America Can Become Afghanistan.
I’ve seen this movie before.
Watching the Taliban gloating in the Presidential palace in Kabul this week after violently overthrowing the government there, gave me major January 6th déjà vu. The muscle memory of that day kicked in again: the disbelief and shock, the stark helplessness, the repeating question of how this could be happening.
This week, while the world looked on in horror at Afghanistan, marveling at the seemingly impossible speed and ferocity with which a group of extremists could overtake a foreign nation’s leadership and throw it all into chaos, the familiarity of the moment is something America needs to wrestle with. We cannot look away from the proximity of such a day here. We can’t ignore the repetition of history. We can’t pretend we weren’t on the brink of a nightmare.
America was (and in many ways still is) a hair’s breadth from living a very different story right now; from a radicalized minority of zealots having unchecked power and exposing us to a brutality that we would not recognize as our nation.
It would have taken very little:
A handful fewer courageous Capitol Police officers, a wrong turn or two in the crowded labyrinth beneath the halls of Congress, a couple of split-decisions by the insurrectionists or the Secret Service—and we’re living through what the people of Afghanistan are right now.
The story here wouldn’t have become an attempted coup, but a successful one. Donald Trump would have been installed as president, Republican politicians would have legislative carte blanche, and their armed, unhinged, sycophantic militia would be living out their racist, phobic fantasies with impunity.
We’ve all seen the videos. We witnessed it with our own eyes. We watched how quickly the walls were scaled, how easily the doors were breached, how completely mob violence engulfs once rational people, how little is required to tip the scales of a Republic and bring it to its knees, how tenuous it all is. Our nation is not less vulnerable simply because we currently have a competent Administration, a compassionate adult president, and a ceremonial majority in Congress. While amoral, power-mad Trump acolytes like Lauren Boebert, Josh Hawley, and Marjorie Taylor Greene hold positions of power here, and while their conspiratorial, perpetually-oppressed rank-and-file are still perpetuating the big lie and willing to die for it, we remain in danger.
No one is saying these two events in themselves are on their face equal, but they are strikingly similar movements in different seasons of their evolution; built on the same theocratic fervor, the same glorification of violence, and the same cultic adoration of leadership. Americans should be horrified by the sickening display of religious extremists parading themselves through the halls of a Government they quickly overthrew, and we should be horrified at the unthinkable fear that drove people to grab onto departing planes and dying tumbling to the ground, and we should be deeply burdened to do all we can to help the good people there escape the monsters who now have the run of the house.
But we should do all of this while realizing how very fragile the place we call home currently is, how very close we were and still are to a lawless minority taking by force what they could not through fair elections and the democratic process.
The most reckless and dangerous thing we could do right now is to imagine that Afghanistan could not happen here. It nearly did.
The good people here need to work and fight and organize and vote to make certain that it does not happen again.
We need to write a better story for America.