Capitol mob was decades in the making

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Last Wednesday’s terrorist attack on our nation’s capital was the tragic, but inevitable, culmination of four decades of growing division in our nation.

Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s declaration that government was the problem, not the solution, a growing number of Americans have come to believe just that. They may have misread his intent, which might well have been to express that government is sometimes the problem and instead came to believe it is always the problem.

Regardless, accompanying that belief have been many negatives, including a growing attitude of “my president or your president,” not “our president.”

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I’m not sure when I first heard the actual phrase “your president,” but suspect it was during the Clinton years.

President Bill Clinton has been judged in hindsight as having done a competent job, but during his tenure, his personal moral failings were deemed repugnant by many Americans and provided ammunition for his critics. Back then, from Republican friends came, “Look what your president has done now.”

During the George W. Bush years, it was Democrats’ turn to declare, “Your president is determined to go to war.” The anger associated with the Supreme Court ruling in Bush vs. Gore hardened the feelings of “your or mine” even more during Bush’s second term.

And then came Barack Obama. The remarkable ascendancy to the presidency of a black American frightened and angered many white Americans. Rather than a “post racial” age, Obama’s election pulled off the scab that covered the nation’s racist sore and “your president, not mine” became a battle cry.

All of which and more was preparation for Donald Trump, who ascended to office partially on the “birther” lie that his predecessor was not even a native American.

Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama had all professed to represent all Americans, and I believe that each of them meant it, even as the country was becoming more noticeably divided during their terms of office. Not so with President Trump. He has never pretended to represent all Americans. His public comments, both in social media and to adoring supporters during numerous rallies, has set the tone of friends and enemies, not fellow Americans.

And as the past four years have progressed, his followers have been encouraged to believe he is “my president,” and his opponents have increasingly been convinced that he is “not mine.”

That hardcore attitude enabled the defeated president to rally radical groups, including numerous Republicans in Congress, to join him in his effort to illegally overturn the November election. The result of their attempted coup was seen by a shocked nation last Wednesday.

Trump’s efforts have failed and the rule of law has held, but just by the skin of our teeth, and the nation is now more divided than ever. President-elect Joe Biden will surely be “your president” in the eyes of a substantial minority of Americans.

And therein lies the root of much of our discontent.

Back during the Obama years, I often corrected Obama critics when they referred to “your president” by saying, “No, he’s our president.” And, as difficult as it has been, I have also consistently accepted Donald Trump as “our president.”

The decades-old belief that government is inherently evil and the more recent conspiracy theory of an embedded “deep state” have provided good political theater that has helped shallow-minded men and women get elected to the very offices they have decried. Along the way, though, they have seriously weakened this nation’s underpinnings and ultimately encouraged the violent Jan. 6 assault on our Capitol.

Those who committed insurrection last Wednesday as well as those who encouraged it must be brought to justice, but beyond that, we must attempt the far more difficult task of healing the nation.

That’s the challenge that Joe Biden will inherit when he is sworn in next Wednesday. The future of our country depends in no small measure on whether he can find enough Americans of differing political views who are willing to work together, both in Congress and across the nation.

We all need to put our shoulder to that wheel, because this republic desperately needs our attention. And a good place to start will be to once again acknowledge, if not embrace, occupants of the White House as “our president.”


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is