Democracy in its Death Throes

The U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 (Via Reuters)

While I sat at home “at work” today, I watched the events in D.C. unfold with a feeling of incredulity mixed with a familiar apathy. Reporters and congresspeople on the ground in D.C. were frightened, hiding under tables for relief, taking refuge in bomb shelters in congressional buildings as rioters scaled the Capitol.

I texted my friends in the D.C. area to make sure they were OK. I waited for more news with baited breath and an unavoidable sense of shock, shock in the sense of paralysis. I had the sense that I was, at that moment, undergoing trauma — and felt all the more disconnected from it because I was sitting in my apartment with a mug of green tea, looking at a SocialFlow dashboard and an unrelenting Twitter feed. Like how in really traumatic experiences, you step out of your body and watch yourself sitting there, impotent and calm.

I’ve listened to NPR’s Here and Now since meeting the hosts and producers and working with them in 2020. Public radio calms my nerves. Today I heard trepidation in my favorite hosts’ voices as they balanced having multiple guests on the line. Their questions changed as they fielded new reports and welcomed new guests. I felt collective panic and fear metastasize as they traveled through the airwaves and onto social media.

The trauma of waiting out a global pandemic in 2020 came in waves. It assaulted us in the middle of our remote workdays. It felt amplified during late nights spent doomscrolling and Zoom calls with faraway friends. We’d catch sight of the latest numbers on the news and descend into a mental spiral. But hearing frazzled journalists survey two hundred years’ worth of damage — the apparent ruins of democracy — on Capitol Hill today felt different. I’d survived 2020. I thought I was accustomed to disaster on a global scale. What happened?

The pandemic — still raging and uncontrolled — ambushed my peers and me before we had a chance to graduate from college. During quarantine, I was spending time with my family, sure, I was becoming a better cook every day, I was lifting weights at home, I was looking on the bright side, I was going through the motions, I was staying healthy, I was applying for jobs, I was staying kind. But all the life ahead of me, so promising in 2019, looked diminished and barren come March. I don’t think I have recovered from that premature loss. Sometime before 2020, I hugged my 100-year-old grandpa for the last time — and I don’t even remember when. Grief has flattened into an unrelenting undercurrent.

I keep thinking about missing out on my twenties. Sometimes I catch myself because I feel I’m being selfish, but it’s beyond just wanting to live a fuller life, to travel, to go see a movie and eat a meal inside a restaurant. What will become of our generation? When the dust has cleared on Capitol Hill, what will we do with the scraps we have left of the faith that we had in our country? It’s a country that has let our relatives die unnoticed in nursing homes. ICUs are continuing to fill. Now an attempted coup has completed a picture clear as day: The empire is flailing.

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