The day after the twelfth day of Christmas is Epiphany for Roman Catholics—a feast amplifying the meaning of the entire season of Christmastide: the manifestation of the invisible life and love of God. January 6th always has this meaning—even in the United States, where the feast is liturgically moveable.
This January 6th in America was not a day of light.
My semantic scrupulosity cannot quite back the use of the word “insurrection,” especially with that word evoking the obvious analogue of the 1922 March on Rome of Mussolini’s fascist militia of 26,000 Blackshirts. That was a calculated bluff to get King Victor Emmanuel III to choose granting the premiership to Mussolini over risking civil war. The Fascists had effective control over much of Italy before they marched: There was a fait accompli in the land before that insurrection, which does not obtain in America today.
Whatever one calls what happened on Wednesday, the spectacle of hundreds of thugs storming, vandalizing, and occupying the US Capitol, interrupting the national legislature’s acknowledgment of the electoral votes certified by each of the states in the fullness of their rightful sovereignty, surely appalled every true American—and filled us with an immense sadness—a horrible day for the Republic.
It breaks my heart.
I have always deplored the paranoid style in politics. In my time, I have seen that style exemplified most robustly on the left. But that is no longer the case. Resentment and conspiracy theories destroy the balance of consciousness. Paranoia is a psychotic condition. Maintaining a democratic republic requires a strenuous attachment to reality, which is always threatened by partisan enthusiasms—howsoever well-motivated those enthusiasms might be.
We are under the heel of a rapacious oligarchic class. Four years ago, it struck me as nonsensical for us to take as our leader in constitutional rejuvenation, a man who ostentatiously was a member of that very class. We must resist their baleful influence: intelligently, vigorously, democratically. We must stare down cold the hard fact that the burden of renewal is one the citizen of a free republic may never put down.
There are no silver bullets. There are no shortcuts to reform. Magical thinking cannot sustain ordered liberty, but will always destroy it eventually, if we allow it range and scope.
Elections come and go.
Our resolve to pursue the common good together, in constantly changing circumstances, must remain. Mass demonstrations have democratic force only if they feed into the long work of thinking and of political engagement (which starts in good-faith dialogue with those who disagree with us)—an everyday kind of task, like caring for an infant, and ceaseless, like keeping a candle against the wind.
Treating fellow citizens as if they are enemies (partisans of every kind do this) is an easy pleasure we must never indulge. It is the way of the Adversary, not that of republican self-government under God.
If we want America to be great again, we must do the unremitting work of engaging in civic conversation and local politics. As Plato insists, the order of the polity as a whole reflects the order of its citizens’ souls. What America manifests to the world is what’s inside each of us: not a pretty sight right now. Already in the seventies, Christopher Lasch was diagnosing our culture of narcissism. Our leaders are the ghastly symptoms of an epidemic.
An American epiphany that inspires the world in a perpetual pursuit of the proposition that all humans are created equal, without exception, must begin in the virtue of our souls, in a new birth of love in our hearts.
What can one say about the inciter-in-chief?
Perhaps we should all just ask: should any man–should any human–whine and play the sore loser? I do not let my children handle reverses in that manner (even if they are unjustly suffered), and it would be a sorry parent who did.
This is quite apart from all the other ugly narcissistic outrages the man has never ceased to commit.
Unaware of the madness in D.C. going on at the same time, I spent much of January 6th introducing friends to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. The grounds are lovely, but I had never been inside the museum—and was surprised by the gems to be found. One particularly moving enamel work by Roxbury artist Napoleon Jones-Henderson, Ain’t Nobody Nothing Without God, depicts, on panels recalling the sextant, African-American musical vitality in dialogue with its west African roots—in response to Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts”.
The previous night, on the vigil of Epiphany, I introduced my guests to the Public Garden in Boston. They were delighted, not least to find the setting of Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings come to life. It is a precious thing to see one’s city through the eyes of a visitor.
We spent time contemplating the magnificent statue of George Washington on horseback that faces the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
Washington’s greatest act, of all his great acts, was to set the American pattern for the voluntary relinquishment of presidential power. Imperfect though he was, imperfect though our nation (and each of us) is, he decisively shaped an America that has shone a light in the world.
We must do so again, by the graciousness of the God who has revealed an infinity of love in the compass of a newborn babe.
J. David Franks is a senior research fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the Commonwealth’s pro-life authority.