Hours after the siege of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 following the Save America rally in Washington, D.C., New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim was seen with garbage bags in hand cleaning up the mess rioters left in the Capitol.
A Democrat from New Jersey’s 3rd District, he cleaned up for 90 minutes before returning to the House floor to debate Pennsylvania’s vote count.
Kim said when he saw the destruction left behind by the mob of white supremacists and pro-Trump groups he was overwhelmed with emotion, saying, “It’s a room I love so much. It pained me to see it in this kind of condition.”
I thought of Kim earlier this week while babysitting my granddaughter Peyton. She is 2 years old and can get out more toys in the span of a couple of minutes than one thinks humanly possible. It creates one heck of a mess for Aggie and me to clean up. It’s a mess we choose not to clean up by ourselves.
As you might expect, a 2-year-old doesn’t have nearly as much fun picking up the toys as playing with them. Sometimes she reacts like one would expect from a child. But we persist and she helps pick up her mess.
It was during one of those joint sessions of picking up blocks, puzzles and books that it dawned on me that as a nation, we have a lot of picking up to do ourselves.
What’s that you say? We’re not children? Maybe not, but over the years we’ve seen adults sure act like kids when it comes to politics, leaving a mess behind. Some examples:
• Remember the Obama birther conspiracy? President Donald Trump spread the false rumor that then-President Barack Obama wasn’t a U.S. citizen and was born outside of the United States. Trump began that rumor back in 2011, long before his run for the presidency. Many of us know someone who didn’t believe that, but passed along that false narrative anyway. But really, what harm could it do to mention that while having a beer with buddies in a bar?
• When candidate Trump hollered “fake news,” lots of folks jumped on that bandwagon. Again, it’s just good fun poking at the media.
• In Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, white supremacists marched through the streets with torches and clubs. A counter-protester ended up dead. Yet President Trump refused to condemn the racists, instead saying, “you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” We all know people who sat silently when they heard the President not condemn the actions of white supremacists.
• President Trump, beginning last summer, started talking about election concerns and how if he lost, the election was stolen. And now, even though the evidence shows the election wasn’t stolen, polls show half the electorate believes otherwise.
• The President said coronavirus was a hoax, before saying it was like the flu and announcing it would be gone when the weather warmed up. Later, he claimed it would end as soon as the election was over. As of this writing, we have over 400,000 dead from COVID-19.
Words matter. Words from our leaders and words from each other. And how we react to those words also matters. We saw some of that when the Capitol was attacked Jan. 6.
Congressman Kim is a Korean-American, the son of Korean immigrants who came to America for a better life. Does anybody see the irony in the fact that a first generation American saw more sanctity in the Capitol than those who stormed the building calling themselves patriots?
As she grows up, my granddaughter will learn to pick up what she gets out without being told. She’ll also be taught that words matter and what one says has consequences.
As Americans, we need to be reminded of that too. Because right now, the United States is full of things scattered about, just laying around that need to be addressed. It’s going to take all of us working together to fix those things.
But before that can happen, a lot of people have some growing up to do.