THE U.S. CAPITOL — Call me old fashioned, but I miss having a sky that’s blue, grass that’s green, even a globe that’s, well, shaped like a globe, not a flat myth. I also miss having a Capitol — my office for the past 15 years — where my colleagues, lawmakers, staffers, workers, interns, and I feel safe. But now that Trump’s reality TV presidency spilled over into reality, the symbolic heart of American democracy will forever remind hundreds of where we huddled, ducked, dodged, cried, barricaded, and ran on the worst Trumpday we’d ever witnessed.
We’ve all sensed it heating up for years now, and it boiled over. The question facing us all is: Where do we — not your party, but us, the U.S.A. — go from here? If we truly want to take even just some of the Trumpian sensationalism out of politics, along with the mayhem that accompanies it, we all need to do our part. It’s time we make politics boring again.
“All of it is really disturbing and potentially dangerous,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) prophetically told The News Station about an hour or so before the riot erupted in the Capitol.
In the wee hours of the morning Congress was able to do its job and certify Joe Biden as the nation’s next president, along with Kamala Harris as vice president. But we all first had to contend with the devotion and energy Trump commands from his base — a devotion that’s the envy of most every politician in Washington. Even if his populism didn’t net him the four extra years in the White House he so desperately longs for, his followers are loyal — a connection akin to the bond trusted generals have with their troops. No matter the fire they’re under — whether intellectual or even physical — his diehard base will seemingly do anything for him.
That’s why the Capitol was transformed into something more reminiscent of a warzone yesterday afternoon. Percussion grenades started reverberating through the Capitol, as officers battled Trump’s personal army of protestors, spraying clouds of tear gas while also being hit with waves of that painful tear gas and allegedly even bear spray from some of the riotous mob (I witnessed at least six officers keeled over from the pain until their eyes could be flushed).
Like much in the Trump-era, conventional wisdom was no use to this crowd, which soon proceeded to overwhelm the line of baton, tear gas and shield wielding officers at the base of the expansive Capitol building. They then rushed President-elect Biden’s inauguration platform, making quick work of it before reaching the Capitol itself, where they used timber, sticks, and their Trump flag poles to whack two windows almost directly under soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suite.
Once they shattered, the crowd erupted in adrenaline and conspiracy-fueled glee, and waves of protestors — some donning camouflage, even as many were rocking their #MAGA digs — rushed forward and began storming the first floor of the Capitol.
The Senate was supposed to be voting on the validity of President-elect Biden’s win. Instead, officers corralled any senator who was outside into the sacred Senate chamber, where they were supposed to be safe. But locking the doors didn’t work, and the Senate had to be evacuated. With officers focused on protecting the nation’s lawmakers, the protestors turned the Capitol into Animal House. Some smoked joints, others cigarettes.
On the other side of the Capitol, in the face of a tidal wave of rioters, a few officers were moving barricades, which opened the floodgates, as swarms of MAGA hats and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags swept across the open expanse between the Capitol and the Supreme Court. They then darted for the jewel: The ornate Capitol Rotunda.
The mob did what mobs do, nothing good. Some overtook Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, even as others battled officers on the first floor. Still more flooded the House side, where lawmakers huddled under their chairs as uniformed Capitol Police officers barricaded the doors with historic furniture and drew their handguns, which ended with a female veteran who breached one makeshift wall bleeding out from her neck until she eventually breathed her last.
Reporters and staffers were ordered to huddle in place and lock doors — in the Radio TV Gallery, knowing full well that we’ve been dubbed “the enemy” by Trump, we hid insignias and covered a wooden “Radio-TV Correspondent’s Gallery” sign with a female reporter’s nice, silky-feeling red sport coat.
After police deployed waves of tear gas in the Rotunda, reporters scrambled to find emergency escape hoods (basically industrial-grade gas masks that can supposedly handle particles from a dirty bomb). When a couple of us ventured from the fourth floor down a level to snag masks for ourselves and others, we quickly retreated because we saw aggressive felons and not a single Capitol Police officer. One of those protestors eventually made it down into the chair reserved for the President of the Senate, the Vice President of the United States.
After a couple hours of trepidation and fear — with one reporter suffering a panic attack — officers alerted us they ‘thought’ they’d regained control of the Senate side, though ATF and FBI agents dressed for combat were going room to room to make sure there were no stragglers or bombs (two of which were found later at both the RNC and DNC headquarters).
Eventually a couple of us tried to escape by going to the House side. The officer who escorted us was jogging and took us past two rows of what must have been a hundred officers in full Robocop-style riot gear. Groups of five or so officers were battling with protestors through broken windows on the first floor. They were swatting with their batons or shooting streams of liquid fire at Trump’s minions, which left clouds of tear gas hovering in the air.
While Sen. Murphy of Connecticut called the violence disturbing, it wasn’t because he’s a genius. Trump’s latest gambit enflamed passions on all sides of every aisle, thus making skirmishes — or even the full-fledged riot that engulfed our nation — almost inevitable.
“This shit happened, and they’re like, ‘Oh, they broke in. It was unexpected.’ I’m like: ‘maaaaaaan,’” a Capitol Hill food worker remarked later.
The chaos made it evident for most to recognize the binary universe Trump occupies — his view and whatever the rest of us see — is now also home to many rank and file Republicans.
“I don’t have a take on it,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) told The News Station when asked about the Capitol being breached.
Other Republicans were also unmoved by the first storming of the Capitol since the British did it back in the War of 1812.
“Didn’t you guys think this was utterly expected?” I asked freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.).
“Do you have a card?” his aide asked.
“Your boss can speak for himself,” I informed her of her boss’ ability to speak for himself. “So you guys don’t feel guilty at all?”
“If you just want to call my office,” he said.
“I get it, I get it,” I tried one last time. “But like, no guilt at all?”
The black-and-white nature of today’s politics is testing the soul of our nation. And Trump knows it. Even after the riot, with parts of the Capitol still in disarray, the president convinced 146 — the majority of rank-and-file Republicans — to vote to overturn Biden’s legitimate victory. The courts and the Electoral College beat back the direct challenge to democracy, but the exercise unsettled many.
“The entire American experiment rests on the peaceful transfer of power, and this is the first time we’ve had a president essentially refusing to leave office,” Sen. Murphy of Connecticut told The News Station. “It’s extraordinary that it’s taken us 240 years to get to this moment, but we’ve got to find a way to overcome it.”
In the realm of politics precision isn’t prized (unless a politician ends up in the wrong bed…). The lackadaisical nature of politics is largely there because the people — especially a politician’s base — lend their support and, usually, a long, forgiving and often blind leash to their favored candidate.
But policy isn’t always headline grabbing. Take substances we put in our bodies. Small variations can have far-reaching consequences. When it comes to CBD, if the cannabis contains less than 0.3 percent THC — the compound in marijuana that makes one feel “high” — then it’s truly CBD. Any more than that, it becomes marijuana. And ingesting marijuana can still get many people fired.
Policy is more than fixing potholes and naming post offices. In legislative writing (aka ‘drafting’), sometimes a comma’s just a comma, but other times it’s a $1 million comma. Policy is often mundane, but it’s always important and rarely transfixing.
That’s what was missing from the Capitol yesterday: It wasn’t boring. Sure, it was a mere made-for-TV stunt orchestrated by Trump solely to stroke his own well fed, though endlessly starved ego. But his ratings went up, because he knows how to enrapture an audience with terrifyingly captivating, if needless, drama. We all need to learn to resist giving oxygen to this or the next Trump-sized dumpster fire that we see flicking on our screens.