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America tried to pick up the pieces on Thursday in the wake of the trashing of the U.S. Capitol by throngs of menacing supporters of President Donald Trump. 

It wasn’t easy.

When any sort cataclysmic event occurs, it’s only natural to wonder how the nation might change. Think of the all-too-brief period of unity that swept across America after the 9/11 attacks. The cultural, political and personal shock of terrorism that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people drew a deeply divided nation together — for a few months, anyway. 

This time, unity in America won’t be so attainable.

Yes, the trash will eventually be cleaned up from the Capitol building and its surrounding lawns. But what about the political and psychological rubble for the nation? And, for that matter, what about the racial implications — indeed, the double standard — of police not flexing even a fraction of the muscle they displayed last summer when throngs of African Americans demonstrated in Washington as part of the Black Lives Matter movement? 

From Twitter to Facebook to the nation’s cable news circus, ordinary people tried to frame what happened. But as with so much of the nation right now, bitterness, division and even false information drove many discussions. Facts fell along partisan lines. 

Consider this email with incorrect information from a Trump supporter on Thursday morning after this columnist criticized the president for calling on his supporters to march on the Capitol because he felt the election had been rigged: “Were you nearly this hysterical this summer, when private property was destroyed, and lives were lost? Or was that different, because Black Lives Matter is a ‘just cause’?”

More Kelly: Dear Trump Nation: Are you happy now that you've stormed the U.S. Capitol?

Consider also this email — again with false information — from a pro-Trump advocate from Ramsey, New Jersey: “Certain reporters in The Record and elsewhere have been supporting, aiding and abetting violent mobs throughout the U.S. since Trump's 2016 election. As ye sow, so shall ye reap!”

Yet another emailer accused the media — also falsely — of starting the riot: “One sided reporting helped fan the flames for yesterday’s heinous actions.” 

And so it went.

Where do we go?

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America seemed to be at a crossroads as it sifted through the video footage of Trump supporters — many wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats — desecrating the same Capitol halls where the nation often brings the bodies of its dead luminaries to lie in state after their deaths, most recently Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and civil rights hero John Lewis. The pro-Trump mob on Wednesday reportedly destroyed a memorial plaque honoring Lewis. 

But what sort of crossroads was this? And where would the different paths lead from this moment in history?

Few answers seemed obvious.

In Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called on Trump to be removed from office even though just two weeks remain before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in and takes command of the White House.

Pelosi called the storming of the Capitol — which included the trashing of her own office — a “seditious act” and an “armed insurrection” that was “instigated” by Trump and “will forever stain our history.”

In Wilmington, Delaware, Biden, while not taking a stand on removing Trump, harshly criticized the all-too-lax police response in Washington to the pro-Trump riot.  

"No one can tell me that if that had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol," Biden said in remarks Thursday before he nominated Judge Merrick Garland to be his attorney general.

Even after the mobs stormed the Capitol and sent senators and congressional representatives scurrying to safety, 147 Republicans — eight senators and 139House members — still voted to overturn the presidential election and deny Biden the right to office on Jan. 20. The House members included Reps. Jeff Van Drew of Cape May, Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island, Lee Zeldin of Long Island and Elise Stefanik of upstate New York.

Stile: Grab a gas mask. And run. One House member's harrowing account from the US Capitol

'Enough is enough'

Meanwhile, a smattering of notable Trump loyalists abandoned the president, leaving him to stew in venom.

Former Attorney General William Barr, long considered one of Trump’s closest allies, said the president’s “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable” and was “a betrayal of his office and supporters.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, Trump golf partner and confidant, said “count me out” of supporting Trump’s efforts to block Biden’s presidency. 

“Enough is enough,” Graham said after rioters tore through the Capitol.

At the same time, a variety of major social media platforms stepped forward to restrict Trump from continuing to circulate false information and conspiracy theories about the election, which Biden rightly won — a victory, by the way, that was confirmed by the Senate and House of Representatives early Thursday after police finally cleared away the rioters.

“We believe the risks of allowing the president to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great,” said Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg.

Such condemnation of the Capitol riot and of Trump’s role are stunning. But they did not seem to heal the nation’s divisions — or usher in any new sense of unity.

Kenneth Jackson, a Columbia University historian, pointed out that the storming of the Capitol, while shocking, did not hold the same unifying power as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, he said, the event may have widened the fissures that run through America's politics and culture wars. 

“I think we’re in a divisive moment,” Jackson said in an interview. “It’s going to take us as a nation a little while to get through this. This was big.”

David Greenberg, who teaches history and media studies at Rutgers University, hoped that the memory of the turmoil at the Capitol might be something of a political and psychological vaccine to fight the pandemic of partisanship and polarity that now rules so much of America’s political discourse.

“By injecting an ugly thing into our lives, I hope it will give us the antibodies to fight that virus,” Greenberg said.

But like any vaccine — especially those being rolled out to fight the COVID-19 pandemic — most of us need to believe in it. And it takes time to work.

Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: kellym@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @mikekellycolumn 

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