'Capitolnacht': Darkness on the Nation's Doorstep

By Jamie Stiehm

January 13, 2021 5 min read

America has our own "Capitolnacht." It shall cut and burn our conscience as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in Nazi Germany announced a civilized country's descent into dark evil and racial supremacy. Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger compared the Nazis to the Proud Boys.

1938 history wouldn't happen here because we Americans have our heart in the right place as we pursue happiness, right? I was a history major who believed our rocky journey sailed in the right direction. Slavery, our tragic flaw, was past.

Then I witnessed the Capitol siege by white supremacists trying to overturn President Donald Trump's loss. I heard glass shatter in a rampage by a murderous mob. Thank God they were held at bay, barely. What a close call in the House of Representatives chamber, where hundreds gathered inside, including me and fellow journalists. Good Lord.

Unknown to us, the mob broke into the Senate chamber on the other side of the rotunda. One man brandished the ultimate hate symbol, a large Confederate flag within the walls and halls of the cherished Capitol. Wasn't that settled in 1865? Smelling salts, please.

On our House side, they were bloodthirsty for the speaker. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, just kicked a Confederate Robert E. Lee statue out of the Capitol crypt for good. Worse, how dare a woman challenge Trump, time after time?

For those of us who thought the Civil War was over, think again. The bloody war was supposedly won by the Union. President Abraham Lincoln freed 4 million people in bondage. But the white supremacist South dressed up the romance of the "Lost Cause" and nurtured its hatred for generations. Melanie in "Gone With the Wind" vowed to teach her boy Beau to hate Yankees.

Trump embodies that embittered streak in Southern lore. His loss was a stolen victory to be avenged — just like the war that ended slavery. His racism is front and center, just like the Confederacy.

Most, not all, of the mob came from the South. The spirit of civil strife was the same that infused the antebellum South toward states north of the Mason Dixon line. The defiant senators who inflamed the election ritual, Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, come from former slave states.

What happened Wednesday did more than violate sacred space and spill blood in a riot. The rage of thousands — more organized than the Capitol police — revealed a campaign that cleaves the nation into "us and them" again, with only anger in the middle ground.

Trump, in effect, waged war on the United States government, just like Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president. Strikingly, each was a white supremacist who never surrendered. History rhymes.

Donald Trump and his family watched with grim glee as the house of American democracy was overtaken, ransacked and defaced. Inside the beloved Capitol, one heard the broken glass on marble floor first, followed by angry voices and gunshots outside the House chamber. Pelosi was presiding over the last official election ritual. Brave and poised, she was spirited away.

American pride in our democracy was breached by the mob violence as sure as walls and doors. Thousands were sent by Trump to terrorize Congress into changing the final count for the election, which he lost.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, told me before the Women's March that Trump and his men were "Confederates." I spoke at a breakfast at the Woman's National Democratic Club and sat next to him. This was on Jan. 21, 2017.

Jackson was utterly serious. And he was utterly right. He's a native of South Carolina, where the South started the cannonballs flying160 years ago. Knowing the Civil War as well as I do, trapped in the siege as I was, it's clear we're in a civil war, small "c." The battle has begun for the best versus the worst in our body politic.

Liberals like me dismissed Trump as a buffoon or a toddler. We tolerated tirades that mixed racism, misogyny, "fake news" and "the radical left" as the president poisoned the public well.

And then he set the mob on us.

Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.

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