The Deep Brokenness in the Soul of America

On Wednesday, January 6th, hundreds of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol building as our political leaders gathered to certify the electoral votes. They had been goaded into action by President Trump and lackeys like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri; Cruz is now walking back some of his statements to much ridicule, but Hawley remains defiant. Calls for the resignations of the colluding Senators have been growing. And we will soon see if Speaker Pelosi will make good on her vow to hold a second impeachment vote. But Republicans are already commenting on how such an action will tie up a good portion of President Biden’s first quarter, perhaps a little too gleefully.

It was a very scary day

The social media jesters have been hard at work mocking the insurrectionists mercilessly. But it was a very scary day.

As it was unfolding, the coup was described as reality TV fascism, which on one level it was. But as the days have passed and the depth of conspiracy has been revealed, we also see that it was much more than that. Trump continues to reject the validity of the election and just hours before the seditionists stormed the Capitol Building, he held a rally telling these people to go to the Capitol and to go wild. A mob estimated at around 30,000 people, incited by his words, made their way across town and did what was unthinkable not all that long ago.

Divisions within the Republican party are beginning to widen. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who, on a good day, might best be described as duplicitous, shared these strong words with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt:

“[Trump] is addicted to division. This is a deep brokenness in his soul… he’s been lying to the American people for eight straight weeks and planned it long before… Donald Trump wanted there to be massive divisions, and he was telling people there was a path by which he was going to stay in office after January 20th. That was never true. And he wanted chaos on television. I don’t have any idea what was in his heart about what he wanted to happen once they were in the Capitol, but he wanted there to be chaos… As this was unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building… He was delighted.” [1]

But to be clear, as harsh as these words may sound today, Senator Sasse had the opportunity to remove Trump when he was impeached, but like every other Republican, except for Mitt Romney, he voted to acquit. Ben Sasse is just the latest of his party who are now struggling to find some moral voice in the shadow of a coup attempt, after having provided Trump cover for so long. Trump is not the only Republican with a deep brokenness in his soul, Ben Sasse is also a moral degenerate.

Cabinet members have also begun to jump ship. Both Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos resigned citing the coup attempt as the reason for their early departure, but many suspect it was actually because they did not want to be put in the position of having to invoke the 25 th Amendment which gives the Cabinet the power to remove the President. This posturing is the reality TV fascism we have grown so accustomed to over the past 4 to 40 years.

The actions that took place on Wednesday were not the creations of Donald J. Trump. They are the children of 50 years of Republican activism. It brought us the destructive greed of Reagan, the divisive politics of Gingrich, the plunder of George W., but under Obama, white supremacy was stoked into a burning rage that gave birth to Trump. To place the failed coup at Trump’s feet is to avoid looking at the deep brokenness in the soul of America, which has found its home in the Republican party. The failed coup is a mirror of the deep brokenness in the soul of this nation.

There is a wanton lust for destruction and pain, there is a glorification of bullying and abuse, there is a hagiography of mass murderers and enslavers that live within our shared identity.

As the rats jump ship casting around for any news show that will allow them to posture and strut their alleged disgust, as if they didn’t help create this, we must ask ourselves not just how to hold the traitors accountable, but what, if anything, can be done to redeem us from the sin of this nation. There is a wanton lust for destruction and pain, there is a glorification of bullying and abuse, there is a hagiography of mass murderers and enslavers that live within our shared identity. And there are times when I wonder if we can be redeemed. The American Dream speaks of a future of possibilities, but this is usually reserved to mean capital accumulation, not spiritual redemption. The media has focused on a comical loser who traded his shirt for horns as he stormed the Capitol building, but there were 30,000 seething hooligans swarming the streets; a raw manifestation of our national id. There is a deep brokenness in the soul of this nation.

Yes, Trump should be impeached, removed from office, barred from holding any future office, and prosecuted. The insurrectionists should be prosecuted. Those soldiers and appointees in the Pentagon who held back the National Guard should be prosecuted. It must be made clear that you will be held accountable if you incite insurrection against the U.S. Government. There can be no normalizing of this behavior. Or I do not see any future for the Republic.

But once this is done we must commit ourselves to healing the brokenness in the soul of this nation.

The rage in the nation is too high and it will continue to bubble out like an active volcano if it is not met with a clear show of authority. But once this is done we must commit ourselves to healing the brokenness in the soul of this nation.

