A “benefit” to being an aging baby boomer is a historical perspective on catastrophic postwar tragedies that changed everything. By “everything,” I mean events that so dramatically altered the course of history in one 24-hour period that the “day after” ushered in a new era.
I would argue the following three dates/events fall into that horrific category:
Nov. 22, 1963: The assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Sept. 11, 2001: The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Jan. 6, 2021: The U.S. Capitol attack.
The latter is still raw and smoldering. There is much footage and evidence waiting to be reviewed. Many facts, villains, perpetrators, and collaborators are to be determined, with more arrests sure to come. Figuratively, tidal waves continue to crash on the shores of the Potomac from this political tsunami — an insurrection incited by former President Trump against a co-equal branch of government and his loyal vice president. Have we met the enemy, and he is “us,” chanting “USA, USA”?
The Capitol remains a fortress and a crime scene. Hence, it is too early for grand conclusions about precisely how Jan. 6 will alter and impact U.S. history, except to say that it will. As points of comparison, let’s revisit JFK’s death and Sept.11, 2001.
On the day John Kennedy was shot, I was a third-grader in Needham, Mass., a suburb of his Boston hometown. Seared into my memory is watching a classroom television when Walter Cronkite announced, “President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.”
Two days later, another mind-branded memory took root. Watched live by most Americans, alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was himself shot by Jack Ruby.
Years ago, veteran CBS journalist Bob Schieffer famously wrote that the JFK killing was “when America lost its innocence.” He explained, “As the entire nation watched in horror and shock as the events of that weekend unfolded on television in real-time — the FIRST time that had ever happened — our national confidence was shaken to the core.”
While JFK’s untimely death gripped the nation in unified mourning, newly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson vowed to continue Kennedy’s visions for a better and more equal America. JFK’s passing, coupled with Johnson’s political savvy as a former Senate majority leader, resulted in numerous groundbreaking legislative achievements and social programs under the “Great Society” umbrella. The first was the landmark Civil Rights Act, signed on July 2, 1964. Now-familiar programs such as Medicare and Medicaid became law the following year.
Although Kennedy’s violent death negatively impacted Americans of all ages, few were more affected than the first wave of baby boomers, then in their teens. Less than three months later, a performance phenomenon united and infused the nation’s youth with new hope and turned the tide of their mourning. The Beatles made their U.S. debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Feb. 9, 1964. They were watched by 45.3% of households — 73 million Americans. The “Fab Four’s” music helped spark the period of cultural/social changes and political upheaval we now speak of simply as “the sixties.” But the first domino fell with the violence of Nov. 22, 1963.
Sept. 11, 2001
On a sunny September morning 38 years later, “everything” changed again.
Four commercial airliners loaded with fuel for their east to west journeys across the U.S. were hijacked and turned into suicide missiles by 19 Islamic terrorists. The attacks targeting America’s most iconic financial, military, and government buildings took nearly 3,000 lives and launched the “Global War on Terror.”
Although Congress had not “officially” declared war, enabling legislation granted President George W. Bush all the authority and resources needed to conduct operations abroad and at home. Most notable was the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), signed on Sept. 18, 2001, and soon followed by the Patriot Act on Oct. 26. The attacks also facilitated a massive government reorganization that, for starters, birthed the Department of Homeland Security. Moreover, significant flaws in the nation’s vast web of intelligence agencies, which had led to a failure to “connect the dots” and share information, were exposed.
Collectively, Americans had never been more unified in their patriotism and outrage. Meanwhile, however, amid the fear of more attacks was apprehension about lost privacy and personal data collection.
All Americans were impacted by tighter security measures, especially on planes and in airports. Furthermore, thousands of young men and women were motivated to join the military and fight back. What now are called “endless wars” began first in Afghanistan, followed by Iraq.
As with JFK’s assassination, most of us will always remember where we were upon hearing the catastrophic news of Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, American life forever changed as we were all infused with an awareness of terrorist threats embodied in the popular, actionable slogan “See something, say something.”
Jan. 6, 2021
This was the first time the Capitol had been attacked since the War of 1812.
Though facts and fallout from Jan. 6 are still unfolding, over time that date will equate to 9/11 with its potential for long-term political consequences, policy changes, legislative action, and national vulnerability.
To best frame the discussion, what follows are questions that eventually will be answered – some within weeks, others in months. Still others will take considerably longer.
–How will we label Jan. 6, 2021? Will it be known as the Capitol Hill Siege? Will it be “officially” remembered each year with solemnity?
–Did the attack prove that our democracy is fragile or strong? Remember, later that evening Congress reconvened and certified the Electoral College results for Joe Biden’s victory. The following Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump. This Wednesday, Biden’s inauguration went smoothly, though the Capitol was turned into an armed fortress. Three consecutive Wednesdays in January that a fiction writer could never have imagined.
–When will the Capitol building and grounds get back to normal levels of security? Or will there forever be a “new normal”?
–What was the root cause of the attack? Increasing white nationalism that turned into domestic terrorism? Overzealous mobs egged on by Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was “stolen” and could be overturned on Jan. 6?
–Will there be any long-term impact on the Republican Party? What happens to the ambitious careers of two Jan. 6 “ringleaders,” Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley?
–Will Trump be convicted in the Senate for inciting an insurrection? If not, does that “weaken” the Constitution’s impeachment clause?
–How will Jan. 6 impact Trump’s “brand” in the short term? What about his legacy?
–In the future, will the losing party be more apt to challenge presidential elections?
–How will the Jan. 6 events impact Joe Biden’s presidency in the first 100 days when a Senate trial is likely to be convened?
–How was the Capital so easily breached on Jan. 6? Did the mob have inside help?
–How many Capitol attackers will be convicted?
–Will there be fallout for Christians considering the appalling footage of Capitol attackers praying in the name of Jesus in the House chamber?
–How will Jan. 6 impact the ongoing debate about free speech and the power of tech giants to de-platform social media accounts?
–Will there be a congressionally authorized “January 6 Commission” similar to the 9/11 Commission? Will it have separate Republican and Democrat conclusions?
–Given the haste of Trump’s second impeachment, will that tool be used more frequently by the opposing party against future presidents?
So many questions, so many complicated answers (where any can be discerned).
The passing of time will clarify the issues and concerns unleashed by the Capitol attack. That understanding will then translate into steps sure to shape our national identity and impact political discourse well into the 21st century. As with 11/22/63 and 9/11/01, 1/6/21 will echo long in our lives.
Myra Adams is a media producer and writer with numerous national credits. She served on the McCain Ad Council during the GOP nominee’s 2008 campaign and on the 2004 Bush campaign creative team. She can be reached at MyraAdams01@gmail.com or @MyraKAdams on Twitter. Related Topics: JFK Assassination, 9/11, Capitol Siege, U.S. Capitol Assault