“Unity” is a word that’s being tossed around a lot this week, following the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Prior to, during, and after the debate on the impeachment resolution in the House, one of the most common arguments against moving forward with impeachment was that “this is a time for unity.” Impeachment would further divide us, went the argument.
But what does unity really entail and what does it require of each of us? Can we just “move on” and unite?
Unity is not agreement on issues or tactics, but unity in our belief in the institutions, processes, and laws, that help us to live together with our differences and govern how we resolve our disagreements. To be united, we must trust each other, even when we disagree with each other.
The process for raising concerns about the election was followed, states investigated and re-counted, judges reviewed the evidence, and found it lacking, over and over again. The process we trust worked, but many of our elected officials undermined it by their words and actions.
The riot at the Capitol was caused by an abuse of the public trust. When the leaders of an institution lie to people and rouse anger with revolutionary rhetoric, we should not be surprised when people respond to those lies with revolutionary action. And those who stand by and support the lies and do not condemn them also bear responsibility for the wreckage that follows. They allowed the public trust to rot and then called for unity when things fell apart.
We can clean the blood, broken glass, and feces off of the Capitol, but that will not unify the nation. Unity requires accountability. People who hold public office and lie to their constituents or abuse their power should lose those offices because they cannot be trusted, and distrust undermines our institutions. And those who enabled the lies by passively standing by must do more than simply call for unity to restore the trust that has been destroyed.
Those who desire real unity will work tirelessly to make things right, even if it’s difficult and time-consuming. True peace and unity are not achievable if the wound that has been caused is left without proper tending. It will re-open, time and again, in similar incidents, worsening the condition in the long run and never healing.
If we and the leaders of our country expect healing for the deep wounds and divisions we feel, some of which are caused by irresponsible leadership and an abuse of power, we must all get serious about accountability.
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