The word “epiphany” — which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as a “manifestation” or “striking appearance, especially an appearance of a divinity” — also connotes more secular forms of incarnation. A sudden idea or unexpected perception, a breakthrough, an upending of the ordinary. Poet Mary Oliver, whose work some theologians cite in connection with moments of spiritual revelation, writes in an oft-quoted passage from her poem “Sometimes”:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
Tell about it.
This year, as it was in 2021, January 6 was something more than Epiphany, and will forever be marked as a wound in America’s collective memory, but it’s still worth asking what was being made manifest in the United States on this day a year ago, and what’s appearing to us now. “I woke up knowing it was going to be a difficult day, but I had no idea that it would take the harrowing turn that it did,” recalled Rep. Colin Allred, who described texting his wife, “Whatever happens, I love you” as a “violent mob of Trump supporters was descending on the US Capitol.” When members of Congress returned that evening to finalize the election result, said Allred, “Democracy held, but it showed dangerous signs of fracturing.”
Farai Chideya, who was covering the “Stop the Steal” rally in downtown Washington, DC and reflected on what she’s learned in the year since, wrote in terms redolent of Oliver’s “instructions for living a life” when she observed parallels between the day’s violence and the unrest depicted in protests over busing in the year of America’s bicentennial: “really, it was over democracy: who is part of it; who is excluded; and who gets to tell its story.”
Chideya, who has been reporting about extremism for many years, proposed steps journalism and civil society alike can take to avoid “watching democracy burn” — stop treating extremists like an other, and most of all, “be prepared to live in psychic discomfort over the state of American democracy, and do so indefinitely. Just as we are learning to adapt to the pandemic, to the fatiguing array of choices we face under pain of death or illness, we can learn to adapt to an America where we have to face threats to democracy head-on.”
Those threats are chillingly real and continue to grow, argued Peter Bergen, because while the insurrection at the US Capitol was a peak of contemporary White nationalism in America, it was also “a dress rehearsal for what will likely come next.”
Bergen connected the dots between a White nationalist past defined by racists like William Luther Pierce and Louis Beam and a present reflected in polls showing over three quarters of Republicans falsely believe Biden did not win the 2020 presidential election and one in three Americans “endorses the view that violence against the government is sometimes justified.”
Peniel E. Joseph outlined how two opposing historical forces — reconstructionism and redemptionism — have defined American historical memory since the post-Civil War moment and still have the power to shape US democracy in 2022: “these competing worldviews continue, for better and worse, to forge our national identity. But they do not predetermine our destiny unless we let them.”
Where do we go from here?
President Joe Biden’s speech on the anniversary of January 6 signaled a stark shift in his approach to the nation’s ongoing crisis of democracy, Frida Ghitis wrote. Jabbing at former President Donald Trump for his role in setting the stage for the insurrection — mentioning him 16 times without uttering his name — Biden’s “words and delivery were quite a contrast from the Biden whose speeches, especially those dealing with democracy and the future of the nation, have tended to emphasize national unity and reconciliation. The shift reflected a recognition that the insurrection of January 6 is not simply a part of the past, but a looming threat into the future.”
Former President Jimmy Carter warned in the New York Times: “Our great nation now teeters on the brink of a widening abyss. Without immediate action, we are at genuine risk of civil conflict and losing our precious democracy.” But where must America go from here?
In the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove urged his fellow Republicans to hold themselves accountable for the events of January 6 and asked them to answer the question: What would you have done if Democrats did this?
The perils confronting American democracy now are the result of deeper forces, noted Laura Coates. Accountability for the events of January 6 goes hand in hand with a push for voting rights, Coates wrote: “It would be foolish to investigate an insurrection without continuing parallel investigations by the Department of Justice into state laws that target minority voters by adopting laws with discriminatory features, that actively seek to disenfranchise them, and gerrymandered districts that dilute their voting power and strength.” She emphasized the “Big Lie” that Trump was denied a victory through election fraud “remains false, but the self-evident truth is that our democracy is under attack by those who keenly understand the power of the vote. It is not widespread voter fraud that they fear; it is widespread voter participation.”
The political polarization of the last year and Congress’s failures to implement reforms to protect democracy have made it all the more “urgent for Americans outside of government to redouble their efforts to safeguard democratic governance and the values that underwrite it,” cautioned Nicole Hemmer. She laid out four things ordinary Americans can do to support and protect democracy: Tell the truth about January 6, talk about values instead of norms, engage in local activism and invest in reviving civic life and institutions.
More sharp commentary:
John Avlon: “How to stop a second insurrection”
Christine Todd Whitman, Norman Eisen and Joanna Lydgate: “What the January 6 report means for the future of democracy”
Supreme Court’s majority flexes its muscles
After oral arguments Friday over federal Covid-19 vaccine mandates, Jeffrey Toobin observed the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared ready to rule against the Biden administration. “Several justices went out of their way to say they were not against vaccines, but they were against government mandates,” Toobin pointed out. “Whatever the reasons that ultimately justify the rulings, the most likely outcome for the country seemed clear: fewer required vaccinations and testing, likely leading to greater sickness and even more death.”
The arguments and their outcome could also foreshadow the conservative majority’s broader view of executive power, analyzed Jennifer Rodgers — “the ruling may provide a window into the court’s thinking that may be instructive to lower courts and serve as a precursor of what will happen when the court is faced with the same or similar issue in the future.”
