“Oh fuck,” my sister texted me last night.
“What’s wrong?” I texted back. She’s been visiting America with her family, had her return flight to Luxembourg delayed because of COVID-19 tests now required to enter The Netherlands from the US, where her return flight is routed. I worried she’d been positive.
“Trump supporters in DC,” she texted back.
So I did a search through my usual news sources, all European, none of which had any news on it. That’s something you learn pretty quickly living in Europe after the US: the news services here don’t have the same urgency about America that Americans would assume they would.
I found nothing, then reluctantly pulled up American sites and started laughing. And just then my best friend, who is an emergency services manager in DC, texted me. His text seemed serious, but I could also hear his amusement behind the words.
The event is now pretty well known: several thousand people protested and stormed the Capitol building while it was in session. According to the news I’ve read, four people were shot and killed by police, though many others have pointed out that earlier protests by BLM and others were met with much more security.
There’s a host of things that can be said about this event, but I mostly want to talk about why I was laughing. That laughter wasn’t in support of the failed insurrection, neither in mockery of their attempt, but rather the pure and primal absurdity of the situation.
The Capitol building in Washington D.C. is literally the heart of Empire. Within, hundreds of people meet and make decisions to decide the fate of much of the rest of the world, not just the 300 or so million Americans directly affected by their laws. To any American, regardless their political leanings, the Capitol is an impenetrable building, possessing of an almost mystical, divine power to be utterly inviolable.
In fact, until yesterday, the Capitol building has not been breached since the third year of the War of 1812, when the British army burned it. No other large nation state can say that, which of course only adds to the peculiar exceptionalism that inhabits the perception of every American.
But yesterday it happened, and that’s mostly why I was laughing. Yesterday, the illusion of impenetrability, the ‘it cannot happen here’ mentality and the false belief that the US Government is somehow omnipotent and unlike every other nation state in the world were all shattered by a group of people who could best be described as Fools.
I mean Fool here in the archetypal sense, the figure which unveils the illusions of power, the child who points out the Emperor is naked. Also the figure which marches boldly and blindly on an impossible crusade, because of course that was not a coup but a carnival. People dressed in ridiculous outfits wearing American flags as war paint on their skin managed in their chaotic anger, their ridiculous demands, and almost chthonic ergiffenheit to interrupt the most “hallowed” chamber of power in the world, profaning its sacrality as a gift to the rest of us.
Let’s be clear: the “left” has never managed to unmask power like these Fools just did. I say this as someone who traveled to DC in order to protest the inauguration of Trump four years ago. We got nowhere close to the Capitol, nor had we ever dreamed of doing so, and while we blame massive police presence for such a failure, that misses the point. I don’t think we ever really wanted to, because what would we do next?
That’s why only Fools can truly unmask power. They don’t think ahead, and therefore don’t fear their inevitable failure. More so, unlike the “left” or BLM or any of the protests that we would consider legitimate, they were not begging to be listened to or pleading for recognition.
The police response to the initial mob was muted, yes, but this has less to do with conspiracies about complicity between the state and right wing movements and more to do with the simple fact that the mob came waving the very symbols of Empire. In 2017 anarchists and feminists came dressed in black and “pussy hats,” in June Black Lives Matter protesters came again dressed in black with raised fists. The mob, on the other hand, practically waltzed in because they matched the decor.
Most did, anyway. Much has also been made of one particular figure, the self-described shaman Jake Angeli, who paraded around wearing horns, fur, and sporting celtic and heathen tattoos on his shirtless, muscled chest.
All reports of the man suggest he’s a bit unhinged (he’s both a QAnon supporter but also has been present supporting anti-climate-change events), but that points to him even more as The Fool acting a part in something much bigger than himself.
Here we cannot help but notice that storming the Capitol of Empire dressed as a barbarian recalls a certain other Empire stormed by barbarians. Rome, that other impenetrable center of power, fell first from within and then finally from without. Gaulish and Germanic invaders who were themselves officially part of the Empire, given citizenship in order to keep them civil, eventually toppled Rome once enough of its institutions had rotted from within. America likewise has been rotting, crumbling upon itself for decades while its citizens clamor against each other for more bread and Circus games. The gates now weakened, here now stands a Divine Fool, holding the flag of Empire yet dressed as the end of Empire.
How can we all not laugh at such a moment? Something much bigger than all our political dreams has stirred and manifested, a Bacchic or Dionysian moment, absurd and crude and foul-mouthed like the best of Fools to remind us nothing–not even Empire–lasts forever.
And though nothing actually changed and the mob merely wandered the halls taking selfies and sitting in powerful people’s chairs , the rest of us have seen the veil drop, the mystique of invulnerability dissipating through the strange winds Fools follow, and it is finally impossible to ignore that America has always been the most ridiculous joke of all.