We need to prepare for what comes next, which is the shame.
We can learn from the hard lessons of post World War 2 Germany, post Apartheid South Africa, and other nations that have faced their shame.
But the odds are we won’t. Much of our country still hasn’t faced the shame of the Confederacy, more than a century and a half after it was defeated — militarily, but not culturally. Instead of acknowledging slavery and Jim Crow, many Americans still live within the romantic fantasy of the Lost Cause, like post World War 1 Germans lived within the fantasy of having been “stabbed in the back” by Jews and socialists.
Many of the Capitol Hill rioters carried Confederate flags, still bearing the shame their culture has never faced.
Much of Trump’s appeal is that he promises relief from shame for people who see themselves as losers in a game they believe (with some justification) is rigged. Part of it is also solidarity: he himself is clearly afflicted with shame, apparently passed down to him by his father.
Shame is one of the most painful emotions we have, and we instinctively deny it — or try to put it on someone else. That’s the service Trump has offered by making scapegoats of minorities, foreigners, “elites,” and others — potentially all “others.” And he’ll offer it again as, inevitably, many of his followers turn on him and make him the scapegoat.
Remember, in its original meaning a “scapegoat” was a goat into which the sins of the people had been cast, like demons, to be sent then into the wilderness.
But with shame the only way forward is right here, through the pain — for the person feeling it. It won’t work for others to cast it, strong as the urge to do that will be. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be clear that great wrongs have been done, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold to account those who could and should have known better. Shame must be faced and accepted all around.
The way to defeat the demons is to see, name and overcome them, not to help them hide by shrinking them down to the size of individual scapegoats.
Otherwise the demons just keep coming back, like they did at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Those rioters with Confederate flags and MAGA hats were idiots and thugs, but they weren’t demons. The demons were, and are, the fear, ignorance, bigotry, and hatred exploited by Trump and his enablers in politics and media.