Commentary

How do you move forward after an insurrection?

June 17, 2021 7:00 am

A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images).

It’s been more than six months since the Jan. 6 insurrection, but it feels like it took place yesterday. 

And I’m concerned about what lies ahead.

In the isolation of the pandemic, much of our political discourse has moved from the public square to the more anonymous comment section. What does that mean for our ability to heal our stubbornly divided nation?

True, we have always been a nation fiercely debating our own fate. But until recently we have at least somewhat agreed on the basic tenets of reality. 

What’s dangerous about our present  times is that we are living in and arguing from vastly different realities. We cannot, as a nation, even agree on the same set of facts regarding the most pressing current events. Where do we go from here? Both sides are rightly or wrongly entrenched in their beliefs. Both sides believe the best form of attack is shaming the other side into retreating. And if that fails, as it predictably will, what then?  

Social media, where genial discourse often goes to die, provided a looking glass into opposing viewpoints. Where ideas were previously examined in the clear light of day within a community, now people who no longer feel welcome on major platforms with their half-formed opinions and misinformed truths are being pushed to fringe platforms where recruitment is in overdrive. 

We stand on the verge of losing the moderate population to the fringe extremists 

The people who do the hard work of extracting extremists from their radicalized communities of white supremacists and neo-nazis aren’t out punching people or yelling at them in comment sections. They know what so many of us are still struggling to understand: that we need to be able to meet people where they are, on an individual level, before collective change can be achieved. 

And it can be achieved.

We used to have middle ground. Common ground. 

Now we are being forced to pick the sides with extremists.

The truth is that shaming toxic belief systems back underground doesn’t dissolve them. It leaves them more entrenched in their hatred, hunkered down and eagerly awaiting a new mindless messiah who will grant them a platform. 

To eradicate them you must persuade them to turn away from extremist views and take up space within your cherished and protected community, an extreme leap of faith, no doubt. You must give them safe space to change. And it is mighty hard to redirect people when you cannot see their humanity. 

But what is the alternative? I look at Trump supporters who stormed the Capital on Jan. 6 and there’s a part of me that sees people who devalue the lives and experiences of others in service of themselves. People who lack any semblance of empathy. 

There are these questions that nag at me.  

Does it matter more that somebody is “bad”, or that they could be good? Do I throw the person out because the things they believe, or at the very least tolerate in others, are sometimes truly awful? Or should I put more stock in their value as somebody who could potentially change for the better.

I think that’s what President Obama was alluding to during the inauguration when he said, “that we can have fierce disagreements and yet recognize each other’s common humanity and that, as Americans, we have more in common than what separates us.”

We the people have so easily been divided. That’s what foreign entities intended, with their meddling trolls sowing dissidence in all corners of the internet — to polarize us so much that we become destabilized as a society and destroy ourselves from within. 

It’s working.

What we have lost in the past four years is not only the ability to listen, but the ability to communicate with the folks who share our country. 

We speak in absolutes, demand perfect wisdom and execution, and deny forgiveness. 

We have removed a middle ground in favor of choosing sides. 

Do facts even matter anymore when you hate the person who you need to convince to believe in them? 

So often I hear things like “Google is free.” And “It’s not my job to educate you.” As somebody who occasionally speaks at trainings and conferences about my experience as a rape victim, I have realized that it is, unfortunately, upon the shoulders of those who want the change to do the educating. 

It shouldn’t be my job to educate others and advocate for change within the systems that harmed me. But who else is going to do it? Who else can speak to the things I’ve experienced the way I can? Who else can adequately convey the importance of an issue from such personal experience?  I don’t want to be the person who is advocating for people to try to “win over” the people who have caused them harm, but what is the alternative if neither side backs down? 

The grace with which the new administration has handled every snub, every slight and welcomed every olive branch from even those who have been some of the harshest critics reminds me of the uncomfortable road ahead. Being the bigger person is never easy. It takes unfair sacrifice. It requires not writing off those who disagree with us as lost causes. 

Divided, we will not stand. We’ve struggled so long for this Republic. Only time will tell if we are willing to do the work to keep it.

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Taylor Hirth
Taylor Hirth

Taylor Hirth is a freelance writer, public speaker, and dedicated advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Mic.com and The Kansas City Star. She has been a voice for change since coming forward in 2015 to publicly shed light on the culture of harassment at the Missouri State Capitol. She currently serves on the speaker’s bureau with Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, and as a survivor voice on the Missouri Sexual Assault Response Team where her story has helped initiate a statewide audit of the rape kit backlog, and helped guide the development of trauma-informed training for law enforcement. She is a 2018 recipient of the Visionary Voice award from the NSVRC. She received her undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Missouri- Kansas City, and currently works at Legal Aid of Western Missouri.

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