Here we go. As the impeachment begins this week and the nation battles on television and social media about the value of such a proceeding, it is important for all us to remember that this move is both punitive and, at the same time, meant to prevent further violence — at least violence directly inflamed by the sitting president. Only one thing can save our nation, though, and it must come directly from Donald J. Trump himself: an admission that the election was not, in fact, stolen.
Impeachment or the invocation of the 25th Amendment are simply the responses to the events that occurred last week. As many a member of Congress has said, at this point, we have no choice. The Capitol riot was an assault on the very sanctity of our system. It is a system that is, yes, sacred. Of the 107 billion humans that have ever lived on this planet, we are some of the lucky few who have had the privilege of self-governing. And those who threaten that system make it more fragile and less likely to survive.
The real problem, though, is that those who stormed the Capitol truly believe in that same sanctity. Hear me out. In our narrative, and that of most reasonable Americans, Congress was doing its duty to certify a free and fair election. Yes, some of us may have cautiously questioned whether or not the election was tampered with, especially in light of findings after the 2016 contest that Russia meddled. But, at our core, we believe in the court system and the election process to yield a fair and accurate result. We are the heroes gathering to elect our leader. What stands in our way is our villain: a president intent on thwarting the peaceful transfer of power.
The narrative, though, is the same in the minds of the rioters. The casting is just different. In their story, the hero is Donald Trump, and Mike Pence and Congress are the villains, shamelessly making a mockery of democracy inside the people’s Capitol, installing an illegitimate president in a well dressed coup. This narrative relies on one fundamental underlying belief: the election was stolen. This is a “truth” to them. And so, in their minds, they are acting to protect the same sacred democracy that you and I hold dearly.
Donald Trump is nothing if not a brilliant storyteller. As a marketer and a television producer, he understands the power of narrative and how to use it to his advantage. The underlying belief—that the election was stolen — is the key four-word message that needed to be installed so that his supporters could do his bidding. It was crafted by him and distributed through any number of right-wing media over the last two months, repeated and repeated until it permeated and spread like a virus, infecting the minds of millions. In fact, the storytelling began before the election even occurred.
If we are to solve this problem—a divided country on the brink of civil war, or at least mass incivility — we must use the tools of narrative storytelling as effectively as the president has. It is imperative that we understand this: the only thing that will save us is for Donald J. Trump to publicly admit that the election was not, in fact, stolen. He must refute his false key message publicly and unequivocally. If we are truly interested in unity, it is well worth the time of our leaders, perhaps those in the GOP, to figure out how to make the impossible happen.
Julio Vincent Gambuto is a screenwriter and director, based in New York City. Learn more about him at www.juliovincent.com.