Throughout history, many governments have fallen at the hands of barbarians. A year ago today, it almost happened in the United States.
On the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection and riot at the U.S. Capitol, we will read many erudite journalists and hear eloquent political speeches expounding upon the terrible events of that day, and why Republicans should turn away from the dangerous conspiracy theories of Donald Trump. We will be reminded of the police officers who were beaten with U.S. flag poles; the calls to “Hang Mike Pence!” as a gallows was readied for the vice president who refused to heed his boss’s demand to overturn a legitimate election; and the shameful failure of influential politicians to condemn the most influential leader of the mob, the sitting President Trump himself, who sat in the Oval Office and watched the riot on TV, taking no action for hours as his most fervent followers stormed the seat of our nation’s government and threatened the lives of members of Congress.
Such reminders are well and good — but we should reflect not only on what happened and what fueled such appalling political violence, but on how to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.
Yesterday, criminal defendant Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges in a high-profile case stemming from the August 2020 riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse was a 17-year-old from Illinois who traveled to Kenosha with an AR-15 assault rifle with the stated intention of trying to protect life and property during the riots. Protesters started a fight with him, and he shot three people in self-defense as found by the jury — two of whom died of their injuries. Rittenhouse had been charged with intentional homicide.
Both the left and the right have made the case political. “Lock up Kyle Rittenhouse and throw away the key,” tweeted Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a prominent progressive Democrat from New York, last week. When the verdict didn’t go the way liberals hoped for, many Democratic politicians expressed outrage. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, called the verdict “disgusting” and a victory for “violent extremism from within our own nation.” Some, such as Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, condemned the entire judicial system as systemically racist: “The judge. The jury. The defendant. It’s white supremacy in action.”
Meanwhile, on the right, Kyle Rittenhouse has been lionized as a hero. “Be armed, be dangerous, be moral,” said Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a Republican of North Carolina, who publicly offered him an internship. Apparently, some Republicans believe it’s moral for teenagers to show up armed at a riot, adding to the mayhem and death through their provocative presence, rather than letting the police do their job.
Both sides are wrong. In fact, both sides are a danger to our country.
When the United States was attacked by foreign terrorists on September 11, 2001, our nation came together. Today, as we are being attacked by a deadly virus, we are tearing ourselves apart.
The difference between Americans’ national response to the 9/11 attacks and the Covid-19 pandemic is striking. Both were tragic yet heroic opportunities for people to rally to a common cause: defeating radical Islamic terror, or eradicating a terrible plague. But in one case, twenty years ago, Americans chose national unity in the face of danger. Nowadays, we choose to make our fellow Americans the enemy — and the greatest danger of all lurks within our politically poisoned hearts.
What has changed in the past two decades? We’ve had two failed wars abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have undermined Americans’ confidence in our country as a force for good in the world. And we have an intensifying culture war here at home, between the “Reds” and the “Blues” — the Trumpist Right and the Woke Left — two factions of our society that increasingly hate each other with a passion that equals, or even exceeds, the hatred felt by radical Islamic terrorists toward America as a whole.
In 2019, I began writing a book about America. At the time, I was a technology entrepreneur who was living in a conservative rural area, serving as a Democratic Party county chairman, taking care of farm animals, and traveling to big cities such as New York and San Francisco for meetings with venture capitalists. In my own life, I saw the tremendous contrasts and political and cultural divide within the so-called “United” States.
During the Trump years, I had become increasingly worried about the unraveling of American society, as economic inequality combined with identity politics to fuel a raging inferno of anger on both sides of the sharply polarized political spectrum. Americans seemed to have too little in common anymore, except their mutual cynicism and hatred of each other.
I’m a big believer in the power of stories to shape the way we perceive the world. Americans no longer had a shared story of our country — its history, present struggles, and deeper meaning and principles — and why, despite our differences, we should try to remain united and work together for the cause of national greatness.
So I decided to write such a story — a grand meta-narrative about America, that I hoped could help to reunite the diverse people of our great nation. I decided also to include relevant stories from my own life and family history to help illustrate some of the key concepts of America’s past and controversies of the present day. Because of my unusual life and background, I had a lot of interesting material to work with.
My original plan was to publish the book in early 2020 and go on a speaking tour across America in an RV during the presidential election campaign season. But my RV broke down and Covid-19 hit, so I had to change my plans. I postponed publication of Our Great Nation and decided to add more to the story after the election and the worst of the pandemic were over.
The past year turned out to be one of the wildest years in American history. My book — already filled with incredible stories about our country — now has even more jaw-dropping material that would have sounded like fiction just a few short years ago.
America is a uniquely crazy and amazing place. That’s the main theme of Our Great Nation. And as the subtitle of the book indicates — The America We’ve Lost and How to Rebuild It Together — it is also a nation in peril. The United States of America today is in deep decline and barely hanging together by a thread. In 10 or 20 years — perhaps even sooner — there’s a real possibility that the country might break apart or plunge into civil war.
My book offers a prescription for saving our country. In part, it’s by embracing a majestic narrative of America’s unique role in human history. But we must also do the hard work of listening to our fellow citizens who are different than ourselves, and unite upon some basic values and principles that are neither of the left nor of the right, but for our common good.