The barbarians were at the gate, intent on assaulting the citadel of American democracy — the US Capitol in Washington.
What happened after that is now indelibly etched in the repertoire of our consciousness. None of us will ever forget how the brutes — a lawless, maskless rabble — penetrated the complex, rushing past its overwhelmed police force and then ran riot for four hours — as panicked legislators sheltered in their chambers — storming the corridors, smashing windows, breaking down doors and waving Trump campaign flags and Confederate battle flags.
An insurrectionist mob seizing the most hallowed symbol of American democracy? Please, say it ain’t so! But it was. By any definition, including that in the Oxford English dictionary (“The action of rising in arms or open resistance against established authority”), what took place that day was indeed an insurrection.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021, will be remembered as the darkest day in the modern history of the United States, a day of national humiliation.
Not since 1814, when the British set the Capitol building ablaze (only a sudden, perhaps providential, rainstorm prevented its total destruction) and 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists, shouting “Freedom to Puerto Rico”, unleased a barrage of 30 shots from the visitors gallery (injuring five legislators, one seriously), has the American people’s seat of representative government been so violated.
For me personally, a native of Washington and a registered voter, as well as an engaged resident in it since 1973, watching the carnage on Capitol Hill unfold before my eyes, albeit on television, the day had a searing rawness to it.
You watch and then, aghast, watch some more, struggling to find the language to describe what you are seeing. You get up on Thursday and discover that the events you had seen the day before demand a semantic fashion of expression alien to your verbal sensibility.
On that fateful Wednesday, at midday, less than two hours before the carnage started, President Trump addressed thousands of his loyalists — a crowd already primed to rumble — and from the podium talk about employing “strength”, and “fight like hell”.
Then came the torrential criticism from editorialists and legislators
The consensus among respected pundits in the media, including, yes, even the Wall Street Journal, was that the President Trump — who is now one of four chief executives in the last one hundred years to be denied a second term in office by the electorate — was to blame for effectively inciting that crowd.
Many Republicans in Congress, among them those who had been in thrall of him began to take the exit ramps and call for his resignation. Meanwhile Democrats introduced a resolution in the House to impeach him — for a second time.
Needless to say, Americans were, and remain as we speak, shaken by the tumult — tumult that without a doubt had perverted all that is American about America. Many among them are thinking the unthinkable: Does the debasement of those deep-rooted constitutional values built into the country’s ethos foretell of an imminent doomsday.
World’s premier democracy
It was in its attempt to answer that question that the New York Times wondered in an editorial if what was happening around the nation was an aberration or a sign pointing to “the ruinous onset of decline as the world’s premier democracy”.
No, the end of that constitutional republic called the United States of America is not nigh. Not by a stretch.
After everything is said and done, one thing remains plain: America will get over it. It will rally. It had rallied through worse setbacks in its 144-year history, from the 1775-1783 American Revolutionary War to the acute sociopolitical crisis that followed Reconstruction between 1863 and 1877, and from the ravages of the Dust Bowl catastrophe in 1934 to the trauma of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
This young nation — for young it is — is imbued with innate pluck and pluck is what animates its defining spirit. Before it becomes dust, as it will after having lived out its lifespan as “the shining city on the hill”, it will continue to leave its mastering grip on our collective destiny around the world, and we in turn will continue to encounter its passions, its culture, its authority — whether diffused for good or ill — around every corner of our planet.
We give America its rightful due if we recognise how heavy is the burden of that eminence.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, academic and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile