On the sixth of January, the president’s fevered incitement of his mob – promising his presence (fat chance) and admonishing them to be strong and “take back” America – led to their successful incursion into the U.S. Capitol. The ragtag, miscellany of mostly white, would-be insurrectionists (an assembly that would have been swiftly crushed had they been Black) terrified elected leaders and press, left death and destruction, many questions about security, and horrified most Americans.
Maybe most Americans, but “regular” Republicans have a part in this. Trump has signaled for years his contempt for democracy, his scorn for the truth, his vilification of a free press, and fondness for authoritarian leaders – with increasing specificity this year as he lied about a free and fair election.
For five years Republicans have accepted his behavior, where did they think the riling up and lying would lead?
No telling what happens next (accountability would be appropriate), and I am trying hard to see something beyond bleakness. A majority of Americans repudiated the current administration in the election, Biden and Harris will be inaugurated despite Republican obstruction – to voting and to counting. The people of Georgia (thank you Stacy Abrams) elected two exciting candidates, giving Democrats the slimmest of Democratic Senate majority. No more must we endure Trump enabler Mitch McConnell blocking legislation and appointments.
Adding to January gloom, in Western Washington we have waded in a “river of rain” – an actual atmospheric condition bringing drenching, continuous rain, and plenty of time to read our Christmas gifts.
“The Wild Silence,“ Raynor Winn’s tale of what happens to Winn and her husband after the end of “The Salt Path,” is written with Winn’s impeccable eye for the natural world and our connection to it. Her specific struggles, leavened by beautiful language and love, bring respite from our pervasive malaise.
The friend who gave me “Code Name Verity,” by Elizabeth Wein, said, “it’s called Young Adult, but I say it’s for everybody,” and a good adventure yarn it is. The story of the friendship of two courageous young British women involved in World War II espionage, it snags the reader with unexpected twists, and made me think much about when the world faced Hitler’s dire threats to democracy.
And Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile,” with his look at one momentous year of the Second World War, between May 1940 and 1941, makes clear that January 1941 was worse than our January. The book’s uniqueness (in an ocean of Churchill literature) lies in Larson’s focus on the small details of life in wartime – he uncovers descriptions of day-to-day living amid food shortages, the constant aerial assault of the Blitz, and England’s growing fear of invasion.
It’s a compulsively readable book (specially in this dire time), in part because Larson finds parallel stories to the oft-studied war record by researching original handwritten versions of diaries – as people “processed” their lives (we’d say). In addition to conventional histories, he uses subway bomb shelter records, the journals of Mass-Observation diarists (people who kept a record of how their own lives fared as part of a nationwide research project, an activity renewed in COVID England), archival documents, and now-released secret documents.
That year saw “the end of the beginning” of a horrifying time (with more years to come). Rising above everything is the leadership of Churchill. A good reminder, as if we need it, that leaders – and their words – matter.