“Let me be very clear: The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America. Do not represent who we are,” President-elect Joe Biden
said during Wednesday’s siege.
“The behavior we witnessed in the U.S. Capitol is entirely un-American,” read a statement from a bipartisan and bicameral group of elected officials that included Senators Joe Manchin, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, and Mark Warner as well as Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Tom Reed.
“We’re the United States of America. We disagree on a lot of things, and we have a lot of spirited debate … But we talk it out, and we honor each other—even in our disagreement,” said Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma. “And while we disagree on things—and disagree strongly at times—we do not encourage what happened today. Ever.”
“That’s not who we are,” Senator Ben Sasse said.
“This is not the America I know and love,” Representative Brenda Lawrence said.
“I know this is not our America,” Representative Ed Case said.
“This is not who we are,” Representative Nancy Mace said.
“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic—not our democratic republic,” Republican former President George W. Bush said.
“This is a national tragedy and is not who we are as a nation,” Democratic former President Jimmy Carter said.
Do these statements represent the American dream? Is the American dream the great delusion about what America is and who Americans are?
To say that the attack on the U.S. Capitol is not who we are is to say that this is not part of us, not part of our politics, not part of our history. And to say that this is not part of America, American politics, and American history is a bald-faced denial. But the denial is normal. In the aftermath of catastrophes, when have Americans commonly admitted who we are? The heartbeat of America is denial.
It is historic, this denial. Every American generation denies. America is establishing the freest democracy in the world, said the white people who secured their freedom during the 1770s and ’80s. America is the greatest democracy on Earth, said the property owners voting in the early 19th century.
America is the beacon of democracy in world history, said the men who voted before the 1920s. America is the leading democracy in the world, said the non-incarcerated people who have voted throughout U.S. history in almost every state.
America is the utmost democracy on the face of the Earth, said the primarily older and better-off and able-bodied people who are the likeliest to vote in the 21st century. America is the best democracy around, said the American people when it was harder for Black and Native and Latino people to vote in the 2020 election.
At every point in the history of American tyranny, the honest recorders heard the sounds of denial. Today is no different.
Americans remember and accept the enfranchising of citizens and peaceful transfers of power as their history, while forgetting and denying the coup plots, the attempted coups, and the successful coups. White terror is as American as the Stars and Stripes. But when this is denied, it is no wonder that the events at the Capitol are read as shocking and un-American.
In March 1783, Continental Army officers plotted mutiny against the Confederation Congress until George Washington convinced the officers to remain loyal. In 1861, pro-slavery insurrectionists assembled at the U.S. Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes for Abraham Lincoln.
The Civil War came, lasting until 1865. White terrorists laid siege to the county courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana, on Easter Sunday 1873, and violently overthrew the local parish government, massacring roughly 150 Black people in the process. On September 14, 1874, the White League violently attempted to overthrow the newly elected governor of Louisiana in the Battle of Liberty Place, in New Orleans.
White terrorists rioted; destroyed ballot boxes; and intimidated, wounded, and murdered Black voters in Alabama’s Barbour County on Election Day in 1874, securing victories for their candidates.