America's Repair | Opinion

This is not a random universe. Every cause has an effect, and every effect had a cause. What is happening in America did not come out of nowhere.

Our first tendency of course is to blame other people for what's happening, as though any part of our political system is blameless. One party perpetrated nonsense and the other side too often went along; that's pretty much all we need to know about that. The wisdom we most need at this point will come not from looking at any portion of a corrupted political system to save us. It will come first from looking at ourselves.

We the People of the United States allowed this to happen.

I'm not saying we should all go into some massive mea culpa, except that I sort of am. There is a difference between taking blame and taking responsibility. And all of us must take responsibility now, if we're to have the fundamental course correction that this country so sorely needs.

A massive transfer of wealth into the hands of a tiny group of people began in the 1980s, and the trend was never fundamentally abated by either political party. The poor and marginalized —particularly people of color—have been brutalized at the hands of an increasingly harsh police and criminal justice system, while that same system was more and more willing to overlook the malfeasance of white collar criminals. The criminal transgressions of people within a ruling elite are rarely seriously punished by our system, itself too unwilling to hold its own accountable. Tens of millions have seen their economic and social opportunities shrink so that the fortunes of a tiny few could expand beyond the wildest dreams of a Roman emperor. Our government has become more of an advocate for corporate profits among its donor class than a servant to the safety, health and well-being of the American people. Demonized populations—Blacks, Jews, LGBTQ, Muslims, immigrants—have become increasingly scapegoated by an authoritarian leader. And too many Americans were willing to look the other way while that leader went from a sick joke to a dangerous traitor.

All those factors contributed to a toxic brew that has resulted in the largest crisis in America's modern history, a humiliating and deadly spectacle in front of the entire world and a question mark as to whether our democracy will survive. We took way too long to address that toxicity, paving the way for the predictable rise of a leader whose own dysfunction mirrored our own. Waking up to the danger, with the election of Joe Biden we chose not to go over a cliff. But events of the past week make it stunningly clear that we're still just inches away from it.

We don't know how many people actually agree with the violent insurrectionists who stormed our Capitol last week, how wide a network they represent around the country and what their plans are for the Inauguration and beyond. A woman from Texas flew to Washington, D.C., in a private jet to participate in the storming of the Capitol, and called it "the best day of my life." How many such "best days" does she plan to see?

There is no easy answer here, no silver bullet that's going to fix everything and no simple agenda for making all our problems go away. But healing is not a soft process; we can't just "move on." There's no "unity" in refusing to hold people accountable for egregious behavior; there's no "healing" where there is no serious truth-telling and there's no going forward in life without being willing to clean up the past. America's repair will be a process, a long and probably difficult one at that.

Capitol building
A Capitol Police officer stands with members of the National Guard behind a crowd control fence surrounding Capitol Hill a day after a pro-Trump mob broke into the Capitol on January 7, 2021, in Washington, D.C. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

It's been said that Americans will always do the right thing ... after we have exhausted every other option. Sadly, the historical record supports that somewhat cynical view of who we are. But once we do awaken to a challenge before us, we tend to slam it like nobody's business. And I have faith we're going to slam it now.

A critical mass of Americans is now aware that the ship of our state has wandered way too far into turbulent waters. It will take each of us remembering that the captain of this ship is, and was always supposed to be, the citizens of this country. It is we who abdicated our civic responsibility, allowing things to get this bad. We should have protested certain things long ago. We should never have rewarded so many political figures—in both parties—who did less to fix our problems than to create more of them, less to decry America's faults than to justify them and less to serve the people than to serve their donors. Stopping that pattern is now our own responsibility, for a status quo will not disrupt itself. If we want change in America, we're going to have to create it ourselves.

What are we to do now? The answer to that will not be found within the chaos; it will be found in the quiet place inside every American's heart. It will emerge from a change in our national psyche as well as in our politics. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we are about to celebrate with a national holiday, said so many things as relevant now as they were when he was alive. His message was that political change must be accompanied by spiritual change, or the changes achieved will be temporary at best. He said that "the desegregation of the American South is the externalization of the goal of the Civil Rights movement, but its ultimate goal is the establishment of the beloved community." That, he said, "will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives." Both inner change and outer change will be needed if our country is to course-correct.

We must integrate all the aspects of who we are, if we're to create a response to our current crisis powerful enough to override the forces of hate that are arrayed against us. Prayer is part of it. Fasting is part of it. Meditation is part of it. Atonement is part of it. Reconciliation is part of it. Accountability is part of it. Justice is part of it. Amends are part of it. Prosecution of crimes is part of it. Education is part of it. Mercy is part of it. Politics is part of it. Activism is part of it. A new kind of political leadership is part of it. Courage is part of it. And love is part of it.

Whichever part of that calls to us, our job is to answer the call. Our ancestors are calling us, our descendants are calling us and I believe our God is calling us. Our job now—and I believe with all my heart we'll do it—is to make sure that we respond.

Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign. She is the author of 13 books, among them Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.