U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia recently said that television footage “of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall” showed an orderly group that “looked like a normal tourist visit.” In reality, the Jan. 6 mob action by disgruntled Donald Trump supporters bent on overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election was an attack on both the symbols and the substance of this nation. No “normal tourist visit” to the Capitol includes attacks on police, ransacking of congressional offices, theft and vandalism. In the aftermath of the Capitol Hill insurrection, congressional Republicans are trying to deny, dismiss or downgrade the seriousness of the deadly riot that metastasized from the “Big Lie” that Trump won the election and the presidency was stolen from him.
Such continuing mendacity and misinformation is more than just a sign that millions of Americans and their political leaders are sore losers about the 2020 election. Even more dangerous is the Republican Party’s growing fealty to the most benighted, reactionary and authoritarian elements in U.S. politics today, along with the GOP’s infection of the body politic with fear, meanness and denial of reality. Today’s Republican Party loyalists to former President Trump seem to be hoping for a political climate described in George Orwell’s 1984 when they minimize the seriousness of the Jan. 6 insurrection: “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.”
Back in 2013 my wife, Joy, and I took a train trip to Washington, where we visited the Capitol as part of what actually was “a normal tourist visit” to the ornate and historic old edifice. As we walked into the Capitol rotunda, we gazed high overhead at the mythic fresco painted on the ceiling in 1865 by Italian immigrant Constantino Brumidi as a tribute to America’s first president, “The Apotheosis of George Washington.” Today’s Republican Party has become such a cult of craziness that the current GOP seems to yearn for “The Apotheosis of Donald J. Trump.” If they could talk, many of the statues in and near the Capitol would have much to say about the trumpery and treachery of this nation’s current political climate.
When we toured the Capitol in 2013, statues of civil rights leaders Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks had just been unveiled for the public. Douglass was the former slave and 19th century Republican who dedicated his life to equality and emancipation for black people and women. His statue in the Capitol should remind today’s tourists and politicians of the words of warning that Douglass gave to his fellow Americans of every race and political party: “The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous.” Parks was a Black woman who challenged white supremacy in the Jim Crow South. She is called “the mother of the movement” for her act of defiance against segregation in Alabama, where she took a stand by sitting down in the “whites only” section of a city bus in 1955. In these times of angry and unhinged political chicanery, her words still ring true: “There is just so much hurt, disappointment and oppression one can take… The line between reason and madness grows thinner.”
In 1986, more than 25 years before the Capitol’s statues of Douglass and Parks were dedicated, a sculpture of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was placed in the building. In 2011 the Martin Luther King Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall not far from Capitol Hill. Joy and I saw both likenesses of Dr. King. Both are strong tributes in stone to a man whose words should be taken to heart by politicians and taken to the streets by citizens: “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
Sometimes even statues can speak, if we will only listen.
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