Dear GU Politics Community and Georgetown students,
It’s been a full year since the insurrection at the United States Capitol. As I reflect on the past year, the attack still hits me as hard today as it did on that terrible day.
It’s not just the memory of the horrific images of Americans attacking our Capitol that I grapple with. I have trouble wrapping my head around the events that have taken place since. Americans seem even more polarized today in the aftermath of January 6. Too many political leaders have sought to downplay, ignore, whitewash, or even justify the events we all witnessed live on television. And a recent poll even shows an alarming number of Americans believe that “violence against the government can at times be justified.”
That’s not supposed to happen here.
The attack on January 6, 2021 was an insurrection. It was fueled by a lie about widespread voter fraud that did not occur. That lie was designed to stoke division and distrust in our institutions and in one another, pushed by some political leaders and their allies for their own personal political gain. It was perpetrated by a mob that was blinded by partisanship and anger, and who chose violence over the truth and democracy. And it culminated in an attack on our elected leaders as they gathered to fulfill their constitutional responsibility to certify a free and fair election. An attack designed to overturn the will of the people.
Thankfully, it failed. But the attack on the Capitol and the events since show just how fragile our democracy really is. The truth is that America’s institutions, and our democracy itself, are only as strong as our commitment to them.
Our slogan here at the Institute is “Public service is a good thing. Politics can be too.” I believe that now more than ever. Politics can be a good thing. As messy as it has always been, it’s still how our democracy is supposed to settle our differences.
But for that to work, we have to do it better. We have to get more engaged, not pull away from it. We need a healthy competition of ideas between strong political parties, not petty bickering between political social media personalities. We need to find ways to talk across and through our differences, not give in to the toxic polarization that pushes us to silo off from one another.
And every one of us has to play a role in this effort. We need your voice, your perspective, and your commitment to service. It takes work. And it takes all of us working together. You and me. You and your neighbor. You and the person whose policies you might not always agree with.
There will always be winners and losers in politics. But we owe it to our democracy to find ways to be better winners and losers. We have to, if we’re going to prevent January 6 from ever happening again.
Today, as we mark the one year anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, we honor those public servants who found themselves in harm’s way just for showing up to work that day – elected leaders, congressional staff, and the heroic Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police who pushed back the attack.
And we recommit ourselves to the Institute’s mission of bringing people together from across the ideological spectrum, helping each member of our community find their path into public service, and exploring ways to do politics better.
Today’s Georgetown students will one day be our political and media leaders. They will be faced with difficult decisions on how to move our country forward, in the face of extraordinary challenges. They will have the opportunity to be better than their predecessors, working across differences to put service first. They can make decisions that will strengthen our democracy, push through the toxic polarization, and ensure we never see another January 6.
Having had the privilege of observing and working with Georgetown students over the past six and a half years, I am more hopeful and optimistic than ever.
Georgetown encourages us all to be women and men for others — a Jesuit call-to-action emphasizing service to a purpose larger than yourself. May we all take this moment, and every moment, to work towards that ideal.
Institute of Politics and Public Service