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  • Rebecca Branle

Time to Talk Trauma

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

Some stuff, we’ve just gotta talk about. Chances are, the more uncomfortable the conversation, the more we need to have it.

But we have this toxic pattern in our country, and in so many of our families, where we take the most painful experiences and we silence them. And every time we do this, every time, we create more trauma; we create a promise for more pain. The silence brings shame and pain to the victim and sentences those who feel guilt to hold that guilt forever, never moving past it.

So let’s stop.

Let’s talk about the hard stuff at home. And here, in the open, let’s talk about January 6th. For real.

First, let’s establish the horror of the day. Glossing over what happened, serving up a watered-down version, does favors to no one, except, maybe, the culpable. So, let’s think about the fear of the elected officials, on both sides of the aisle; let’s talk about the trauma of the Capitol Police, of the Capitol staffers, cleaning crews, and even the families of the insurrectionists. Those families, they’re mourning, too, because having a loved one fall down the rabbit hole of conspiracy is a loss, a maddening, helpless loss.

Consider the words from the chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, "I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs," Papathanasiou wrote. "One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake." One officer lost 3 fingers. One officer died. 2 took their own lives. 4 insurrectionists are dead.

This was real. This was violent. Ignoring it won’t help us heal.

There’s nothing unifying about silence in the face of madness. When a raging crowd, frothing out the words, “Fuck the police,” as they storm the capitol and cause life-taking and life-changing injuries, we need to talk about it. And we need to understand that just holding the folks who were there that day accountable, doesn’t get close to the root of the cause.

I’m gonna say something that might not sit well with a lot of folks, but the people who stormed the capitol, the ones who chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” they were victims. They would never have been there, would never have been worked into a trance-like frenzy, if it weren’t for the lies upon lies upon lies of Donald J. Trump and his minions with megaphones, including FoxNews, Breitbart, OAN, and Newsmax. You guys, these aren’t news stations. They’re propaganda machines and, if they have their way, they’ll destroy our country.

It didn’t happen overnight. It started with crowd size in 2017. A silly lie, but a lie nonetheless, one that shocked those of us who believed in presidential and reporting standards. That lie brought the phrase “fake news” to center stage. Every time an inconvenient story was published, those two simple words stopped it in its tracks. And while half of the country soldiered on, head wrapped firmly around the truth, trusting sources like Reuters and NPR and BBC and, most plainly, the words that come out of the mouths (and tweets) of actual politicians, the other half of the country slowly lost its grip on reality.

For four years, the two groups marched in different directions. One became more and more distraught by the lies and deception and destruction of constitutional norms. One became more and more radicalized, willing to accept more and more egregious behavior because the idea of surrendering to the truth, that the other side might have been right all along, was too great. So while they were uncomfortable with Donald Trump, while they wished he would stop, they chose to stand behind him. They chose a broken party over country. They made an unconscious agreement to live in an upside down world. More phrases came to center stage, phrases like “radical left democrats” and “commies” and when Coronavirus came they were primed to ignore it. First, they called it the flu. Then, they said the death rate was low and so prevention was silly. Then, they refused masks or any regulations meant to keep us safe. Suddenly, the idea of sacrificing for the safety of others was a bridge too far.

And then, the election. Just as Trump had primed his loyalists with the phrase “fake news,” a tactic he bragged about before ever becoming president, saying that it kills harmful stories if you tell folks they can’t trust the media, he primed his loyalists with the phrase, “rigged election.” He vilified the mail-in vote because he knew his opponents would use it. Because he knew they understood and respected the gravity of the virus.

And so, when he lost, when those mail-in votes did what he knew they would do…come in overwhelmingly in favor of Biden, his retort was ready. It was rigged. He was a victim. His reality and his followers’ reality became a reality unrecognizable by the rest of the world. The word “Patriot” was suddenly hijacked. Americans victimized by their president, lied to by their president (and by those propaganda machines), were called on by their president, who called them his “army,” to “fight” the radical left mob. To them, fighting was the Patriotic thing to do. To the rest of us, the irony of using the term Patriotic to overturn a free and fair election was stomach turning.

Because even Trump’s judges threw out his cases. Even Republican election officials said there was no evidence of widespread fraud. Even a recording of Trump himself demanding officials “find votes” wasn’t enough to wake up his masses. Their deception was years in the making. So he told them to come on January 6th, said it was going to be wild. The goons who were threatening my family made sure to let us know that we’d see their power on the 6th. We knew what was coming. They knew what was coming. Trump knew what was coming.

He ordered it.

So, yeah, the insurrectionists – the bad actors – they were victims, victims who very much need to answer for their horrible acts and their disgusting displays of racism blended with patriotism blended with what they mistakingly call Christianity. Still, there is no justice until those that deceived them are held responsible. Donald Trump. His family. His band of broken lawyers. His sycophantic “media.” This was mind manipulation on levels that will be studied for generations and generations to come.

And we need to talk about it.

If we don’t, we’ll stay in the upside down world. We’ll stay in a place where bad news is “fake news” and “patriots” overthrow democracy and loving our neighbor is “radical socialism.” Families will remain torn apart. Our country will remain torn apart. White supremacy will grow and thrive. Isn’t it time we said, “enough?”

The only way we heal this trauma, any trauma, is to face it. We have to talk about it. We have to understand how it started in order to understand how to end it.

And don’t we all want to end it?

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