One of the most quoted lines from Western literature is Charles Dickens’ opening statement in A Tale of Two Cities.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
Perhaps the reason those lines resonate so deeply is that the best and worst of times are usually paired in moments of great historic change. Dickens captured that in a story about the years leading up to the French Revolution.
There is no denying that the first week of 2021 is one of those moments. As is usually the case, the worst events have gotten top billing. Incited by the president and his enablers, insurrectionists stormed the United States Capitol. We’re all still reeling from what Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer referred to as another “day that will live in infamy.”
But the insurgents are being arrested and talk of removing the president from office has finally gained bipartisan support. It is also worth noting the condemnation of Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who played a major role in inciting the insurrection by refusing to accept the outcome of the presidential election. His mentor, former Republican Senator John Danforth, said that campaigning for Hawley was “the worst mistake I ever made in my life.” As journalist Teo Armus reported, in the span of about five hours on Thursday, “Hawley was denounced by one of his top donors, dropped from a book deal and lambasted by several Missouri Republicans. Calls for him to resign poured in from the editorial boards of Missouri’s two major newspapers and students at the law school where he was once taught.”
Of course, Hawley remains unrepentant. But it is clear that he took a gamble on something he thought would position him as Donald Trump’s heir. One can only assume that the calculation Hawley made was that, for at least the foreseeable future, the GOP will continue to be Trump’s party. But at this point, some of the rats are jumping ship and it remains to be seen how his loyal base will respond.
Wrapped around the insurrection on Wednesday were two events that portend the “best of times.” Hours after the nightmare at the Capitol ended, congress certified the votes of the Electoral college. It was the last hurdle in affirming that Joe Biden will be the next president and Kamala Harris the next vice-president.
Under any other circumstances, the historic nature of Georgia sending two Democrats to the Senate on the same day—the first African American and the first Jew to represent that state in the august body—would be cause for a massive celebration this week. That the results of the run-off election gave Democrats a bare majority in the Senate is more than simply icing on the cake. It changes the narrative of what might be possible legislatively over the next two years.
The Trump era will end with Democrats winning not only the presidency, but control of both chambers of congress. In other words, despite all the chaos, America won.
In getting to that place, it is worth comparing Hawley to the Black women who played a major role in that outcome. One of those women is Stacey Abrams. You might remember that in 2018 she lost the race to be Georgia’s governor—perhaps as a result of massive voter suppression. Neither Abrams nor the other women who had been working for 15 years to turn their state blue let that deter them. They continued to play the long game, knowing that real change doesn’t come from making grandiose gestures such as we saw from Hawley, but by working on the ground to develop a winning coalition.
During her campaign, Vice President-elect Harris often said that we are at an inflection point in this country’s history, which is defined as “a time of sudden, noticeable, or important change.” After the events of the first week of 2021, it is clear that she was onto something. Not being a fortune teller, I can’t predict what the new trajectory will look like. But I’d wager that when the history of these next few months is written, it will be shaped by those who played the long game and built up our democracy, rather than those who tried to undermine it.