Linda Schuyler Horning: What is right for our country |

Linda Schuyler Horning: What is right for our country

Last month I described the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as pawns and wrote that many of them may have thought what they were doing was right.

One reader disagreed with me, claiming the Capitol rioters “freely participated in unlawful acts of destruction, violence, and what amounts to terror … gleefully and enthusiastically, as if they were cheering on their team at a sporting event.”

We can’t know what really drove the rioters to do what they did. Neither can we paint them all with the same broad brush. I am compelled, however, to examine this basic question.

Do criminal minds know the error of their ways or are they incapable of telling the difference between right and wrong? I’m not a psychologist, but I do know confirmation bias affects all of us. We choose opinions and news stories that uphold views we’ve long held to be true.

Authority figures complicate matters. Donald Trump was elected president, so while in office he was legally the commander in chief. As citizens, we should want to follow his directives, right?

My answer, again, has more to do with how we process the information. News stories disproving his claims were abundantly available, but some preferred to listen to social media and news channels like Fox that held opinions more clearly matched with their own.

Some people believe so strongly in what is right that they will literally lose their minds if forced to do something they believe to be wrong. I recall a friend of mine who served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. He was a good soldier, but perhaps valued human life too much. His service ended in a straitjacket, followed by a life spent combating service-related stress disorders.

The opposite of this strong aversion to killing is the vision of a man so relaxed about killing that he took more than nine minutes to do it. Derek Chauvin was so sure he would not be held accountable for murder that he refused to release George Floyd even when bystanders begged him to do so. Anyone who watched the bystander video could see a murder occurring, but the jury’s verdict confirmed that what Derek Chauvin was doing was wrong.

We claim to be a nation of laws, and the purpose of those laws is supposed to determine whether what people do is wrong or right. Ideally, we learn the difference from our parents and friends, but that doesn’t always work out.

Court systems must be counted on to make up the difference, but sometimes they fall short. This is the first time, for instance, that a white police officer in Minnesota has been found guilty of unlawfully killing a person of color. Logic demands that we choose to examine that truth.

Might we also be willing to demand the truth regarding more than 400 people charged in the riots at the nation’s Capitol, and are we willing to hold their chief instigator, Donald J. Trump, accountable?

The impeachment brief clearly implicates the former president, but the Senate failed to convict. Immediately after the verdict, and despite voting to acquit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a rebuke of Trump’s actions. He seemed to indicate he believed Trump might still face criminal prosecution, but he failed to persuade many of his conservative friends.

Whether the Capitol rioters freely participated in unlawful acts of destruction or were simply used as pawns will be left for the courts to decide. Federal charges for some of them include “assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers; assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon; civil disorder and aiding and abetting; destruction of government property exceeding $1,000; obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon; etc. (Alam indictment).“

I’ve seen the coverage. I’m still trying to unsee some of the footage that proved too graphic to air a second time. I do know, however, that what took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was wrong.

Now I need President Biden and his attorney general, Merrick Garland, step up. Whether they choose to investigate and prosecute Trump and his associates will not change what happened that day, but it may change the types of opinions American citizens hold. This may lead more of us to do only what is right for our country.

Linda Schuyler Horning lives in Nevada City.

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