The US Capitol Besieged

Yesterday—January 6 2021—armed terrorists, inspired by the president, stormed the Capitol in a violent attempted coup. The terrorists had support from Capitol Police (in their actions) and Congressional Republicans (in their aim to reject the presidential election result).

As of now, Thursday morning, the terrorists are dispersed; a few have been arrested and more may follow. The terrorist-leader president is still in office although his administration is disintegrating through resignations. Both houses of Congress are adjourned after completing the mumbo-jumbo of election certification in the wee hours. The closest thing to an anti-Trump Republican in Congress, Sen. Mitt Romney, has actually said “I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 [sic] days.”

As concerned as I am about the next two weeks, I’m also minded to consider the long term and the big picture. Something big and terrible happened on Wednesday. Invaders raised a Confederate flag inside the Capitol, which many people pointed out never happened during all the years of the Civil War (even though DC was basically surrounded by rebel territory). Hostile forces have invaded the Capitol, before, but that was 200 years ago when the United States was a precarious upstart nation.

This morning my mind’s drawn back further, to the sack of Rome in 410, and how this appeared for some time afterward to be only an embarrassing brief event.

I can’t find the exact passage in Gibbon’s History, but I recall something about how Rome rebuilt after the 410 sacking and seemed to suffer no real permanent damage. “The Goths evacuated the city at the end of six days,” certainly, and the final destruction of the Western Empire was decades in the future.

Yet the 410 sacking of Rome mattered. It was not only a signpost confirming the long term trends of rot, in retrospect. It was also at the time an announcement to the world that Roman authority was hollow and Roman wealth was there for the taking. It was a bell that could not be unrung.

Twenty-four centuries later, yesterday’s bell has already been heard in every corner of the world, and it won’t be unrung either.

I don’t believe that our fate is predestined. I believe that people can make choices and different choices have different consequences which matter. It isn’t inevitable that corruption and barbarism consume America.

But right now I see such a vacuum of leadership even after something which even pessimists might have dismissed as unlikely fantasy as recently as 24 hours ago. In that case, the choice of potential leaders to shrug and “hold our breath” is very much a choice and a consequential one.

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