January 6

A 9/11 For A New Generation


Copyright Blink O’fanaye (CC BY-NC 2.0); www.flickr.com/photos/blinkofanaye/50811723122

They called September 11 “a day that will live in infamy.” Any American, no matter how old or young, knows exactly what 9/11 means. Even if they were too young to remember, or not even born, every one of us knows. It is a day that scarred this country and passed down that trauma through the generations. Most American citizens, if asked, can even recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Now, a new scar for a new generation: January 6, 2021.

I was at St. Agnes Hospital, watching the television in the pediatrics department while I waited for my appointment, when I heard the news. When I saw for the first time the now-famous yet at the time inconceivable images of rioters swarming the capital building. It seemed impossible then, the dignified history of the white marble being overrun by jubilant would-be insurrectionists. It seemed irreconcilable that two such utterly separate things, so alien to each other, could happen in the same place.

Coups and insurrections are words that, before January 6th, I’d only encountered in history books and news reports about distant countries. It wasn’t something that happened here, not in my country. Then the forty-fifth president of the United States of America, in an effort to subvert democracy, encouraged would-be insurrectionists to storm the building where Congress was engaged in the act of certifying the election that would name his political rival the next president. The rioters, baselessly convinced that the election was “stolen” from them, didn’t intend to let the process continue unimpeded. In service to this disgraceful goal, they invaded the building, forcing lawmakers to evacuate and directly resulting in the deaths of five people.

It is no secret that political divisions run deep in this country. January 6 forced the true, ugly depth of the issue to the surface. Rarely has democracy and the rule of law been so completely disregarded, has even the president himself so totally betrayed the principles on which this country was built. Invading the capital building in an attempt to subvert democracy should, to America’s citizens, be unthinkable. Yet it was done, by people who claimed to be patriots but were in fact violent extremists.

Before January 6th, I had retained hope that the distance between those divided by political beliefs could be closed. That reconciling the country was possible. Now, thinking on the similarities I see between September 11 and January 6, I am no longer so certain.

Copyright Matt Green (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0); www.flickr.com/photos/imjustwalkin/7683168502

Beyond simple death toll and the physical damage the fall of the Twin Towers caused to New York City, the most insidious damage that 9/11 left behind was the way it so utterly destroyed our feeling of safety. We felt attacked, violated. Terrified by the fact that such a thing could have been done. Angry that it had been done. On a visceral level, America was traumatized by this loss. In 2001, we were also united by it. In 2021, we were divided.

It has been one year since January 6. Three hundred and sixty-five days. In that time, we have not risen from our ashes as we did before. Instead, we have only fallen further. I am no longer sure that this is a trauma that we, as a nation, can heal from.