• Brinkley Blum

January 6th, 2021: “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”

PORTRAIT OF A DEMOCRACY ON FIRE: This image of a flash-bang grenade fired by DC law enforcement to drive insurrectionists from the Capitol became, according to a Reuters headline,“the photo that helped define the Jan. 6th attack.” (Image Source: Reuters)

There is a reason that December 7th, 1941, is a ubiquitous date in American history.

On the following day, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president at the time, delivered the following utterance: “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” Not long after, America halted their delay in entering World War II.

Each generation of the citizenry experiences their own “date which will live in infamy,” one whose name will echo through the halls of history eons after their time has ended. Although a hallmark of the distinction is that it is without anticipation, an otherwise commonplace day combusting at the trigger of a cataclysmic force, the next generation in line did not expect ours harkened in so soon. January 6th, 2021, to be exact: when a mob of armed insurrectionists with a criminal agenda breached the Capitol building.

Uniting these ‘dates which will live in infamy’ is the manner in which they are immortalized within historical doctrine. As the events of an infamous date recede from the vibrancy of recent memory to the black and white of decades and centuries past, the discourse surrounding them is rendered just as sparse. Coverage of this history falls into the trap of designating a universal villain, and focuses less on the trauma itself than the process of recovery, when the heroic American populace came together and vanquished their foil. Without nuance considered, though, each of these notable dates has justified the villainization of entire demographics. To return to the occurrence at Pearl Harbor, it was used as fuel to reinvigorate the flames of nationalism as the nation unified in wartime. Yet on their own home front, Japanese Americans were ordered into internment camps to supposedly quell the “threat” they posed. The days following September 11th, 2001 were hailed as bastions of togetherness as the nation came together to help itself heal. That praise is hollow, however, considering the vast increase of Islamophobia that gripped the nation in its fervor.

January 6th is the outlier to this pattern. The universal villain, rather than representing the demonization of BIPOC, represents that of white supremacists. Despite the prejudicial ideologies they espouse, they are granted immunity from national condemnation on the scale of those that occurred post-Pearl Harbor or 9/11 because the caller was coming from inside the house. Foreigners didn’t instigate the insurrection, Americans did. And as such, there is no counterpart to scapegoat (though not for lack).

Due to their exemption from the alienation and prejudice of marginalized Americans after previous ‘dates which will live in infamy,’ these fanatics were afforded power through support, either implicit or explicit, from politicians currently in office. Donald Trump’s campaign and subsequent presidency ushered in a new era of politicking. Subtlety wasn’t what got him and his ilk elected: he said the quiet part out loud, so loud that it would drown out dissenters to the radical ideologies he professes, so loud that the volume of his demands would be the only thing his constituents heard. Preying on unlived nostalgia for a time when America was “great,” and monopolizing the influence afforded to him by his spot in the Oval Office, he radicalized the Republican party and engineered age-old ideologies of white supremacy and nationalism to fit a modern narrative. During his time in office, extremism became trendy, and other members of his party needed to get hip with the times.

They’ve gotten hip all right, but at the expense of the lie of solidarity that succeeds the usual infamous date. Partisan pettiness runs rampant from the Senate chamber to social media, and those who dare to traverse an obliterated middle ground are excoriated by their peers and ostracized in their careers. Each side is content to filter their perspective through red or blue-tinted lenses, but their blinded vision fails to recognize anything beyond never-ending policy gridlock. In the theatrics of politics, the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same. The roots of once-niche fanaticism become deeper entrenched into American soil, and opposers lack the strength in numbers to overcome it.

Waiting in the wings of political theater, though, is this generation. Our generation, beholden to this “date which will live in infamy.” We are the living annals of January 6th, 2021, our memories primary sources. And it is up to us how we will employ them - to polish the veneer of a whitewashed history, or to reveal its true, unvarnished colors. Will we be the ones to uproot white supremacy and nationalism from our land of the free, or nourish them under the sun of inflammatory rhetoric? It is the hope and mission of these United States for us to be the former.