After a long pause with no accidents this time, Yonder is back as this new year unfolds. I apologize for the silence. I was busy with a different kind of project. But let’s celebrate the arrival of the vaccine and the departure of Trump. Cum grano salis, obviously.
Every year, the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, is celebrated on January 6. For some Christians, the holiday season does not end until then, the day in which the three kings (also known as the Wise Men or the Magi) reached baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The Italians added to the biblical story, incorporating a Christmas witch, Befana.
The old wrinkled Befana found out about Jesus when the three Magi stopped at her house and inquired about the road to Bethlehem. They invited her to come with them, but she had to finish cleaning first, she told them. When she finally finished, it was late, and she had lost track of Magi. She took her presents for baby Jesus and hopped on her broom, trying to catch up with them. But she lost her way and was forced to fly around, asking about Bethlehem here and there, leaving presents and charcoal for the children in the places she stopped at. Italians added Befana to their Christmas traditions because expecting the witch’s arrival was a way for families to spend an extra evening together before work started back up. Both Befana’s and the three Magi’s stories are rooted in a Christian tradition, but they are also a step away from severe catholic liturgy and discipline. They are told for pleasure and imagination. So, one may wonder why the heck Americans chose January 6 as the day to certify a newly elected president.
Before January 6, 2021, Epiphany or Befana day in America was just another working day, grey and cold in many states. With their puritan ethics, Americans typically go back to work on the second day of the new year. By the 6th, Congress is back in full swing, going through the formalities of opening the new legislative season. Every four years, on January 6, Congress comes together to certify the November election results: a bureaucratic procedure that is intended to be brief, a mere formality, an automatic, mechanical act that normally nobody remembers.
Not this year. We all knew it was coming. And now it is here to stay.
Before the Trump troops stormed the Capitol this Wednesday, they visited twice after the November election. They were rehearsing the attack, waving both American flags and Trump flags, loudly requesting that someone give them back a stolen election. After he lost the election, the President riled up his supporters with socialism stories arriving in America to catastrophic consequences. On November 15, in the so-called Million Maga March, tens of thousands of Trumpers walked from Freedom Plaza, on one side of the White House, to the Capitol along Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a sunny and warm day. People were relaxed. There were families with kids, taking a presidential walk. By the time they reached the Capitol, they seemed to think of it as their home. Then they turned around and walked back towards the White House. They felt everything they saw, all the government buildings along the Avenue, the Capitol, the White House, everything belonged to them.
Walking on Pennsylvania Avenue creates this kind of sensation. When I first came to Washington, I did something similar. First in the daytime, then at night by bike. It was an exceptional feeling, as the secured bike lane is right in the middle of the Avenue, and you, no matter how small, feel like a king if not the United States’ president. Americans, especially Trumpers, must especially feel that Pennsylvania Avenue belongs to them. Pennsylvania’s history evokes the Nation’s Fathers, who wrote the declaration of independence and the constitution, which is the essential tool for governing this nation. They represent the bible of America and the Federal Triangle, the government’s section of downtown Washington is America’s Bethlehem. America does not need the story of the Epiphany or Befana, its fairy tale is here in Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue, the home of the brave who walk it. That is why Trump loyalists felt like it was their home, not that they know its history. They feel the place belongs to them because all the people walking up and down between the White House and the white Capitol are white too.
Among the Trump folks–regular rural Americans, you could notice a different human species. For a moment, they resembled bike riders, a Harley Davidson population. Does anyone remember the Tea Party members riding bikes into Washington DC led by Sara Palin? That was nine years ago, and those guys were the pioneers of today’s polarized America. The staunch Trump supporters, those savage looking guys, do not even drive the motorbikes. They imitate somebody else.
When I first saw them in November, they were the most ominous image of what America could turn into. They were marching, mingling with other Trump folks. Their looks reminded me of the hillbillies from The Deliverance, John Boorman’s 1972 movie. Fifty years later, the heirs of The Deliverance’s wild hillbillies seemed to have multiplied. The president called them to come to the nation’s capital, to scare the degenerate people who no longer dared throw punches and feel racially superior. They mixed with the peacefully protesting Maga families. Longbeards, as if there are no razors in the woods, dressed in military uniforms, showing off their muscles, beer bellies, and sunglasses tipped on their noses. These people felt like commanders. They were the guys who Trump appealed to after he lost the election. When he was asked whether he supported the Proud Boys in the first presidential debate, Trump looked into the camera and said: Proud Boys stay back, stand by! And they did. After the election, they came to the capital for the first time. They stood by without the guns they normally like to flaunt. In Michigan the summer before, some had walked into the congressional building and stood there silently, threatening the politicians, the Governor, and others who thought reopening the economy was not a smart idea in the midst of the pandemic. There was never any shooting or acts of extreme violence. They just threatened, like the President, with his words. Stand by! But whenever they spotted a sympathizer from the opposite side, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement, who dared tell them to go back home, they would step out of the line, walk to a person or a small group, surround them and chant U.S.A.,U.S.A.,U.S.A.!
