Bethami A. Dobkin: Don’t be too quick to ‘get this ugly day behind us’

Learning means understanding the past to build a better future

Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Shortly before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, on the day of armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana., told reporters it was time to “get this ugly day behind us.”

Not so fast, Sen. Braun.

Although we can move on with rituals of certification and inauguration, let us remember the actions which precipitated a direct and violent attack on our democracy, and the warning signs that many ignored. The terrorism of the day was not an aberration; the words that incited rioters were neither unique nor unprecedented; and playing political games with people’s health and safety was not new.

And Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, saying you abhor violence after it has occurred is not good enough. Attempting to commandeer legislative processes that circumvent the courts because you don’t like the outcome of an election is just one in a recent series of moves motivated by personal gain at the expense of democratic institutions.

This moment is not to be forgotten. We ignore the signs, the complicity in insurrection, at our peril.

I’ve dedicated my professional life to higher education because I believe in the importance of civic duty, respect for human dignity, and accountability for words as deeds. I believe that higher education plays an essential role in sustaining democracy by fostering ethical, informed and engaged deliberation, care and compassion for others and equitable opportunities for all.

Learning means understanding the past so that we can create a better future. It includes taking accountability for our words and understanding the impact of actions not just on our own lives, but others as well.

We have an opportunity to affirm our democratic institutions and promote the knowledge and processes that sustain them. It won’t happen by declarations of condemnation or saying we will put ugliness behind us. It will happen by doing the hard work of public deliberation based on facts, putting common good above personal ambition, and holding people accountable for everything they say, not just the things you want to hear.

The survival of our democracy depends on it.

Bethami A. Dobkin, Ph.D., is president of Westminster College, Salt Lake City.