The appropriate response

By Shlomit Auciello | Jan 15, 2021

I have friends who think the cops were soft on last week's insurrectionists, and that we have all been way too lenient with the great inciter.

I can see what they mean, especially when I compare law enforcement's response to those who ran roughshod through the Capitol, Jan. 6, to the repeated show of force we saw last summer. The uniforms, the drawn weapons, the sheer numbers — Black Lives may Matter but we're still more careful with the white ones.

This argument struck me most forcefully when I saw U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman backing up the Capitol stairs, at first trying to hold back the white protesters who were swarming in his face, then acting as a decoy-of-color to lead them past the Senate Chamber. No gun, no tear gas, just one officer doing his job until reinforcements could arrive.

Meanwhile, others, inspired by Mr. Trump's inflammatory rhetoric, milled about while taking goofy selfies in the rotunda, where giants of American self government have previously lain in state: John Joseph Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Everett Dirksen, Ronald Reagan, John McCain and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just to name a few.

Last week's self-indulgent insurrection carried none of the gravity that should accompany an attempt to subvert the workings of a well-established republic. Instead, there was a sense of people saying, “Look what I can get away with, and how little I care.”

Compare that behavior to those all over the United States last June, who kept silent for eight minutes and 46 seconds in order to demonstrate and better understand the suffocation of George Floyd might have felt like. Our authorities do not answer white domestic terrorism the same way they react to more racially and culturally diverse efforts to air our grievances.

In spite of that inequity, as the action in the Capitol unfolded, I found myself hoping for a subdued response. The rioters were out of control, angry and unfocused. Wrapped in their enormous flags, they reminded me that many of my neighbors have not yet accepted the outcome of the presidential election. I thought a more courteous law enforcement presence might keep the violence from spreading and allow Congress to get back to the business at hand.

Then, I saw the video of the vandals breaking into the Speaker's Lobby and how, in the moments just before Ashli Babbit was shot, officers seemed to back off completely. In the balance between too much force, and too little, it's hard for someone watching from home to know where the lines should be drawn.

In the case of the petulant child-man behind the curtain, I agree with many of my friends who say the time is long past for Mr. Trump to leave the White House. It is clear the sociopath-in-chief cannot be taught, constrained or cajoled into behaving anything like a serious adult.

He is unpredictable and volatile and a danger to others. But for the cowardice and self interest of Mitch McConnell and every other Republican in the Senate, he would have been convicted a year ago.

Unlike many of my friends, however, I am not certain another impeachment trial will rid us of the poison Mr. Trump and his most virulent supporters have poured into our civil society. People who take selfies as they attempt to tear down the republic, who care more for the number of their Instagram followers than for the 3,800 Americans and 14,000 people worldwide who died that day from a virus that might have been better contained, who shout just to hear their own voices — these people have been sucking up all the air in the room for long enough.

They need to be starved of the attention they demand.

When a child cries or shouts or whines most parents know to check for danger, and then, if there is none, to calmly wait for the tantrum to stop. Sometimes you just have to walk away. Punishment doesn't always work; for some kids, painful attention is better than none at all. Turning our frustration into yet another angry outburst only feeds the hostility that is tearing us apart.

We have a chance to build something, to tell ourselves and the world who we are when we are working together toward common goals. If Congress has the will to impeach Donald J. Trump and to bar him from future elected office, then let them do it quickly.

Otherwise, let's turn our attention to rebuilding our trust in the ability of Americans to put the good of us all ahead of the gain of a few. Let's use our voices and actions to sing Caligula and the armies of Chaos to sleep.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992.

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