The hideous, ultimately impotent but not harmless spectacle staged and encouraged by President Trump and his supporters on Wednesday, Jan. 6, at the U.S. Capitol can be dismissed as just another aberration of the 2020 era. But I think it is significant and indicative of several trends in American society that are ugly but should not be ignored.
No matter what happens at the inauguration on Jan. 20, this action negated the idea of a peaceful transition of power that has been an American symbol of pride for 240 years. Five people died, but even if there had been no casualties, the fact that invaders drew guns at the doors of our leaders’ offices, carried zip ties to abduct them, and placed bombs at the Capitol building means we can no longer claim the distinction of peacefulness.
This action was the first time the U.S. Capitol was breached by invaders since 1814, when British troops, our former colonial overlords, burned it. This was an invasion by white Christian nationalists who are unwilling to accept that their hegemony as arbiters of U.S. culture and politics is fading. But the symbolism was on obvious display. Here’s the reaction of Senate staffer Josh Delaney, an African-American who was in the building when it was invaded Wednesday:
“The image that shook me was the Confederate flag being carried confidently and brazenly through the halls of Congress. Historians have noted that not even during the Civil War did this violent symbol of white power and oppression penetrate the halls of our Capitol. And yet, a white mob had successfully and violently ushered this hate into the bowels of Congress. The chilling contrast between these images and the images of violence used against mostly peaceful protesters for Black lives last summer was profound.
“Growing up in Georgia, I saw that flag several times a week in front of homes, restaurants, and stores as a symbol of hate that carried a simple message: You are not welcomed here.
“But this was the first time I’d seen that message on display at my place of work. I’ve walked the halls of Congress so often that I probably take for granted how my very presence in the building is a miracle — the result of years of hard-fought civil rights victories and justice work. And consequently, a threat to racists and white nationalists who wish to take us back to whenever they perceived America was ‘great.’”