By the time Trump had exhausted all legal options trying to overturn the election, the nights in the White House had got longer and darker. The President was reportedly depressed and was caught discussing the possibility of declaring martial law to cancel the election results and impose new ones that his soldiers could control. It did not work. The news leaked to the press, and Trump had to close the crazy act before planned. But the armed forces were alerted, followed by a wave of dismissals of many high officials in the Pentagon and other important security departments. In their place, the worst Trump loyalists were installed. I have no way to prove if the changes in key security departments contributed to the Capitol’s storming. Trump’s crowd was in the city the day before they marched on the Capitol. I went down to Freedom Plaza to see them. It seemed like an organized political meeting. There were speeches, flags, silence, and frozen masses. But there were several thousand, and they were not the family-friendly types. We knew that they were lodging in city hotels. The police closed down one of the hotels and the bar at which the Proud Boys were gathering. They also arrested the Proud Boys’ leader because of his violence in the city last time. Considering the police presence on the street, sealing off Federal Triangle, I assumed the cops were in control and that things would be calm. The next day, I watched Trump’s speech to his troops on TV but flipped the channels as I wanted to see what Congress was doing with the election results certification. It was basically the last act that would formally make Biden’s election official.
Suddenly, what I started to see on the screen seemed like a bad dream. First, there were reports that some protesters were on the stairs on the west side of the Capitol, right where Pennsylvania Avenue meets the building. There is no entrance on that side. I laughed, thinking of the Trumpists as lazy because they could easily enter on the east side of the building where the main entrance was. When I saw some of the young chaps walking around the corridors of the Capitol within the barriers allowed for visitors, I thought everything was ok. Still, it felt a bit bizarre since some were carrying Trump flags.
Then in the next moments, everything collapsed. Vice President Pence was taken away by the Secret Service. The Capitol police secured the inside perimeter, locking the doors of two Chambers. In less than half an hour, Trump’s loyalists took over the huge building. While I expected they might burn the building down — that was what you do when you storm Bastille or the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg– these dudes seemed to have no plan. The president had told them to walk on the Capitol, and they did it. Once they were in, they began to marvel at the place: the statues, the pictures, objects, and furniture. Like their president, they did not know what to do next. The FBI is now investigating. Were some of the troopers, many much younger than the usual familiar supporters, after the Congressmen who had been disloyal to Trump? How many of them were armed? In the end, five people died, four among them Trumpists. What has not been televised is what the turning point was. The White House, that is, Trump, refused to call the National Guard, so Vice President Pence had to do it from some bunker under the Capitol. We do not know what happened to Homeland Security. Why did they not answer calls? We all could see the Trumpists had been invited to the party. There was practically no security in front of the building and inside. On occasions like this, people are not allowed even to get close to the building. Some of the footage we saw later on confirmed that guards responsible for the building’s security (Capitol police) actually showed the Trumpers how to get into the building. But when the National Guard finally arrived, the Trump troopers peacefully left the building, many of them taking souvenirs with them. Very few were arrested.
Two days later, the political establishment is pretending nothing happened. And some members of Congress are still supporting Trump in claiming that the election was stolen. Besides that, there is a general idea that America has a crazy president. As we know, this is not news. The question is, how many millions of Americans are just as crazy as Trump? All 75 million that voted for him? Was Trump right when he said, I could not be a loser if so many people voted for me?
Trump is asking the right question, but he is not aware of it. Trump is the symptom that it is time to change the country’s political narrative that legitimizes whites only. The president-elect said the day after the Capitol drama is what we have known all along: if Black Lives Matter protesters did something similar, the police would have no mercy. It is good that Biden is saying this. The question is, how much will he actually do about it? And what will America do with its white trash supremacist and their president, who can be easily replaced with an even more dangerous person four years from now? The cultural revolution in the U.S. that could open the mind of rural white seems impossible. The U.S. is not China. A more flexible political system, one that would allow more political parties, could be a solution.