America at a Crossroads: Self-Realization or Downfall

An attack on America': Mob storms US Capitol; one woman in critical condition
Capitol policemen aiming their weapons at a man, assumingly part of the mob, peering through the broken window into the House chamber (taken from NewstalkZB)

Just yesterday, my new fellow American roommate told me that he was expecting there to be a civil war in the US in the next five years. “Five years?!” I responded, a bit off guard. “No, it can’t be that soon. I’d say maybe 5-10 years.” Maybe we were both wrong.

At first I didn’t grasp the meaning of the news alert I received while one of my roommates was baking cookies. “Trump supporters have stormed the Capitol?” I read aloud. I checked NBC news immediately, watched a minute long video reporting on the situation, and continued on with my conversation about yoga routines. On my walk about an hour later, however, the Instagram stories of my friends began pouring in. Suddenly, as the profile circles continued to multiply across the top of my newsfeed, I realized the gravity of the situation. I couldn’t stop tapping the right side of my screen, progressing from one story to the next methodically. I can’t even count how many ads popped up in between the Twitter screenshots and the repeatedly shared photo of Capitol policemen raising their guns at broken windows, with a pair of eyes staring at the barrel of the gun through the opening.

At the first sight of this particular photo, my stomach churned and the coffee I had drank right before dinner didn’t help my sudden nausea. As I sat down on a bench across from a beach volleyball game by Gordon Beach, my hand rested gently on my lips, unsure if I was going to cry or vomit. That’s my country, I thought, that’s the capital of my country and it’s being desecrated by these hooligans. A middle-aged man with his bicycle appeared and sat down next to me, breaking my train of thought and making me mildly uncomfortable under the darkness of the night sky. I ignored most of his questions, until he asked me what I was reading. “Chadashot”, I replied briskly. The news. I turned the phone towards him, displaying a photo of people from the mob scaling the Capitol building wall. “Ayfo? B’rusia?” Where, in Russia?

I think most of us have recognized, although now even more so, that America is at a crossroads. The superpower that many of us, especially as Americans, have always known and thought of appears to be declining, which the exceptionally turbulent year of 2020 only exasperated. From the pandemic to Black Lives Matter protests to the election, the past year has shown Americans and the world that there are serious discrepancies in the “America” that we picture in our own personal imaginations and live in our own individual lives with the one that exists in reality for others. An inadequate and unprepared healthcare system, inherent racism and discrimination against minorities, and political demonization and polarization. On the other hand, however, a significant amount of the American population would actively deny any validity to these claims. Typical talking points would include that the pandemic isn’t real, the BLM movement baselessly terrorized cities across the country, and the election was rigged against Trump. 

To move forward into a more united future, the American population must begin to process and accept that these issues must be dealt with, otherwise we will only be faced with more political polarization and dissonance. Overcoming the challenges of the pandemic, the centuries of racial inequity, and the rise of reactionary populists will not be easy, but is necessary in order to do so. Am I optimistic that this will happen? No, sadly not. The alternative to this process of recognition, at least in my mind, is the continuation of the status quo until both sides reach their boiling point and whatever culminates from it.

Nevertheless, albeit in less dramatic fashion than storming a governmental building in an attempt to disrupt the electoral process, other countries have struggled to acknowledge troublesome or unsettling histories if they moved too quickly towards a more “progressive” political vision (as seen in Poland after its entrance into the EU shortly following the fall of communism, which has only really been brought into the limelight over the past 5 years despite the nearly two decades of tension over historical memory). A country’s populace needs some time to process a narrative about their home country that they had never seen or experienced before and this most definitely applies to the US in this current point in time. Even though I predict that the storming of the Capitol building by people who demand that Trump be reelected due to their belief that the election was fraudulent will only lead to further political division and that it only demonstrates the extent of polarization among Americans already; I hope I’m wrong.

About the Author
Catherine Szkop is a first generation Polish American with Jewish roots from the US, specifically Michigan, currently living in Israel as a graduate student in Jewish Studies focusing on Medieval to modern Polish-Jewish history as well as Israeli sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She decided to move to Israel in order to connect with her Jewish ancestry and with the people who come from many different backgrounds, but all live in this small, yet dynamic region.
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