The first time The Observer saw the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building was in January 2013, when The Observer and Arkansas Times photographer Brian Chilson accompanied the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission on a bus caravan to witness the second inaugural of President Barack Obama.
By the time we sighted the Capitol, The Observer had just spent the last 24 hours shoehorned into the rearmost double seat of a tour bus alongside Chilson, who was, in turn, wedged in between The Observer and the fragrant, bus-sized crapper. Catch The Observer and Chilson together sometime and be amazed at the deprivation we suffered on that bus trip; a tale which either of us will deliver on command, like Ishmael recounting the Pequod’s death-duel with Moby Dick. The return trip was the same — 24 hours in a sweltering can — only this time, The Observer had the worst sinus infection of our life. But all that is a story for another day.
The Observer has long been an America junkie. We don’t buy dumb T-shirts or American Flag swim trunks or bumper stickers that say “Love It or Leave It,” but we swear to you that we would, this moment, give our life for this country if our democracy was threatened, because that is what it takes sometimes. That is what it costs to protect this Republic, which Ben Franklin famously said we were welcome to, so long as we can keep it.
You know where this is going, Dear Reader, so let’s just rip off the Band-aid and be done with the sting: We say all this to help you understand why the spectacle of Jan. 6 hurt so much, long after we thought the evil and division of the Trump Era had rendered us incapable of being wounded by this monstrous president or his most craven supporters. But there it was.
The Observer could elaborate, but if you’ve read this far without turning the page, you likely already know. The great majority of Americans — Republican and Democrat, if polling is to be believed — were horrified in their own way by what we saw, just as we were on 9/11. So you already know some of what The Observer felt because you felt it yourself: the sense that something was terribly broken about these people, and that they had been encouraged by a madman and his minions to break something vitally important to our nation, something that cannot be easily put back together. That said, now that some of the shock has worn off, now that Donald Trump has been forced, at last, from The People’s House and into the waiting jaws of history, The Observer is made a bit hopeful by this moment. To explain why requires yet another story about D.C.:
The Observer, Spouse and Junior made our return to Washington in the summer of 2018, on a jet this time instead of a bus. (The Observer ain’t too swooft, but we usually only require one lesson.) It was a dream trip for The Observer, giving us the chance to finally see the Smithsonian and the monuments with the people we love the most, after not having had time to see a damn thing in D.C. back in 2013 — other than, of course, the second inaugural of the greatest president of our life so far.
The Observer makes it a point to be observant. It’s right there in the job description, and besides: Life is better when you slow down and pay attention. One of the things we noticed as we were tromping through the Natural History Museum and up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 2018 was that we were there with a good number of Trump voters. Lots of Trump-supporting T-shirts, even a few genuine Chinese MAGA hats on those cranky enough to not mind getting the side-eye from everybody under the age of 20. It makes sense that Trump supporters would gravitate to D.C. for sightseeing while he was in charge. The first time The Observer was in D.C., it added something to the power of that place knowing that the person we had voted for was in the White House.
The other thing The Observer noticed was that most of the others there — with the exception of the sulky teens who didn’t even know why they had to come on this dumb vacation — were just as in awe of that place as we were: of its famous views, of its solemn memorials, of its connection to the history that binds us all as Americans. They felt its power, just like we did.
So we must believe they saw the same thing The Observer did when we looked up at the great dome against the sky: the hub of our nation, where we send our elected representatives to commune with liberty and fairness and justice to find the rules that can peacefully govern us all, that great living monument to the idea that everyone in this nation has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if only we can live in peace with one another. We’re not so naive as to think it’s really like that. Not in D.C., where power and cash are mulched together to slop already over-fattened hogs. But as an American come home to our nation’s capital, it felt that way to Yours Truly.
That feeling, and the awe we saw in the eyes of others during our visit to D.C., is why The Observer believes that every American of good will was horrified by what they saw and heard on 1/6. The Observer must believe that, deep down in the heart of us all, we still share the common ground of not wanting to see our democracy humiliated and defiled. And that is something to build on. That gives us hope that Americans can find a way to resolve our differences and live in harmony, once the fascist who looks up at that dome and sees only an obstacle to his power is gone. As Americans who must find a way to live together so we can rebuild the wreckage he leaves behind, The Observer prays we can.