When my parents and I immigrated to the United States in January 2016, we wanted to see the ideals of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and the power of democracy in action. Yet, five years later on Jan. 6, our views of America were turned upside down by the riot at the Capitol.
I woke up on that day to the pleasant news of Ossoff and Warnock’s victory and tuned into the live stream of the certification of Biden’s victory. Only 14 days away from the inauguration, I was relieved that the democracy I came to see will be back on its track. But at 11:30 a.m., I received a notification that will alter my view of America for the second time.
“Breaking News: Vice President Mike Pence was rushed from the Senate chamber and the vote certification was halted as pro-Trump protesters stormed Capitol Hill.”
My reaction was of disbelief. Is this a coup? A riot? An act of domestic terrorism? Or is this a practice of the First Amendment?
As I became more familiar with U.S. politics, this event only complicated my perception of American democracy. But is this democracy? Is this America?
The riot was a mix of demonstrated support of the current president and an attempt to overturn the result of the presidential election, which was declared three months ago. Expectedly, it failed to make practical changes other than damaging Capitol properties and attracting international attention. However, their willingness to take Trump’s words to heart and follow others into mayhem at the height of the pandemic was staggering.
There were also many “firsts” that left a dark mark in American history. This was the first time the Capitol has been breached since the War of 1812, and the first time the Confederate flag has been flown inside the Capitol.
Both of them are disturbingly symbolic: the capital of democracy was attacked by people who claim to be patriotic and the symbol of hate and racism was waved at the seat of a free government.
The president’s response only confirmed his part in the riot. Trump on Wednesday told the mob to “go home…we love you, you’re very special” in a video posted on Twitter. Trump tweeted two days later that he will be skipping Biden’s inauguration, making him the first president to do so in 152 years.
Shortly after, Twitter permanently banned Trump from using his favorite megaphone, citing “risk of further incitement of violence.” Many applauded Twitter’s action, but the move could be too late. The damage was done, and some interpreted Trump’s absence at the inauguration as a potential date for a second attack.
America is the violence, the fear, the lies, the hate, but it’s also the community, the optimism, the truth, the love. Many choose to believe in the former, others the latter, but I choose to believe in something else: hope.
In America, grassroots mobilization results in change, and one day, America will be a nation for all people. Hope is a dangerous thing, but to immigrants who came to experience the great American experiment, hope is all we have.