I am sickened by what occurred at the U.S. Capitol last week.  The sight of Confederate flags, Nazi signage, and other expressions of hate inside the building that — arguably more than any other — represents our democracy was disturbing and, honestly, frightening. 

I have traveled to many countries where this mob behavior might have been expected because the countries were led by autocratic thugs with little concern for their own citizens and a selfish and singular desire to hold onto political power. I never imagined that such a thing could occur in a country like ours that is founded upon the principles of civility and mutual respect. The irony is that many of these domestic terrorists held up signs that called for the United States to never become a dictatorship like Venezuela. Yet what millions of us witnessed on television looked very much like what Venezuelans and others in Central and South America have experienced over the years.

Shame on those federal executive and legislative branch officials who sowed the seeds for last week’s tragedy. Shame on members of the media — national and local — who did, also. I appreciate those who finally reversed course Wednesday night in the halls of Congress and refrained from challenging what was an honest, free and fair election. But where has that leadership been for the past two months? This includes many from our own Louisiana Congressional delegation who have enabled the lies and supported policies that have truly hurt hard-working Louisianans in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Members of Congress certainly knew that the allegations of voting fraud were not based on facts — as confirmed by dozens of lawsuits — and that the new modes of voting,  particularly voting by mail, were a necessary consequence of the pandemic. 

The results of last week’s Georgia senatorial run-off election, which Democrats won by virtually the same majority as President-Elect Biden did in November, and in which no one has seriously claimed irregularity, presents further evidence that the November election was credible. Yet many in Congress made the selfish decision that their own political ambition trumped doing what was right for the very people they supposedly represent. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. They have been acting this way for the past four years. It was surreal to watch 147 lawmakers act with such hubris as to challenge the will of voters only hours after American citizens lay dead from the riots that took place in the same building.

It is easy for political leaders to tell constituents what they want to hear. But true leadership requires honesty, even when it is not popular, to help supporters understand the basis of their decisions. I know this to be true from having served as New Orleans City Council President. My colleagues and I had to make many difficult, and, at times, unpopular decisions as we rebuilt this great city following Hurricane Katrina. Regrettably, as we have now all witnessed, many of our current federal public officials are not the leaders we expected nor needed during this difficult time. I truly hope all of us will remember their actions, or lack thereof, in the future.

Sadly, as the events of last week played out, we saw record numbers of COVID-19 infections with hospitals at capacity and approached 400,000 Americans deaths because of the global pandemic. There is hope that the vaccines will finally get all of us out of this nightmare in the coming months. But how many avoidable deaths will occur and be tolerated by our leaders before then? As New Orleans Director of Health Dr. Jennifer Avegno said, “There is light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines underway in Louisiana, but vaccines only work for those who are alive to receive them.” 

Our national leaders took a sworn oath of office to safeguard and protect Americans, but many have seemingly quit, leaving thousands to die unnecessarily; allowing small businesses to go under; and tacitly permitting oppressive regimes around the world to mock our nation. This is personal to me because, like most of you, I have seen too many friends and acquaintances prematurely perish over the past ten months.

I look forward to the day when we can again safely have dinner with friends, travel, and attend sporting events in person. For this to happen, we need our community and country to become more unified as we go forward. Somehow, our country – progressives and conservatives alike – must find a way to come together, while eschewing the roar of misinformation and dishonesty. 

Members of the 117th Congress, please vote for a $2,000 subsidy. Please help the millions of small businesses who are economically distressed but observing public health regulations. Please support our local and state governments, which desperately need funding to effectively implement the vaccine rollout. Other countries are vaccinating citizens on a per capita basis in much larger numbers, which is unacceptable in the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. It is past time to get the job done and save lives.

We entered 2021 filled with optimism. ‎Let’s not let the events of, January 6, diminish that optimism. As proud Americans, we can and must do better. And, for all of the precious souls we have lost, may their memories be blessed.

Arnie D. Fielkow is the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, which serves as the umbrella organization for the Jewish community throughout the greater New Orleans area. The beliefs expressed in this column are his own. He is not writing as a representative of the organization.

Mr. Fielkow also served as President and CEO of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, the official association for all former NBA, ABA, WNBA and Harlem Globetrotter players. Prior to that, he served as New Orleans Councilmember-at-Large.

The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Opinion Editor Amy Stelly at astelly@thelensnola.org.