The images overwhelmed, just as waves of gleeful rioters overwhelmed the shockingly sparse police presence in surging through mere barricades and glass windows, easily mounting the ramparts and invading the halls of Congress.
There they frolicked and trampled, leaderless lords of flies inspired by a malevolent cult figure who had incited them earlier with another in a long line of delusional, muddled rants that reeked of mental illness.
“American carnage,” 2021.
And dispiriting as it was, none of it was surprising. None of it.
He has been the chaos president because his life is built on his chaotic character, on the dark hole at the center of it, on the belligerence that is his animating principle. He savages everyone who gets in his way, which eventually is everyone, given the relentlessness of his self-regard.
It felt like a violation, as if this throng had entered our own homes, breaking through windows and doors and replacing the art on our walls with images of him and flags bearing his name.
That everyone yesterday went far beyond the business associates, attorneys, cabinet members, advisors, legislators and all those whom he had bent to do his bidding over the years, simpering and kowtowing to his every craven desire until he saw fit to discard them.
Yesterday, it swept up the entire nation in its dark maw, with images so shattering to our self-identity that we could only watch appalled, sickened in our souls by the furies that he had explicitly encouraged and built into the trademark of his cult’s identity.
All of it reaching its all too predictable apotheosis in a hail of smoke and broken glass, death and injury, leaving a grievous bruise on our nation’s heart.
It felt like a personal violation, as if this throng had entered our own homes, breaking through windows and doors and replacing the art on our walls with images of him and flags bearing his name.
Have we finally been brought low enough? So low that even his political class enablers, spineless opportunists all, can no longer explain away or trivialize the severe, frightful damage we had all along known he and his most ardent followers were capable of?
Have we plummeted but perhaps now bounced, even if just an inch, off the nadir, the very pit of hell whose flames he has been fanning from the unique position of power he shockingly obtained four years ago?
At the moment, we have 13 more days in a kind of countdown from madness, and a statement from him this morning that he will now consent to an “orderly transition.”
Given the incompatibility of the word “orderly” with anything he has ever done or spoken of, we have plentiful reason to be skeptical—and fearful that more mayhem may yet await.
Though calls abound after yesterday for a second impeachment or invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove him from office on the basis of his “incapacitation,” the sheer logistics of mounting such efforts over such a short span with so much else requiring our urgent attention would appear insurmountable and therefore ill advised, however righteous their justification.
Instead, cool heads must now prevail and erect a kind of ring of containment around him.
This would most importantly include the military and defense department officials, whose leaders have surely been conferring for months on contingency plans for squelching any impetuous adventurism with which he may want to go out in a blaze of ultimate invective and glory.
We have lived in perilous times for four long and devastating years now, and though we will not exactly cross a finish line where all our problems will become past in 13 days, the sense of relief we will experience in his removal from the world’s prime seat of power should not be underestimated.
It will be as a knee removed from our neck, allowing precious oxygen to begin seeping back into the body politic. Eventually, with diligence—and perhaps, borne of yesterday’s devastations, a renewed commitment to basic comity—it will allow us to rise and rummage around in search of all that has been lost or rent asunder in these years of trial.
“Hope,” Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “is the thing with feathers.”
I’ll settle for those feathers sprouting slowly, tentatively, so long as I can indulge the dreams of eventual rising to flight that they inspire.
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
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