Last week’s insurrection on Capitol Hill cannot be allowed to fade into the news cycle. It was not a one-off event, but the culmination of months – indeed years – of malicious leadership. On Friday night I spoke about the white supremacy and lies that got us here. I also called upon those who took an active part or were otherwise complicit in encouraging this atrocious assault to take responsibility and demonstrate accountability.
Almost a week later we are seeing very little of that.
Denying the legitimacy of the election without a shred of evidence is what we call a Big Lie. And the members of the administration, senators, representatives, media, and so many others who have been repeating it over and over and over again are just as responsible for what happened as those who beat down and battered our Capitol.
I’ll leave it to historians and Trump’s niece the psychologist to dissect his administration and the part that his mental illness played in all of this. Yet even we average folks could see that his Big Lie was inevitable. As so many have observed, he just could not help himself.
But others could.
With even former Attorney General Bill Barr denying that President-Elect Biden stole the election, a peaceful transition of power was possible. Yet even with the truth at hand, so many continued to hitch their horses to our delusional authoritarian president, spreading the Big Lie as part of their own cynical and power-hungry ploy to score a few more points with Trump’s MAGA cult.
Despite their role in all of this and after five years in the service of dividing the country, what do we now hear from these failed leaders? Disingenuous calls for “unity.”
“We must come together and put this anger and division behind us,” says Sen. Ted Cruz. “I’m hoping we can come back together,” says Rep. Jim Jordan. They are but two among many who fanned the flames of the Big Lie even after the attack, voting to nullify the votes of millions of Americans while the Capitol was still in shambles. Their calls for unity are as self-serving as their participation in the Big Lie.
Watching the assault on democracy last Wednesday it was still difficult to grasp just how horrible it was. Now we know that five lives were lost. That Capitol Police officers were viciously beaten with flag poles. That our elected representatives and others were hiding in terror. No one who spread the Big Lie that led to all of this has the right to call for “unity” without first taking responsibility and standing accountable.
We are often told that “religion” should concentrate on spiritual matters. But no version of Judaism has ever ignored this-worldly concerns. Thus as Humanists we must stand up for moral and ethical rectitude. And as Jews we must learn what we can from teachings of the past.
Jewish tradition has always emphasized behaving with honor. The Bible (in a passage that we still sing at BT) admonishes people to keep their tongues from speaking evil. The Rabbis taught about the merit of “tochecha” — the practice of reproaching and rebuking those who fail to measure up to that standard — calling them to accountability for the sake of their victims.
There are many victims of the Big Lie and the insurrection it whipped up. First and foremost are those who lost their lives. Both the heroes and Trump’s stooges would be alive today were it not for the Big Lie. On the broader stage of history, the victims include every person whose vote was negated and our democratic republic itself.
Even if those who spread the Big Lie were sincere about us coming together, it would take a great deal more than calls for unity to repair the damage they caused. But they are not sincere. The entreaties of the guilty are not pleas for healing. They are calls for us to forget; to remain neutral in the face of their dishonorable — even criminal — behavior. As Elie Wiesel once said: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”
If ever there was a time in American history to heed our Rabbis’ counsel to reproach and rebuke it is now. Those who spread the Big Lie that brought us to this moment must take responsibility and be held accountable. Unless and until they are, there is no moving on, much less unity.
(On this aspect of the attack and more, we have two special opportunities this weekend. On Friday night, BT member Prof. Fran Shor will speak about how authoritarianism and white supremacy played into what happened. On Sunday afternoon at 2pm, he will facilitate a broad discussion about the assault on the Capitol. Details are above.)