Warning: This column contains graphic descriptions of violence
It's Monday, Martin Luther King jnr Day, in the States as I write. The national holiday comes nearly 58 years after King's "I Have a Dream" speech, where the civil rights activist spoke during the March on Washington for jobs and freedom. He called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the US:
I dream a world where all will know sweet freedom's way, Where greed no longer saps the soul nor avarice blights our day. A world I dream where black or white, whatever race you be, will share the bounties of the earth and every man is free …
If there's anything the world has learned following police killings of unarmed black men and women in the States, it's that America's racial divide more resembles the Grand Canyon than a crack in the footpath.
And after the January 6 Capitol riot which led to five deaths, we saw how a crowd of white people rampaging to protect a lie the presidential election was stolen was treated much differently by police than a crowd of black, brown and white people whose protests were 93 per cent peaceful (according to a nonprofit report released late last year).
Many Americans look at the Trump flag-waving, pelt-wearing, Q-Anon-believing crazies at the Capitol insurrection and say, "That's not who we are!"
I would love to embrace this fiction. I would love to imagine the US had moved closer to King's dream of racial justice; that white nationalism was a mere blip on America's political landscape whose influence will wane once President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Thursday (NZ time).
Nooses brought to the Capitol are proof the landscape is still fraught with mines.
Pieces of looped rope are throwbacks to lynchings - what happened in America to black people from roughly 1877 until 1950, when whites blamed financial problems on newly freed slaves, and accused men of rape or murder.
Public lynchings were an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks and maintain white supremacy in all sectors of society.
One of the most unsettling aspects of the practice was how mainstream whites embraced it, and how law enforcement officials abetted it.
The atrocities are reminiscent of when some Capitol police officers took selfies with the pro-Trump mob earlier this month. They were, in my opinion, aiding, abetting and documenting.
A 2018 article in The Guardian described how early 20th-century whites brought whole families, including young children, to watch lynchings.
"It was the show of the countryside – a very popular show" read a 1930 editorial in the Raleigh News and Observer.
"Men joked loudly at the sight of the bleeding body … girls giggled as the flies fed on the blood that dripped from the Negro's nose."
In a crowd of thousands at another lynching, an estimated one-quarter were women, and hundreds were children.
One woman "held her little girl up so she could get a better view of the naked Negro blazing on the roof", wrote Arthur Raper in The Tragedy of Lynching.
Victims were often dismembered into pieces of human trophy for mob members.
Trump extremists do not represent my values, I hear Republicans say.
In many segments of evangelical Christian society, they do.
Trumpism is built on the idea of American exceptionalism - that God has singled out the United States for a special mission.
The Reverend Michael Eric Dyson recently gave a sermon at Washington DC's National Cathedral where he imagined what the Apostle Paul would have written following the attack on the Capitol.
He said, "American exceptionalism is really racism on the sly ... those who writhed in abortive insurrection resent black citizens for demanding the very rights the Capitol insurrectionists feel they are being denied."
Reverend Dyson said many citizens claimed in the wake of this carnage that what occurred at the Capitol is not America.
"The sad truth is that, for many people, this is the only America they know. An America that spills blood in the name of misguided patriotism. An America willing to avert its eyes from truth in the glare of baseless conspiracy. An America that worships at the altar of the Second Amendment while making an idol of weapons and betraying the Second Commandment. An America that spews disgust at the dark foreigner and harbours hatred for the brown immigrant. An America that despises as enemies those who cry out that Black Lives Matter, while waving the traitorous banner of Confederate bigotry. This is America and has been America since America became America."
His words are chilling. Are they not true?
Exceptionalists must realise America has not been divinely anointed to lead the world.
Despite what Trump extremists believe, the outgoing president was not chosen by God to lead - he was elected by voters, many of whom still think the world's salvation rests in the hands of a man whose words and deeds have exposed him as a bully and a bigot.
Martin Luther King jnr's dream is not dead, but it does appear to be on life support.
It is only when Americans (including me) understand we are no more special than anyone else on the planet that we can face our flaws and begin to heal.
As Dyson said, "The moment a nation believes that its sins don't diminish its moral standing, it is on the road to perdition."