My cell phone blew up mid-afternoon yesterday. Was I watching what was going on in Washington, D.C.? The Capit0l was being stormed! There was a coup taking place!
I never turned on the television, or did more than scan a few Internet accounts of the events. I even asked that the television be kept off at home, the better to avoid the breathless hysteria of cable news.
Yesterday, protestors stormed the Capitol. They drove Congress into a bunker and, for a short time, disrupted the people's business. They were eventually ousted from the building, with minimal property damage. At least one protestor was killed.
There were no tanks headed to the Capitol. No military units supported the crowd. Mass communications weren't cut, bombs weren't detonated, fires weren't set. There was no threat to the republic on display yesterday. Indeed, by evening's end, Congress was back at work, the Electoral College votes tallied, and Joseph Biden became president-elect. He'll be sworn into office on January 20 at noon.
I did not for a moment consider democracy imperiled.
Did Donald Trump instigate this? Yes. He is discreditable. He'll soon be gone. For four years, he served as national canary in the mineshaft of our collective life, tweeting rage at all those who cared, or felt compelled, to listen.
We're four years deeper into the mine now, and the air is a little thinner; there's a chill afloat, and intimations of danger ahead. But to say Donald Trump caused the danger or sowed division in this country mistakes effect for cause. A candidate like Donald Trump was elected because of divisions already extant. He was a showboater and an opportunist.
I posted photographs on Facebook today, asking viewers to compare and contrast the shots of a man in the Capitol carrying a Confederate flag with a protestor carrying an American flag upside down as he walked down a street of burning buildings. The photos are a litmus test. What you see reflects your politics.
Me? I felt far more threatened by the summer's riots and scenes of widespread looting, arson and destruction of public monuments in cities coast to coast than I felt by the rioting in Washington, D.C. yesterday. What I saw yesterday were folks registering misguided protests about a stolen election; what I saw last summer was massive uprisings across the country demanding that their demands be met lest my city, too, go up in flames. In the former case, police officers quickly restored order; in the latter cases, police stood by while the media declared the protests "mostly peaceful."
I guess I am a captive of my skin, my "white privilege," the politically correct will mutter.
But there is a different view. Both the unrest in Washington yesterday and throughout the nation this past summer are signs of a broader crisis of legitimacy. We don't dream the same dreams as a people. That's dangerous. Angry people take to the streets to destroy and disrupt things. Folks on both the left and right do this.
Will it come to civil war? No. There aren't broader defining issues sufficient to moblize a divided populace into warring camps. Slavery ended generations ago; so, too, did Jim Crow. Playing the race card is a losing hand.
I took a cold sort of comfort in yesterday's uprising.
Sen. Chuck Schumer was filled with joy yesterday as a result of the the Georgia run-off election, an election which seated two new Democrat Senators. The result will now be a Senate divided evenly between Republican and Democrat caucuses, giving to Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris the deciding vote in the Senate. Schumer's message: "Buckle Up!" He earlier promised to "transform America" if given control of the Senate. I suspect that Schumer and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi have big plans.
I'm hoping Senator Schumer was discomfited by the events in the Capitol yesterday. Not so fast, Chuck, the crowd was saying. You may have won an election, but you govern by consent. You can't push people where they are unwilling to go.
There was no coup attempt yesterday. The government still stands. There will be a peaceful transition of power in a couple of weeks.
But what happens after that is an open question. I'm not optimistic. But neither am I filled with dread. Yesterday was no Kenosha. Not even close.
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