My First Capitol Tour: Reflections on Jan. 6, 2021

A photo of the United States Capitol I took yesterday.

As I came out of Union Station in Washington D.C. yesterday, it didn’t take long to see the Statue of Freedom perched atop the seat of the United States government: The Capitol. A few blocks later, coming upon the Capitol in full view and as I walked around it (toward its reflecting pool and the awesome Ulysses S. Grant statue), I had one recurring feeling: Anger. Anger that the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at and within that very seat of our government happened. Watching the insurrection happen live on television in real time was surreal, but it was even more surreal once I was actually at the Capitol myself. How could such a nefarious event happen here of all places? And keep in mind, it happened not on a day like when I visited, where Congress wasn’t in session, but when Congress was in full session and counting the electoral votes for President and Vice President of the United States (a typically routine, rather rote process up to that point), with the then current Vice President, Mike Pence, there, along with second in line to the presidency, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. And it still happened.

Anger and a sense of surrealism reverberated through my head merely walking around the Capitol grounds. Once actually within the Capitol and for the first time getting to tour the Capitol, I was even more aghast and frustrated. I always have to make this hedge: I’m not a rah-rah America patriotic type, at least not in the virulent strain of “love it or leave it” and you can’t criticize the government. I love the idea of America and what she represents as an organizing principle of government (if we’re going to have governments). At its formation, it was a completely radical (and treasonous) departure from most of human history. The liberal order ushered in over the ensuing centuries has been nothing short of a boon to human freedom, flourishing and peace. I can also never emphasize enough, for instance, how radical it was that George Washington first relinquished his military powers as general after the Revolutionary War and then once he was president, he voluntarily stepped down after two terms to ensure the first peaceful transition of power. Throughout its history including up to the current moment, America has always fallen short of its ideals and promises, stumbling about often with deliberate malice, but a government formed on ideas rather than blood and soil was and still is a radical and beautiful notion. To put a finer point on where my “patriotism” tends to land, I hold to the James Baldwin view, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

I hedge and say all that to say, the idea, then, that a bunch of people parading around as if they are patriots who love this country could attack the very foundation of the country in both a literal sense (the Capitol) and its overarching sense (democracy itself by trying to interrupt the counting of the electors) based on a completely baseless and foolish belief that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” and/or fraudulent is maddening beyond description. Add in the fact that they did it at the behest and benefit of Donald Trump, a completely amoral, phony con-man, is beyond maddening. The fact that such “patriots” could disrupt the peaceful transition of power that had not been disrupted since it was radically initiated as a norm (an important word, not a law, but a norm and norms are only as good as a culture which believes in norms) by George Washington, frustrates me to my core.

Everyone involved in that day, up to and including the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, should be held accountable. Ideally, Trump would have been barred from ever ascending to the presidency again. Unfortunately, he continues to be enabled by Republicans and pundits, and to this day, despite the overwhelming evidence of U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, continues to propagate the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. In other words, somehow, it is feasible that in 2025, four years after instigating an insurrection to topple a fellow branch of government, Trump could once again be the president of the United States overseeing the executive branch.

Hopefully, just as in 2020, voters will have something to say about that and hopefully again, the barriers of our democracy will hold. But we can’t just hope. We not only have to vote, but Congress needs to fortify those barriers to ensure something like January 6th never happens again.

I will have more to say about my Capitol visit, along with plenty of photos, in a separate blog post, but I would be remiss not to reflect as I have on how moved I was, both in anger and awe-struck wonderment, at the juxtaposition of January 6th, with seeing the Capitol in-person. At the end of the tour, I couldn’t resist asking our tour guide, who has been doing tours of various kinds in D.C. for 15 years, how she felt on that day. She, too, was saddened and angered, of course. She said it was shocking. After all, the insurrectionists defiled the very locations which she shows on the tour. I get goosebumps thinking about it. That we walked in that same space. That we saw the entrance to the House Speaker’s office, where videos from January 6th show insurrectionists trying to kick down the doors and others chanting for Nancy. I’m sure if they had found her, they would have treated her peacefully. That is sarcasm. But I digress.

And yet. Not only did the counting of the electors continue that night, so the insurrectionists wouldn’t win a symbolic victory at least, but more than a year and a half later, thousands of people (and I can’t help but be prideful of how many of them are foreigners!) flock to the Capitol to take in its beauty, its history and its meaning. Those pretend patriots will never win. They can’t win.

And the juxtaposition of that day on January 6th, 2021. Photo description from PBS: An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. Photo by Reuters photographer Leah Millis.

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