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Ideas for a Nation in Crisis

As the nation reels from the attack on the Capitol, we look for ideas that will move us forward.

  • January 11th 2021

Since last Wednesday, the Aspen Ideas team, like many, has scoured all manner of media in an attempt to find insight and wisdom on the frightful insurrection on the Capitol. We have looked across the country for differing positions, interpretations, and points of view, with an eye to analyses but also to possible roads ahead. Because we are dedicated to the value of ideas — ideas that could ignite a better, healthier, and more prosperous and just society — we wanted to share some reflections on these events of January 6, a day that will go down in ignominy, as many are suggesting, in the hope that there are thoughts that could lead us from what seems to be the edge of an abyss. Today’s issue of Aspen Ideas Now is a brief compilation of diverse reflections. 

Excellent writing and thoughtful analyses converge here from a variety of sources, at home and abroad, to challenge us all to imagine: How do we move beyond this time? What is next for our democracy? Can we build back trust in each other? In the media? In our institutions? In our principles? Do we recommit ourselves to a broader understanding of our Constitution and its interpretations — a civics curriculum for all Americans? 

Searching for ideas from many and diverse sources, we note, unsurprisingly, that most really do seek to bring rioters and complicit actors in last week’s events to justice — regardless of what side of the aisle they are on. Also, most call for President Trump to be held to account. Renowned conservative columnist Peggy Noonan writes in her Wall Street Journal column (paywall): “We know who we are. ... We regain our confidence. ... We lower the boom. ... We should come down like a hammer on all those responsible, moving with brute dispatch against members of the mob and their instigators.” This includes, she argues, the “insurrectionist in chief.” We agree. Among many things that we are as a country, we are indeed a nation of laws. We need to let the world know that we mean business. That business starts at home. That business starts with holding our highest leaders to the highest standards, and holding them to account if and when they fail our democracy, and fail us as citizens within it. 

In “Time for Consequences,” venerable Atlantic writer James Fallows says President-Elect Biden should enter his post with an eye to the future — curbing the pandemic and righting the economy for starters — and makes the case that the rest of us must imagine the reckoning for the past and all that precedes Biden’s presidency. Fallows references the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, a bipartisan commission co-chaired by Harvard’s Danielle Allen, Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Stephen B. Heinz, and the Aspen Institute’s Eric Liu, to explore how best to respond to the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our political and civic life and to enable more Americans to participate as effective citizens in a diverse 21st century democracy. Published last summer, this report from the American Academy of Sciences offers six strategies and 31 recommendations to build a more resilient, healthy civic culture, “characterized by a shared commitment of Americans to one another and constitutional democracy.” Perhaps this is a place to start, to consider how to mend.

President-Elect Biden says he seeks to unify, and the events of last week haven’t curbed his goals there. Senator Mitt Romney admonishes his party to show respect for upset voters by “telling them the truth” about the election results, to stop the charade harping stolen votes. “That is the burden, the duty of leadership,” Romney says. This is certainly a critical place to start.

Very importantly, Biden denounces the lack of equality in our justice system, decrying the stark contrasts between treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters and the leniency shown to the mostly white mob that descended on the Capitol. In an important Atlantic piece, "The Whole Story in a Single Photo," Clint Smith directs us to what can only become an iconic image of a rioter carrying the Confederate battleflag through the Capitol halls, to appreciate the “distance between who we purport to be and who we have actually been.” 

There is so much to be done to heal the country. These are not times to sit back and let others do the hard work on behalf of the rest of us. We all need to contribute to the ideas, the solutions, and the will to restore civility in our culture and truth and honor to our halls of government.

At this coming summer's Aspen Ideas Festival, likely in a digital format, we will focus on the theme American Futures. We will take a look at what fellow citizens across the United States want for our country, including better governance, economic well-being, an improved health system, climate action, education reform … and most certainly, justice for all. We will attempt to bring the best ideas to the Festival to amplify these messages.

We welcome your ideas as well. Feel free to write us and tell us what you want to see in the future. 

Thank you for your support and interest in Aspen Ideas. We hope the following examples of ideas and thoughts expressed across the country provide useful, fresh perspectives on what happened last week, and help point to how we might move ahead on behalf of a free, equitable, and just society. 

The World Shook as America Raged
By Robin Wright, The New Yorker

The American Abyss
By Timothy Snyder, The New York Times

The Aftermath
Editorial, Arkansas Democrat Gazette

This Is the Face of the GOP Now
By Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish, Substack

Running Out the Clock on Trump Is Cowardly and Dangerous
By Jamelle Bouie, The New York Times

The White Man’s Audacity
By Mitchell S. Jackson, Esquire

The Parable of Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz
By Peter Beinart, The Beinart Notebook, Substack 

Democracy Is a Threat to White Supremacy and That Is the Cause of America’s Crisis
By Darren Walker, Ford Foundation

Editorial: Hawley Should Resign. Silent Enablers Must Now Publicly Condemn Trumpism
Editorial Board, St. Louis Post Dispatch

Yes It Was a Coup, Here’s Why
By Fiona Hill, Politico

Why Some Americans Don’t Believe the Election Results
Ethical Systems 

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