A few weeks ago, a mob of anti-patriots in support of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol to attack the democratic process of a president conceding an election. For a long time, I sought middle ground with members of other ideological groups; this conviction was challenged by the events at the Capitol last week.
Up until this time, I believed that it was wrong to throw out someone’s opinion because they are in a political party you don’t agree with. I was concerned that censorship and silencing of different opinions crams people into a box where they become further radicalized, marginalized, and ready to come out with vengeance. By failing to empathize with others, I thought we trapped a deep hatred and unleashed a victim complex worthy of creating a dictator, with half a nation looking up to him pridefully.
But in the days following the attack on the Capitol, my belief in conversation and empathy was shattered. My initial instinct to this was a sense of rage and disgust. In some ways, the idealism of my youth died as I saw white rioters face zero initial consequences for their actions. Not just for extremists, not just for the alt-right — a rage for all Trump supporters and conservatives alike.
This rage shocked me, as I have always been the kid in class challenging the status quo agenda here in Berkeley. This time, I couldn’t help but feel that my sympathy for Trump supporters, and Republicanism, was unnecessary, pointless, and potentially dangerous.
Now I am left with the understanding that there is absolutely no reason to try to reason with outright racism and neo-fascism, and that, unfortunately, a sizable quantity of modern Republicans have prioritized their party over their country. I have no problem with conservatism and being a Republican, but I do have a problem with enabling Donald Trump to use the Republican party for his benefit. Not only have they supported him, but they have stood by him regardless of what terrible things he has done to this country.
In my quest to figure out how people can truly listen to each other, and how there can be a movement towards genuine healing and forgiveness, I have much to learn. This year, I will be looking to find examples of crimes where healing and unity was possible. How are we going to get out of this division? There must be a way.
One example of communication and forgiveness that I have found is the Restorative Justice Act. This is a method in which members of a group who feel victimized by another sit face-to-face, and confront their issues. During Apartheid in South Africa, Black Africans sat face-to-face with their oppressors. As I watched the tapes of countless oppressed South Africans expressing the torture, injustice, and abuse they had experienced under Apartheid, I wondered whether something like this could work in the United States.
When we stay complacent, not acting on our feelings of anguish and sadness towards an individual or group, we tend to project those feelings onto others. In this country, unity means being honest with people we disagree with — or people who have supported hurtful leadership. We don’t need to be nice to people on the other side, we need to be honest with them and they need to be honest with us. I believe that this kind of discussion is most useful to meaningful reconciliation.