“I feel blessed to have this opportunity as a son of immigrants to be able to serve in Congress,” he said. “Democracy to me is this place of opportunity that is affording me a chance to do something extraordinary.”
In 2018, Kim became the first Asian American to represent New Jersey in Congress, flipping a predominantly white district that voted for Trump in 2016 and did so again in 2020. (Kim won re-election in November despite voting to impeach the president last year.)
The irony of a history-making Korean American lawmaker dusting up after a white supremacist riot is not lost on Kim. But he also pointed to the progress that’s been made.
“I represent a district where the vast majority of people do not look like me,” he said. “But they’ve voted for me twice now to be their representative, and that’s a beautiful thing. There are others who seek to make me seem like an ‘other’ whether it’s because of skin color, or gender, or sexuality. But that’s not what this is about. We’re all Americans.”
A former national security aide under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Kim recently spoke about how simmering ideological tensions can become dangerous during presidential transitions. But while he expected the hate and anger that defined the Trump era to escalate in the aftermath of the election, Wednesday’s events still shocked him. In the roughly six hours he spent sheltered in his office, he worried about the safety of his colleagues and staffers as the pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol.
At one point, he recalled receiving a security alert that Capitol police had lost control of the building.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’ve been in war zones where I’ve had to shelter in place, but I never would have imagined that this would happen here,” he said, noting that he didn’t know at the time whether the rioters were armed. “It was a terrifying experience.”
Bridging the deep racial and ideological chasms in this country, Kim said, will require legislative action to rein in the radicalization of white supremacists and the proliferation of disinformation.
At the same time, he said, there must also be profound shifts in the way Americans treat one another on a personal level.
“The depth of the divisions that we have isn’t something any single law can wipe off the face of our planet,” he said. “We also need to recognize that how we get through that is by seeing the humanity in each other. There are ways we can have debates and disagreements but not resort to violence.”