One hundred eighty-seven minutes. This is how long former President Trump remained publicly silent, while at the other end of Pennsylvania avenue his supporters were attacking our Nation’s Capitol. Reports are now emerging that then President Trump ignored pleas from his staff, family, and even some Fox News pundits, to stop the riot. He refused as the Capitol was desegrated by his followers insisting, falsely, that he had won the 2020 Presidential election.
In the wake of this attempted insurrection, five people were dead and President Trump left office. Sadly, Trump, along with many of his supporters continue in their attempts to propagate the “Big Lie” that Trump won the 2020 election. As we approach the one-year anniversary of this sad day in American history, it is interesting to me that many evangelicals who were full throated in their support of Trump are now, like the President in those 187 minutes, are silent. Evangelicals and political conservatives alike are at a loss, it seems, at how to respond even as Trump gives every indication that he will run again for the office he so publicly disgraced.
On January 6th, when Trump finally broke his silence in a videotaped message that took him several takes to get just right, he told those ransacking the Capitol, “We love you!” and referred to them as “very special people.” This total lack of leadership at a critical moment in our nation’s history is now rewarded by The Republican Party as he is polling as the front runner for 2024. This amazing considering that Trump squandered a majority in his term, never passing any major legislation and losing the House and the Presidency. Apart from a scant few, evangelicals and political conservatives largely remain silent. In the past twelve months, when they have broken their silence, it has been to float ridiculous arguments in defense of Trump and those inspired by him in their actions on January 6, 2021. Some even suggesting that there is some sort of moral equivalency between those who protested in support of Black Lives and those who attacked the Capitol.
When someone makes the “both sides” argument about what happened at the Capitol it is often an attempt to justify their own complicity in supporting actions that they may secretly wished to succeed. It is intellectually lazy at best by simply parroting an empty cliché, or it is deceitfully calculating at worst, seeking to shield itself from the more undesirable aspects of a philosophy by continuing to embrace the arguments that give such evils oxygen. When condemning this reprehensible attempted coup d’état, why is it necessary to point to some other event and then make the argument that these two things are the same? It is the behavior of impetuous children when implicated in nefarious actions to point to a sibling and say, “But what about what she did?” This is what people sound like when they feel compelled to attach a “But” to their tepid condemnation of actions by those who have embraced the same political compromises as themselves.
In a powerful piece written in The Atlantic, Ibram X. Kendi points out that as much as people want to tout the idea that what happened at the Capitol isn’t American, it is perhaps the most American thing that we could expect to happen given our history. Kendi writes, “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…In 1898, white supremacists murdered dozens of Black people and violently overthrew the democratically elected and interracial government of Wilmington, North Carolina. In 1921—in one of the most devastating economic coups in history—white supremacists murdered hundreds of Black residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and destroyed their prosperous Greenwood District, known affectionately as “Black Wall Street.” In 1933, financiers attempted to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to hand over power so they could establish a fascist government. This is a small sampling—but are all the attempted and successful coups in American history not part of American history?”
Kendi is right in his assessment that both the attempted insurrection at the Capitol and now our denial of its seriousness is fundamentally American. As is the complicity of the Christian church in America to endorse these and other evils that we have long denied, because denial is always easier than confrontation and repentance. Christian leaders now face a moment of reckoning. No matter how much whitewash is applied to this one term and twice impeached President, it is impossible to rid themselves of the tarnish of Donald J. Trump. Especially when many of them continue to conflate his recklessness with what they perceive to be that of others.
On January 6th, 2021, a trifecta of elements converged on the Capitol. Ideas that have sought to undermine the Christian witness and example for a generation in white nationalism, individual idolatry, and political expedience, came together to cement the legacy of the Trump Presidency and the Evangelical constituency that enabled him. Unless Christian leaders find the humility to admit that they were wrong in their support of Trump and in their influencing others to do the same, it is unlikely that the next generation should be expected to take any of our truth claims seriously.
When people support an unqualified temperament coupled with undisciplined rhetoric in the highest of our elected offices, we shouldn’t be surprised at the results. I fear that as a country we are experiencing the chastisement of a Holy God, because those who should have denounced Trump chose to remain silent, tacitly endorse, or overtly support him under the misguided notion that a few supreme court justices were worth the trade.
We are left with the legacy of Trump, who in those crucial moments when his influence could have made a difference, and even saved lives, he selfishly remained silent, for one hundred and eighty-seven minutes.