I never thought I’d see a day like Jan. 6, 2021, when I was forced to deploy the Maryland National Guard to take back the nation’s Capitol from rioters and to secure the peaceful transition of power from an attack on our democracy.
But now, nobody would be surprised if there are more dark days like Jan. 6 in our nation’s future.
Last year’s insurrection was a symptom of the crisis of distrust in our nation’s elected leaders. When so many Americans have lost faith that the federal government can still deliver for them, conspiracy theories, misinformation and hatred fill the void.
And the void is only getting larger. Americans already fed up with Washington are only more disillusioned after the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, rising inflation, mixed messages on COVID-19, and a steady stream of lies and misinformation from former President Donald Trump and his apologists.
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Today, public trust in government remains at all-time lows, while fear and hatred of political opponents continue to escalate.
A year ago, nearly everyone agreed that President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election were responsible for inciting the mob at the Capitol and his failure to respond to the attack was a dereliction of duty from our commander in chief. Today, the only Republicans who are willing to state this obvious truth face daily attacks and primary challenges.
United States is more divided now
A year ago, President Joe Biden promised that national unity would be the focus of his administration. Today, America is only more divided.
The attack on the Capitol should have been a turning point, where our political leaders on both sides recognized the dangers of the status quo and subverted short-term partisan goals to the urgent goal of restoring trust, working together to find commonsense solutions and putting differences aside to keep our nation together.
Instead, after a brief period of shock, Washington has accelerated down the road of divisiveness and dysfunction.
The biggest danger of all is that Americans begin to believe that we can no longer fix the system through peaceful means. According to a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, about 1 in 3 Americans say violence against the government can at times be justified. That is a formula for more days like Jan. 6.
Governors have popular support
Outside of Washington, however, there is more than enough proof that the system can still be fixed. Americans consistently have more faith in state and local governments than in Washington. Every governor in America is more popular with their constituents than President Biden is with the American people.
It’s not easy, but it’s also not rocket science. Elected leaders can overcome these fierce divisions when they tell the truth, don’t play to the extremes of either party, and focus on delivering commonsense solutions to the real challenges that most people care about.
Each of us, especially those who hold elected office, have a choice to make. We can show those who feel forgotten that we can actually deliver solutions to the serious problems that face us, or we can continue to perpetuate this toxic politics, rabid tribalism and hatred.
The sacred American tradition of the peaceful transition of power that came under attack last year did not come about by accident. In 1783, at our historic State House in Annapolis, Gen. George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the Continental Army.
At the time, the idea that a military leader would voluntarily transfer power to the people’s representatives was virtually unthinkable and was without precedent in human history. Gen. Washington could easily have chosen to take his place as a monarch, but instead he chose a selfless path.
If we are to prevent more days like Jan. 6, it will take more leaders willing to make that same choice.
Larry Hogan is the Republic governor of Maryland.