Pop survey question: Was January 6, 2021 one of the most shockingly wicked and disgraceful days in American history, ranking up there with other dark days like September 11, 2001, December 7, 1941, the Supreme Court handing down its Dred Scott decision, and when redcoats set alight the White House?
Answer: It depends whom you ask. If you put the question to anyone outside the bounds of our imperial capital city, the reply will range from agnostic to insouciant to, if you’re in the rough wilds of Wyoming or sultry Louisiana bayou or grazing ranges of Nebraska, a red-eyed reflexive defense of the rioters.
The converse: You so much as passingly reference the violent mishigas of that Wednesday within the DC metro area, you’re liable to get an earful of whine-pitched condemnations. To District residents, and their exurban neighbors the river over, January 6th was the nadir of our republic’s long, storied history.
George Will, the once sober-minded national op-ed laureate, wished for Jan. 6th to be “burned into the American mind as firmly as 9/11.” (Is it possible to burn something “firmly”? Is Will’s famously sharp articulation losing its acuteness in his autumn years?) Former President George W. Bush likened the Capitol marauders to the Al Qaeda hijackers who sought to “defile national symbols”—a shamefully inapt comparison made all the more ironic coming from a man who violently abrogated a foreign regime, including its national symbols.
The Washington class has not, and likely will not, forgive and forget the fracas that transpired on January 6th.
When I tool around NoVA listening to my local NPR station (Yes, yes, I know, I know, my spine is rubbery, my guts pillowy), the entire rube rodeo is unerringly referred to as an “insurrection.” Other subversive synonyms are sometimes invoked: “coup,” “sedition,” even the big-T, “treason”, all of which carry the punitive concomitant of state execution, a constitutional fact liberals never explicitly disavow.
The Capitol breach is to Washingtonians what the Alamo is to Texans. Hence the endless, unedifying congressional hearings on the matter, and drum-beat demand for a special commission to really plumb the sordid details of the day. But the rest of the country has moved on. New York Times reporter and Trump-whisperer Maggie Haberman confirmed as much on a recent Sunday roundtable, telling George Stephanopoulos “the intensity around [a January 6th investigative committee] has diminished.” She followed up with the gap in perspective: “Those of us in the media, and those of us who were either in Washington that day… or colleagues who were, experienced it differently than the average American.”
Well, no dung! Heartland Joe is more interested in Texas A&M parting the Crimson Tide like Moses and Josh Allen out-dueling Patrick Mahomes than a few guys in hunting ware mooning around the Senate chamber. January 6th barely registers on his concern radar. The entire unfortunate sheboggle happened ten months ago. More pressing matters command his attention, including if his kids are learning racialist dreck in school and if there will be enough cheap Chinese baubles on store shelves this Christmas. He doesn’t have time for so much slipslop about democracy, voting, and the sacral nature of plebiscite. He can’t even be sure his local CVS will have his ailing mother’s meds in stock.
Haberman’s harsh dose of reality may be difficult to accept for Washington denizens who ritually prostrate before the Capitol, treating it as a secular Ka’ba. Their reverence to the cast iron dome where 1000-plus-page A4 packets are declared “laws” brings to mind Chesterton on corporeal worship: “Wherever the people do not believe in something beyond the world, they will worship the world. But, above all, they will worship the strongest thing in the world.”
What could be stronger than the representative chamber of the biggest, most powerful, most deadly, most globe-stretching government in human history? (A dozen or so rag-tag religious extremists wearing naals and thawbs carrying rusted Kalashnikovs maybe? Just a thought.)
In that light, January 6th was more than the ransacking of a legislative body—it was the defiling of a sacred place. A holistic dispensation was assaulted, a very way of being. DMVers are, above all, fidèles clients du méga état. And like Cavafy’s holed-up fretters, they spent four-odd years damning Trump voters as bib-overalled knuckle-draggers who bash their own skulls in for fun. Contempt for the hinterlands is the local color of a Potomac littoral.
But this time the barbarians did come, then went directly to jail, not collecting due process or $200. January 6th only reinforced Washington’s sense of entitlement and indispensability. Never mind that representative democracy was never actually in mortal danger. A rote certification ceremony was delayed mere hours. Joe Biden still took the presidential oath on the constitutionally prescribed day.
As legal wiz Andrew McCarthy exactingly explains, what occurred on January 6th was in no way a legally defined “insurrection.” It was a riot, and a disgrace. President Trump, willfully or not, didn’t send his best to protest the approval of his opponent’s electors.
But Washington is a place of mirages, of great movings and shakings that cost a lot of money, but rarely amount to anything. The MAGA mobbing resulted in a few broken windows, a missing laptop, and one sad death. Yet it will continue to be treated as a great attempt on America’s life. And it will heretofore be used as an excuse to collate more power within the federal government, to ensure no paroxysms of distrust and anger ever strike the heart of representative democracy again.
Because, in the end, nothing says representative democracy quite like putting the demos at an even further remove from their leaders. All for their own good, of course.