It’s November 3, 2020, and the mood in America is tense. Millions of us have already cast our votes, and millions more are on their way to the polls, in quite possibly the most important election of our lifetimes. Just a few weeks later, many of us will be gathering with our families for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. Regardless of the election’s outcome, the air is guaranteed to be thick with tension. Some of us will be observing COVID restrictions, and those gatherings may be smaller than what we’re used to, but the tension is likely to be there, just the same.
America is a country divided, perhaps more so than at any other time within the last 150 years. Going forward, we’ll have to overcome that. We have to heal these divisions. But how?
I’d like to tell you a story.
Imagine it’s Thanksgiving.
The whole family is gathered around the dining room table. Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins.
Dad has the carving knife and fork near at hand, but first, he’ll give his traditional speech. He gives a variation of it every year, and the family never tires of hearing it.
Something different happens this time.
Before the family patriarch can begin his speech, his daughter stands up. The look on her face, the square of her shoulders: they command attention.
She can’t listen to another of these speeches, she says. She can’t pretend that everything is normal. She can’t stay quiet. Her father has been abusing her for years, she tells them. Sexually. The man they all look up to. The man they all admire. He’s a fraud. A monster.
There are no audible gasps, just an awkward silence. Because this comes as a surprise to no one. It’s an open secret and has been for years. Some believe the rumors and others do not, but everyone around the table has heard the stories.
A commotion breaks out. Everyone is talking at once, voicing their opinions. Half the table believes the daughter’s accusations. Many of them want to call the authorities and start a formal investigation. Half the table refutes her story, and in turn accuses the daughter of making it all up for attention.
Raised voices turn to blows. Fathers and sons are scrapping on the floor, brothers and uncles throwing punches, biting, tearing, kicking, scratching, screaming. Aunt Ruth’s wig comes off. Clumps of mashed potatoes soar through the air like snowballs. The good china lies smashed on the floor.
The girl’s mother stands up and calls for silence.
Everyone stops where they are and listens.
The matriarch looks to her daughter and apologizes for not protecting her. She promises to keep her safe in the future. He’ll never touch her again. She’ll make sure of it.
But please, she says, let it go. Going to the police will just cause more division. We’re already at each other’s throats. The family is on the brink of collapse. We have to do what we can to save it. We have to mend this divide. We have to heal. For the sake of the family, let it go.
This is not a true story, but there is truth in it. There are families who have lived this story, or some variation of it. And the point of the story is this:
When a family has been wounded by grave injustice, you can’t just sew up the wound and hope for the best. It will fester and rot. You have to cut out the poison. Disinfect it. Only then can you sew it up, and only then will the wound begin to heal.
If our hypothetical family follows the matriarch’s advice, what will happen?
At the very least, the victim will grow to resent not just her father, but everyone in the family who enabled his behavior. It’s likely the abuse will continue.
Think, too, of the message it sends to everyone else sitting around the table: you can abuse those weaker than you, and face no consequences. Perhaps Uncle Henry goes home that very night and starts abusing his own daughter, confident in the knowledge that nothing will ever come of it.
Sweeping it under the rug is not a viable option.
The other true path to healing this family is for the patriarch to be held accountable for his crimes; for those who defended him to acknowledge that they were wrong to do so; for those who would seek to emulate his behavior in the future to understand that it will not be tolerated going forward.
This is the only path to redemption.
If the meaning behind this story is not yet clear, let me make it so.
We have a criminal president. He has corrupted our institutions in order to enrich himself and his family. He is undermining the very foundations of our democracy itself.
We have had criminal presidents in the past, and in the past, they have not been held culpable for their criminal actions. Their successors thought it wise to grant amnesty; to do otherwise, they believed, would only lead to further division.
But if a lawless president faces no consequences, it is a signal to all future presidents that they can do the same, or worse, and they can get away with it.
This standard must not continue.
Before we can begin to mend our divisions, justice must prevail. Accountability must take precedent.
A wound cannot heal until it has been properly cleaned.
It will fester and it will rot.