Francis Scott Key began his 1814 poem to America with “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, …”
How many of us knew of the perilous threat looming over our democracy when dawn arrived on that January day set aside for Congress to certify the electoral count of the 2020 Presidential election? And after that day’s assault on the Capital and night descended, how many believed that on the morning of January 7th our Stars and Stripes would still fly over a home of the free and the brave?
There have been few times since Key penned those opening words of what would later become our National Anthem that Washington, D.C. has seen such a firsthand threat as hit on January 6th. The only other one I can remember arrived on September 11th in 2001, a fearful day I spent guiding high school students in Raleigh while seeking assurance that my college-aged daughter remained safe in our nation’s capital.
Now we celebrate an inauguration of the next President while the outgoing President continues to harbor tales of a stolen election. Thousands of armed National Guard soldiers line the streets of the capital and across the country, watching over our ramparts as we wonder how many armed rebels will march in red-hatted glares of protest.
Our land of laws and freedoms lies at our feet, prey to each nuance and spin bent on supporting someone’s wish for a win. Would that more of us apprehended the democratic principles over which bombs have burst, but the days when we recognized reality flew away with the winds that replaced newspapers and journalists with social media and influencers.
Long before our ancestors organized reason into a skill we came to call science, “facts” could be twisted in support of any whim or desire. Leaders ruled exploiting fears. We only escaped those mystical days when we stopped burning witches and began understanding the powers of experiment and evidence. But over the past few decades we’ve seen rulers return to casting doubt on reason and science in favor of fear and faith, leading more of us down the road of ideology and away from unwanted facts. To be true a thing only needs to be believed by “many people” or spouted by a revered leader.
The Truth defined by evidence may yet prevail, but time lost following attractive falsehoods wreaks inevitable destruction, as we witnessed January 6th. And how many have died in the pandemic because ideology kept leaders from advocating and their followers from wearing masks? Welcome or not, heeded or not, Truth exists. It’s up to the many leaders among us to follow the evidence and bring our compatriots along on the road back to reason.