With heartbreak and disbelief, we watched on Wednesday as a mob of rioters descended on the Capitol precisely at the moment Congress was engaged in affirming among the most sacred hallmarks of our democracy — the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next.
Our country’s brokenness was on full display. I don’t think anyone expected that in our lifetimes we'd wake up to the kind of headlines that ran in newspapers around the world on Thursday morning.
Almost lost amid the mayhem at the capital on Wednesday was the fact that we’d hit yet another grim milestone in America — the deadliest day of the pandemic. That ghastly record was short-lived: yesterday, for the first time, over 4,000 people in our country died of Covid-related complications.
But we cannot give in to despair.
Just hours after the mob desecrated the Capitol, democracy prevailed. Like many, I stayed up into the early hours of Thursday morning watching our elected representatives back in the Capitol fulfill their duty, certifying the Electoral College results. As senators and representatives of both parties spoke about the violence that had unfolded earlier, I had the sense — time will tell, if wishful — that at least some of our nation’s leaders were having a wake-up call. A realization that things have gone far too perilously off course, and working with colleagues across the aisle is necessary for the sake of our nation’s integrity, if not its very soul.
It’s critical to note that our nation is not simply suffering a crisis of leadership, but also a crisis of “followership.” It’s not just a matter of who we follow, but how. Too many of us put blinders on about our own political parties and their leaders. Too many of us stay in our Twitter echo chambers and listen only to the media outlets that support our point of view. Too many of us demonize those with whom we disagree. Political polarization has been tearing at the seams of this country for many years now.
Make no mistake, President Trump was the proximate cause of what transpired at the Capitol. But many bear responsibility for the current state of our country, and the work of healing our nation — accepting where we may have fallen short and ensuring that our democracy endures — falls on all of us.
In a week that’s had us all searching for answers, I find inspiration in a question.
Tomorrow we read parshat Shemot, my bar mitzvah parsha, whose verses I’ve read and reread all these years. In it, we’re told that Moses meets God at the burning bush and God instructs him to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses’s famous question is Mi anochi — “Who am I” — to be able to do that?
On the surface, Moses is questioning his personal adequacy for the role. Am I worthy? Do I have what it takes to be a leader? But on a far more fundamental level, Moses is questioning his values. What’s being asked of me will be incredibly difficult, grueling, and require enormous sacrifice. Is this a role I’m prepared to take on?
I believe this is a “Who am I?” moment for all of us.
Our political leaders certainly have soul searching to do, but so do we all. Each one of us can play a role in repairing our current broken reality in our own communities, our own spheres of influence. Each one of us must reaffirm the values and principles that reflect our aspirations for America. Each one of us must ask:
Who am I? And where do I begin?