You might have seen the photo by now. Of all the disturbing images of Wednesday’s insurrection, this one lingers.
The photo, shot by Michael Robinson Chavez of the Washington Post, shows seven or so Trump supporters scaling the wall on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol.
There’s a certain irony in this photo, due only perhaps to the way my mind works.
On June 6, 1944, D-Day, a group of 225 Army Rangers scaled a 100-foot cliff at Pointe Du Hoc on the coast of Normandy in France. The soldiers used ropes and ladders as German gunfire rained down on them. It was chaos and carnage but they kept climbing and a handful made it to the top.
Most of the soldiers who made the climb are gone now, killed either that day, in subsequent days of fighting, or claimed by time.
If they were here, and we could ask them, I wonder what they would think of the photo from Wednesday. Would they simply shake their heads? What would they say?
I’m reasonably sure they would tell us they didn’t scale that cliff 76 years ago for this — for the business of our Republic to be shamefully disrupted by extremists who wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if it were stapled to their foreheads.
The soldiers who scaled the cliff at Pointe Du Hoc were fighting for an objective truth — “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
On the other hand, some can justify any sort of abhorrent behavior in the name of what they believe to be a just cause.
The one thing far-left anarchists, neo-Nazis, Antifa, the Ku Klux Klan and the rioters who stormed the Capitol have in common is they believe they’re on the right side of history. This is the problem with a worldview absent of objective truth.
Let’s not confuse extremists who feel justified in committing violence with those with whom we disagree politically. The rioters involved in Wednesday’s national embarrassment are no more conservative than left-wing radicals, who lay siege to American cities in the name of “justice” are liberal.
“What is the difference between the left-wing fringe, BLM, that lit police stations on fire, tried to light a federal courthouse on fire, occupied two cities, looted and engaged in violence, and what the people did yesterday in the Capitol? There’s not much of a difference at all. It all needs to be condemned,” Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush, told Fox News.
What we saw on Wednesday was a violent, angry mob — not patriots — shamefully invited and incited by the President of the United States, engaged in what amounted to an invasion of the American Capitol, the likes of which has not been seen since the British set fire to the structure in 1814.
For six weeks, Trump had been telling his loyalists, and anyone else who would listen, that the election was stolen, that the fight must continue, that the election results must be overturned. On Wednesday, he worked his supporters, assembled near the Capitol, into a lather one more time as Congress met to certify Electoral College votes.
Yes, this is President Trump’s fault.
Former Attorney General William Barr, who resigned last month after he refused to cave in to the president’s demand to investigate unsubstantiated election fraud, told the Associated Press that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.” And, I would add, indefensible.
The president’s behavior aside for the moment, what about the rest of us?
I’ve heard many times since Wednesday, from politicians and pundits, “This is not who we are as Americans.” But maybe it is. It’s clearly not who we should be but maybe it really is who we are. Maybe the fringes are creeping ever closer to the center.
But we say, “Come on now! I would never do something like that.” Perhaps not but would we fire off a divisive tweet or post an angry Facebook entry? Would we bait our coworkers into arguments or fail to listen to those with whom we disagree?
If we’re really going to save the country, we need to admit who we are.
There is one thing on which we should all agree as we look at that photo from Wednesday. Whatever America should be, this isn’t it.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.