Aftershocks: The Terrible Legacy of Wednesday’s Insurrection


Leah Millis/Reuters

Cate Mathews '21, Guest Contributor

I remember when I realized that Obama was Black. I was sitting around the dinner table, all of thirteen years old, watching coverage of the 2016 primaries with my family. “Obama was a good president,” I remember saying, “but I don’t know if he’ll be a famous one.” 

My parents exchanged funny looks, and I rushed to explain myself. 

“Well, he didn’t win a war like Washington or Lincoln, and he didn’t pass any big legislation like the New Deal. Sure, Obamacare was important, but is it really going down in history?” 

My parents, confused, finally cut me off. “Honey, Obama is the first Black president. He is going to be remembered.”

Their comments struck me in the most confounding way. Coming of age in the Obama era, I never stopped to think about what his presidency meant. I could see that Obama was Black, and from history class I knew that was significant, but from a purely emotional standpoint, I couldn’t feel the importance. Of course the president was Black. That was all I had ever known. It was as normal to me as the sky being blue.

That’s exactly what makes Wednesday’s act of violence so unsettling. 

The SLS Upper School community was shocked by the events. It breached every conviction we had in the sanctity of our democracy, and it saddened me in an indelible way, but for the younger kids in our community, this news story may be the first thing they know about American politics. They won’t feel the trust in democracy that I grew up with. They won’t be shocked by acts of political violence the same way we are. To them, rioters storming the Capitol Building will be the first image in their mind as they picture Congress’s purpose and the benchmark by which they evaluate future political conflict. Elections shrouded in deceitful controversy will be the first they ever know. No matter how strongly we condemn these actions, that damage can never be erased. 

As a nation, it’s essential we make clear to the world how heinous these acts were, but it’s even more important that we do everything we can to prevent them from happening again. There’s a whole generation of kids growing up who may never be shocked by an event like this again, and we’re going to need barriers and consequences stronger than a Twitter condemnation to ensure it never becomes truly normal. Our democracy may have survived Wednesday’s attack, but we’ll be dealing with the aftershocks for years to come, as the youngest among us acclimate to this new political reality.