“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”
Catherine of Siena
Now would not be a good time for anyone in the United States to take a stress test. Having experienced the deadliest pandemic in 100 years, witnessed racist violence in cities across the country, and endured deep political divisions that have made movement on urgent social issues impossible to address in Congress, we face an unimaginable crisis. The mind-numbing attack on the US Capitol on January 6 left most of us reeling and trying to comprehend what was happening.
As I attempt to process the reality of a coup, and insurrection of thousands of “proud boys,” neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and conspiracy theorists, I come to the realization that truth has been missing in action for the last four years. Social media has provided a platform for lies, disinformation, and conspiracy theories gone mad. Finally, Facebook and Twitter have halted President Trump from using the platforms indefinitely, but this action comes much too late. The power of anyone occupying the presidency and using social media or standing in front of a camera can sway millions, make it impossible to pass legislation, and bring fear to those who just want to be reelected.
Conspiracy theorists have written a script of lies that they dressed up as truth. “The election was rigged,” a mantra promoted by the president, continuously fed through social media, and promoted even before the election. The seeds for a violent coup attempt were planted early. The consequences were obvious: the lives of governors and secretaries of state, the speaker of the house, and the vice president were threatened. Five people died… another Capitol officer committed suicide days after the attack.
Lies led to the storming of the Capitol by domestic terrorists armed with military-style assault weapons, explosives, tear gas, guns, knives, confederate battle flags, waving racist hand signals. They wore shirts that mocked the Holocaust and carried flags that said, “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President.”
This white mob was on a mission to take prisoners and demand the election be overturned. They were fed Gospel-like lies of the deep state taking over lives and Trump was the savior of the country.
The property that was destroyed – windows broken, doors torn down, computers stolen, can be replaced. Can the human spirit be revived? Can trust in the government be restored? Can political parties do the hard work of promoting the common good, and put partisanship aside? The biggest challenge: can lies be addressed vigorously and immediately?
We have had a leadership vacuum in our political world for years. Sins against truth continue to be found in all of our institutions, including our own Church. Truth has taken a beating in social media and in many avenues of communication. Our “better angels” need to demand that truth permeate all platforms, or simply wait for the next coup. What is more important than resuscitating truth and restoring a democracy? Maybe then someone will write volume 2 of PROFILES IN COURAGE.