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The Capitol Riot Showed Us America’s Ugly Truth

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This is America. This has always been America. If this were not America, this coup attempt would not have happened. It’s time we face this ugly truth, let it sink into the marrow of our bones, let it move us to action.

With everything that took place in Washington on Wednesday, it was easy to forget that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won their Senate races in Georgia. Their victories were gratifying and cathartic, the result of solid campaigns and the hard work of organizers on the ground in the state, from Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight to Mijente and many others. Years of activism against the state’s dedication to voter suppression made these victories possible. The easy narrative will be that Black women and Black people saved this country. And they did. And they should be celebrated. But the more challenging narrative is that we now have to honor our salvation by doing something with it.

For the first time in many years, Democrats will control the House, the Senate, and the presidency. Real change is not as elusive as it seemed before the Georgia runoffs because Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s administration is well positioned to enact many of their policies. If the Democrats dare to use the power they have amassed, a brave new world might be possible.

In the coming weeks, we’ll undoubtedly hear the argument that now is the time for centrism and compromise and bipartisan efforts. That argument is wrong. There is no compromise with politicians who amass power, hoard it, and refuse to relinquish it when the democratic process does not work in their favor. There is no compromise with politicians who create a set of conditions that allow a coup attempt to take place, resulting in four deaths, countless injuries, and irreparable damage to the country both domestically and internationally. These people do not care about working with their colleagues on the other side of the proverbial aisle. They have an agenda, and whenever they are in power, they execute that agenda with precision and discipline. And they do so unapologetically.

It’s time for Democrats to use their power in the same way and legislate without worrying about how Republican voters or politicians will respond. Cancel student loan debt. Pass another voting rights act that enfranchises as many Americans as possible. Create a true path to citizenship for undocumented Americans. Implement a $15 minimum hourly wage. Enact “Medicare for all.” Realistically, only so much is possible with a slender majority in the Senate, but the opportunity to make the most of the next two years is there.

With the power they hold, Democrats can try to make this country a more equitable and generous place rather than one where the interests of the very wealthy and powerful are the priority. If they don’t, they are no better than their Republican counterparts, and in fact, they are worse because they will have squandered a real opportunity to do the work for which they were elected. Over the past four years, we have endured many battles for the soul of the country, but the war for the soul of this country rages on. I hope the Biden-Harris administration and the 117th Congress can end that war, once and for all.

Roxane Gay (@rgay) is a contributing Opinion writer.

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