‘The kids are not ok’
When her daughter — too young to be vaccinated — contracted Covid-19 after an outbreak in her pre-kindergarten classroom, Anushay Hossain and her husband “spent a few sleepless nights fighting to bring her 103-degree fever down as our little warrior coughed and struggled with congestion.” Thankfully, she recovered, but “the experience was still traumatic,” stressed Hossain, who “can’t stop thinking about how, as a country, the US just can’t seem to effectively prioritize the well-being of children” when it comes to Covid policies or access to necessary resources like mental health support or affordable child care. “The kids are not OK,” she insisted.
Neither are the parents, argued SE Cupp — the confused Covid-19 messaging is exhausting, as is grappling with the difficult decision to send kids to school or not. Parents are flooded with anxiety, stoked by rapid Omicron spread, fuzzy guidance and bad actors in politics and at some right-wing media outlets who are exploiting the trauma. She concluded: “It’s okay to demand better of our public health officials without calling into question their motives or the whole of science. We’ll get through this if we can drown out the noise, ignore the nonsense and focus on the things we know have worked.”
Of the contentious question of schools, Dr. Leana Wen wrote for the Washington Post: “It’s wrong for politicians to stop the use of readily available mitigation measures such as masks. But it’s equally wrong to argue that unless every protection is in place, schools cannot remain open.”
Dr. Richard Besser: “Why it’s impossible for some people to follow Covid-19 guidelines”
Jill Filipovic: “2022: Like 2020, but with more disasters”
What the Novak Djokovic saga revealed
On Tuesday, tennis star Novak Djokovic (who has not volunteered his vaccination status and has spoken out against the Covid-19 vaccine) announced tournament officials had granted him a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open, touching off a firestorm of international controversy.
After traveling to Australia on a visa which, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, does not permit medical exemptions for the unvaccinated, Djokovic remained at the airport and, as Stephanie Myles wrote, “is now a man in limbo, staying in a hotel used as an immigration detention center, and which has since become a magnet for protesters of all stripes — from Djokovic supports to refugee advocates.”
The hearing concerning his appeal of the visa cancellation has been adjourned until Monday, said Myles, so Djokovic remains a man in limbo for now, and a man who’s “never been particularly good at reading the room” for a good while longer than that. “In the end, Djokovic’s hubris hasn’t helped. But no one” — not the various levels of government, not tennis leadership — “comes out of this looking good,” observed Myles, especially to an Australian fan base which has suffered through some of the harshest lockdowns in the world and has a culturally ingrained sense of fair play. Documents published on Saturday by Australia’s Federal Circuit Court showed Djokovic was granted a medical exemption to compete after recently recovering from Covid-19.
Elizabeth Holmes’ conviction
After months of testimony and seven days of deliberations, a jury found Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes guilty on four charges of defrauding investors and acquitted her of four other charges. The jury failed to reach a verdict of three additional charges. Overall, this result is still a “stark rebuke of the defense, which attempted to portray Holmes as a visionary leader who fell victim to subordinates who misled her and investors who misunderstood her” wrote Jessica A. Roth for CNN Business Perspectives.
The verdict also constituted a “welcome rejection of the dubious gender stereotypes” the defense “rolled out in an effort to secure her acquittal,” opined Lara Stemple for Slate. “By arguing that Holmes, whose company was once worth billions, was merely a victim working under the direction of her male business partner, the defense advanced a perspective that risked undermining the fragile gains women have made in tech and business,” Stemple wrote.
What would Betty White do?
“With a life that spanned nearly a century — including more than seven decades in the TV business — it’s impossible to adequately represent Betty White’s legacy in a single tribute. And since her death at the age of 99 on December 31 many remembrances have focused on her iconic work as an actor and her award-winning performances,” Elizabeth Yuko wrote. “But the perpetually sweet (occasionally foul-mouthed) grande dame of television had a massive and often overlooked influence on American culture off-camera as well.”
In addition to her life as “TV’s original trailblazing feminist” (co-founding a production company in 1952 and becoming the first woman to produce a national television show), White was a vocal supporter and advocate for civil and human rights for decades and was outspoken (in interviews as early as the 1950s) in her efforts to “normalize and destigmatize the idea that a woman didn’t have to meet a man, get pregnant and raise a family in order to be considered successful…. Intentional or accidental, White’s progressive approach has left a visible impact on both the entertainment industry and American culture at large.”
Julian Zelizer: “What the Carlson-Cruz exchange reveals about today’s GOP”
David A. Andelman: “This woman could topple the French President”
Mark Wolfe for CNN Business Perspectives: “We can’t afford to let Build Back Better fail”
Sidney Poitier was aware of the tightrope history asked him to walk
Legendary actor and pioneer Sidney Poitier, who died Friday at 94, “lived long enough not only to reap full and power acclaim for his groundbreaking body of work,” marveled Gene Seymour, “but also to witness wave after wave of Black actors, actresses, writers, directors and craftspeople following the path he helped clear for them.”
As far as Black male film stars go, Seymour noted, “Without Sir Sidney Poitier, there is no Billy Dee Williams, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Eddie Murphy, Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan or, for that matter, that other Michael Jordan, whose ability to parlay his fearsome basketball skills into a cross-cultural, multimedia hyphenate was at least partly enabled by Poitier, who made it safe for Black culture heroes in all kinds of endeavors to connect with Whites as well as other Blacks.”
After his last film in 2001, Poitier received another Oscar for lifetime achievement, and, as Seymour pointed out, “He had reached the kind of iconic stature once reserved solely for such male icons as John Wayne, James Cagney and Cary Grant. That same night, Poitier got to watch both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry receive lead acting Academy Awards, with Berry being the first Black actress to receive the award. You can’t say for certain, but you have to believe that Poitier believed those latter two events represented a greater, more significant recognition of his long quest for acceptance and achievement than another gold statuette.”