Trump received more votes than any presidential candidate in history, except for Joe Biden. Biden’s win was clear, but almost 75 million people voted for Donald J. Trump, a third of those eligible to vote and nearly half of those who did. Our eyes should also focus on redeeming our soul or this will simply repeat.

Prof. Michael Benner, writing in an op-ed for the Washington Post, reminded us of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, a failed coup incited by a young Adolf Hitler, which ultimately led to his imprisonment. Benner is clear that the circumstances of 1920s Germany and contemporary America are different, but he says there are lessons to be learned. He writes

“Hitler’s claims that he was a strongman who would clean up the political mess and march to Berlin to make Germany great again won him many sympathies among the deprived masses, conservative politicians, business elites and even within the judicial system. He received a mild sentence, was freed after a few months and relaunched his political career. Ten years later he was Germany’s strongman.

What at first blush looked like a failed coup proved successful in the long run because of a justice system that was blind in its right eye and conservative political leaders who fueled the myths that Hitler had tapped into, planted the seeds of political polarization and discredited the legitimacy of elected officials. These leaders were also convinced that they could use Hitler and his mass movement as a vehicle to stay in power, even though they despised him and looked down on him as an upstart. His vice-chancellor, Franz von Papen of the Catholic Center Party, famously claimed he and his moderate cabinet members would keep Hitler and his Nazi troops in check. Von Papen lost this game and so did all the other enablers who made Hitler’s rise possible. But they didn’t decisively move to squelch his movement during the 1920s when they had the opportunity.” [2]

The brokenness in the soul of this nation is not just found in Trump, Cruz, Hawley, and the other 5 Republican Senators, 138 Republican Representatives, and Wednesday’s mob who contested this election. Senators Ben Sasses, Susan Collins, and other Republicans expressing outrage while still carrying water for those who spread lies are also at fault. Somehow they believe they will control the brokenness and maintain power. But they will fail.

Which means the responsibility falls to us. And I believe that each of us has a part to play in this unfolding drama.

As scary as Wednesday was, the words of Theodore Parker (abridged and made famous by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) continue to guide my vision of us as a people.

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Perhaps we can only see a “little ways” and, in the moment, this can feel disheartening. But for the sixth year in a row the incoming Congress is the most diverse in our nation’s history. For the first time, a Native American has been appointed to head the Department of the Interior (the first Native person to hold any Cabinet position). Our Vice President is not only the first woman to hold the position but also only the second person of color as either President or Vice President. Things are changing.

When placed within this context, it is clear why the forces of white supremacy and misogyny protested. And we have come to learn that the lack of police presence was due to collusion at very high levels. Still, the votes were cast and Joe Biden is our incoming president. Today there is a stench of sad failure hanging over the protest. But this battle is far from over. Our political body has been deeply infiltrated by conservative politicians, business elites, and activist judges. And if we want to avoid the fate that befell 1920s Germany, we need to act now.

However, as people of faith, we are guided not only by what is ethically right but also by what is morally right. That is, we are not only concerned with right actions but also with guiding principles.

Wednesday’s actions have shown us who we are, but not who we have to be. The fascists have attempted to define us and our response must go beyond rebuke (which still allows them to define the narrative), they must be held accountable. But Proverbs warns us “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This has been part of the Republican strategy: to demoralize and destroy hope so they can plunder. Simply holding them accountable is not enough. We need vision.

We do not have to be a nation of people guided by the brokenness of our soul. We can be a nation guided by the courage it takes to heal this brokenness.

And this vision is created in Washington D.C. and your hometown, in the great political conventions and the town halls. We do not have to be a nation of people guided by the brokenness of our soul. We can be a nation guided by the courage it takes to heal this brokenness.

It is, I suppose, a statement of faith to say that as sinful as this nation is and has been, I still believe. I still believe that love is possible. I still believe that justice is possible. I still believe that liberation is possible. The moral arc of the universe is long and I can see only a little way, but the seeds of the children of our children live within me and for them I trudge along its curvature guided by love, justice, and liberation.

[1] Senator Ben Sasse On Impeachment and Transition, the GOP in Minority

[2] Michael Brenner, Pre-Nazi Germany tells us the fight to save American democracy is just beginning

Capitol Building image by Phillip Roulain from Pixabay

Munich Beer Hall Putsch image from WikiCommons

Originally published at https://www.theseekerstable.com.

Rev. Ian White Maher hosts The Seeker’s Table, a contemplative online spiritual community. He is graduate of the Harvard Divinity School.