nation in Crisis, Jared Diamond compares national crises in seven nations and lists twelve factors; the first three are a national consensus—we have a crisis; accepting national responsibility for the crisis, and “building a fence” to determine what works and what doesn’t. Covid-19 brought to the foreground historically established structurally racist contradictions. What undermines our democracy? The growing wealth gap? The racist cultures in police departments with new military equipment? The police unions which lack diversity and enable some members to violate their oath to serve citizens? The history of structural policies of white supremacy within our policies and institutions?

We are a racially diverse nation. Ellis Island immigrants were processed by the thousands per day. Why can’t immigrants from Central and Latin America have the same welcome? These immigrants could maintain our labor force and contribute to Social Security. Other factors? Is the climate crisis undermining our democracy by weakening agricultural production, causing weather disasters, and increasing hunger, homelessness and mental illness? Is the two-party system weakening our democracy by forestalling compromise? Do we need to return to the unresolved issues of the Compromise of 1877, which ended Reconstruction and the protection of Black civil and political rights, along with the rights of all people of color? Is it a voting crisis? Is it that we don’t recognize the colonial legacy of militia violence that committed genocide against Indigenous Nations in order to take the land?

Will we face a gnawing, gradual crisis or a violent, explosive one?

What I fear is the threat from white terrorist organizations, which claim to be militias to make them seem legitimate. Colonial militias committed genocide against Native Nations. The actual history isn’t taught. Most Americans don’t see the relationship between the total war to take the land and total war, terrorism, as destroying democracy and instituting totalitarian rule.

I think of Hannah Arendt’s warnings in The Origins of Totalitarianism: real terror begins after a regime gains power. It creates both instability and unreality. We need to elect truthful leaders who are willing to compromise, willing to work on the problems and find solutions, not embolden racists and liars. I keep hopeful that we will find ways to come together and face the crises in our democracy, so we don’t make our children and grandchildren suffer.


Coup d’etat record:

Jared Diamond, Upheaval:  Turning Points for Nations in Crisis (Recorded Books, 2019)