From January 6 Rage to (Near) Unconditional Empathy on January 7

Michael Francis
6 min readJan 7
January 6 riot at the US Capitol
(Image Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images)

I struggle to think of a moment I felt more gutted, frustrated and enraged than the few hours I spent watching the January 6 insurrection live last year. While I certainly have my grievances with American democracy, it’s legitimacy, and what we should consider acceptable protest against illegitimate institutions, I couldn’t help but feel that all that was good about this American experiment was under siege.

It seemed what I was witnessing was an attack on the idea of democracy itself; that a group of people could insist through force and rhetoric alone that votes do not matter; that their leader was the only legitimate outcome, despite the voice and will of the people.

I looked on at the hundreds of individuals who breached and rioted with utter disdain, disgust and anger. I did this despite a streak of anarchism that makes popular protest — even violent cases — acceptable when necessary. Put another way, it wasn’t that the Capitol had been breached, but that it had been done in the name of authoritarianism.

I was mad. I still am mad. But something interesting happened the next day.

Empathy Wins Out

Perhaps it was that carve out I have within myself to permit such acts when justified that lead me to a near unconditional empathy for those who participated in the day’s events.

Now, I’ll pause here to make a few qualifications to that statement before I continue. Empathy does not excuse anyone from the consequences of one’s actions. What was happening was then, and remains still, wrong in every sense of the word. Those who participated deserve to be charged, prosecuted and sentenced with relative impunity. This newfound empathy does not excuse what was done.

But I landed on an interesting thought, one that has reshaped how I view all that came to be a year ago. I suspect, with a high level of confidence, that I myself have the same hopes, goals, and core values as those who participated in those acts.

That sounds like an impossibility, myself a far left leaning American. But I think we can find more common ground than maybe we care to admit, and with it, perhaps a path forward that’s so badly needed in today’s political climate.

Michael Francis

Trying to live and promote an examined life.