It cannot be assumed that every picture, especially images used in the news media, tells the whole story. In fact, an image taken out of context can mislead the viewer.
However, there are also images that are, as they say, worth 1,000 words. They encapsulate an event and trigger an emotional response in the viewer that is formative.
Think of the image of black high school student Walter Gadsden being attacked by police dogs during a civil rights protest in 1963. The picture, and others like it, helped build support among white Americans for the civil rights movement.
We all recall the pictures and video of jetliners crashing into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Those images brought to stark reality the existential threat of terrorism, while revealing a previously unimaginable vulnerability.
The picture and video of Minneapolis Police Officer Derrick Chauvin with his knee pressed on George Floyd’s neck unleashed a smoldering anger by Black Americans over race-based police brutality.
Subsequently, some of the protests spun out of control. Anarchists and violent protesters set fires and destroyed property. Just as Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck was not the kind of America we want, neither were flaming buildings and overturned police cars.
These and other images like them have a way of crystallizing public perception in a way that no amount of discussion or debate can alter in any meaningful way.
Which brings me to the pictures and video of January 6, 2021. An angry mob, inflamed by a President perpetuating a false pretense of a “stolen election,” stormed the United States Capitol Building.
I don’t have to describe the most graphic images. We all watched, and rewatched, and rewatched, and we can see them clearly in our mind’s eye. Could this really be happening? We had become so accustomed to the great American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power that the violent insurrection of that day was hard to fathom.
In the year that has followed, the apologists for Trump and the mob have twisted themselves with pretzel logic to try to minimize the events of that day. It is an unholy exercise that will ultimately fail because most Americans know what they saw and heard that day.
We were, and still are, appalled because that is not what the better angels of our nature tell us our country should look like, or how our fellow countrymen should behave.
Through all the rancor and posturing, even with all the conspiracy theories and “whataboutism” justifications, despite slavish adherence by some Republican leaders to The Big Lie, the truth was self-evident that day.
The pictures tell the story, and if we are fortunate, those images will continue to remind Americans for generations to come about the fragility of democracy when faced with an angry violent mob enflamed by a despotic narcissist.