us capitol building with caution tape

“Shock, fury and horror have been washing over the country in the day since the president incited a mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol.”

This is how the New York Times summarized the mood yesterday.

And it was shocking. It was shocking to go into my hair appointment thinking about Georgia’s election results, and come out of my hair appointment reeling at the storming of my nation’s Capitol building by a mob intent on overturning our most sacred democratic tradition, the peaceful transfer of power to elected officials. (At least my hair looked cute?) It was shocking that there were somehow not enough security resources to prevent the incursion of the building. It was shocking to follow the breaking news as the events unfolded.

But the problem I set for myself to think about over the past couple days, the problem that really confuses and troubles me, is, why is everyone so very shocked?

Why Is Everyone So Shocked?

As I said, there were lots of specific shocking elements of the infamous day we all just recently lived through. But the general idea of President Trump inciting supporters to protest election results long past the point of reason, as well as violently attempt a coup when all else failed? This idea would have been truly shocking ten years ago, sure. But is anyone today really, truly, shocked? I feel like the warning signs were bright as day, stretching back years.

It’s like we were all driving on a road and there was a big red sign saying, “There might be a coup attempt at some point!” and we all ignored it. And we kept driving on the same road and there was a bigger red sign saying the same thing, and we kept driving. And then at some point there was a coup attempt and EVERYONE IS SHOCKED!!!!

So as I said, I set myself a goal to try to unpack this. Why on earth is everyone so shocked?

Vladimir Putin

One notable red sign, openly apparent for the past four years, is President Trump’s repeatedly professed admiration for Vladimir Putin, President of Russia. Politicians commonly express admiration for their personal heroes. For example, President Obama cited Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., as two of his personal heroes. President George W. Bush recently cited Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr., as heroes.

Trump’s hero is in many ways the opposite of the heroes cited by Obama and Bush 43. Heroes are usually extraordinary people who overcame oppression and led people to greater freedom. On the contrary, Vladimir Putin is an extraordinary person who is leading people toward more oppression, and fewer freedoms.

Russia today has a system of managed democracy. There are elections, but not fair ones. There is no freedom of speech. And those who dissent tend to die, or suffer debilitating illnesses, under mysterious circumstances. Of course, Putin has done some good things for his country, and he’s only human like everyone else—but, overall, according to the sources I have read, he is moving Russia toward more oppression and less freedom.

This is one of President Trump’s favorite people. And so it’s hardly surprising that he would emulate some of Putin’s tactics. Break the rules, try to bend elections to your favor, attack the free press, don’t have compassion for the little guy, your power is the most important thing, more important than democracy itself.

Inciting Violence, Encouraging Extremists

This is another notable red sign that has been openly apparent for years. I won’t say much here, because you already know it. Trump does not condemn white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and other extremists—as long as they support him. And he often encourages them and incites them to violence.


Those are just two of the most notable red signs I’ve been seeing while driving on this American road for the past four years. So when the events of Wednesday happened, it all made sense. It wasn’t like OMG THIS CAME OUT OF NOWHERE! It was like, oh yeah, our country has had this problem for years, we didn’t find a way to fix it, and the expected bad result happened. Oooooops.

Luckily the damage wasn’t worse.

Politics as Usual

I have to believe that many, or even most, politicians saw the red signs. They are in tune with American politics as most of us laypeople are not. But politicians are beholden to their constituents. If their constituents are behind Trump, they might have to be, too. Politicians who aren’t sensitive to things like that generally don’t get elected in the first place, or if they are elected they don’t stay in office. It’s part of the job.

So I wonder whether, for many politicians, what happened on Wednesday gave them an excuse to speak out. I just cannot believe that about half of American politicians are truly hoping that American democracy will be overthrown. I also can’t believe that they had no idea that something like this might happen.

Democracy as Usual

This brings me to ordinary people like you and me and our friends and family and associates. Politicians are beholden to us. So perhaps the answer to my question why is everyone so very shocked? is that ordinary people are missing the red signs. Not all ordinary people. But enough of them to add up to chaos in the District.

And that’s the trouble with democracy. It requires us to work at it. All of us. When we miss the red signs along the road because we’re too busy playing around with our phones, or when we discount the red signs and get wrapped up in believing something else, we are abdicating our democratic inheritance.

Where you shocked by what happened on Wednesday?