Flicker Fusion


“And that was also when Dolly Madison saved the portrait of George Washington”

It’s the kind of fact a six-year-old is able to provide on instant recall — in this case, I’d mentioned the War of 1812 being the last time the U.S. Capitol had been overrun. We were at the end of a family walk on the afternoon of the Trump insurrection, which my wife wisely suggested we take in order to get away from screens and just talk about what was happening.

The walk was perfect, the talk was pretty meandering. How do you even begin to explain this to your child? I didn’t even understand it myself and had mostly resorted to dad-mode history and dropping whatever collection of facts I’d gleaned from returning to doomscrolling. I’d started the day ebullient that Raphael Warnock had won his run-off election in Georgia and it looked like Jon Ossoff might as well, meaning the country might actually make some progress on reversing the damage of the Trump-McConnell years.

Even as I cracked jokes, I knew Trump would be holding his counter-programming rally as the vote was certified and hoped it would merely end with most of his supporters cheering at some inane speech then driving their giant trucks home, with the worst of them maybe sticking around and making some noise on the streets before getting bored and/or drunk. I expected there might be some clashing and arrests; I was not really expecting, though of course I should have been, I’d watch live footage of militia larpers breaking through a window using a riot shield they stole off a cop and then a stream of deranged hooligans tearing through the Capitol. Watching it unfurl, mostly on Twitter, was as surreal as it was terrifying, and of course the only ending this era could have produced.

As we headed back in from our walk, I was thinking of Eric Rudolph, the right-wing Christian nationalist and terrorist who killed three people and wounded another 150 via several bombings in the mid-90’s, including the 1996 Olympics. Rudolph evaded capture by hiding out in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where I grew up, for years, almost certainly with help from family and sympathizers to his anti-government cause. Rudolph’s particular style of domestic terrorism is the same as Dylan Roof’s and Timothy McVeigh’s, and countless others stretching back to the very earliest days, to say nothing of the anti-government vigilantes and criminals we indulge rather than fully prosecute.

The sad spectacle today is the result of decades of failure to hold ourselves to account. A wholly incurious narcissist like Trump is scarcely able to comprehend what it means to hold a blowtorch so close to the rocket fuel of American hatred, beyond his ability to use it for his own ends. Josh Hawley may understand it better, but his ambition has already forced him to succumb to fully embracing this American sin. These cynics are all just avatars, only the latest in a long line of traitors to America’s potential. Until we face up to this, expect more insurrection days.