Like a lot of people, I spent most of yesterday watching television. I learned as lot from the commentary. The video, not so much. All day, they showed the same protesters coming up the same stairs their progress being retarded by a lone policeman with a baton. It reminded me very much of the cheapie westerns I used to see on television where the bad guys would pursue the good guy past the same mesa over and over again as if there were only one mesa or only one camera tripod.
I had some of the same reactions everyone else had. I was offended that these buildings where respect must be shown were treated as a down-scale marketplace might be treated. If a protester had been caught on camera throwing a banana peel on the floor of the House, it would not have expressed their contempt any more clearly than what they did.
I felt the contempt more viscerally than many, I suspect, because of my experience at the Oregon legislature. The Legislative Assistant—that was my job—sits at the desk with the Representative he serves on the floor of the House of Representatives. A Sergeant-at-Arms controls access to the chamber, denying it to anyone who is not a legislator and, when necessary, escorting a legislator from the chamber against his will. A Legislative Aide DOES NOT CROSS THE AISLE. Ever. If you need to see someone on the other side of the aisle, you walk to the back of the chamber and cross there and come up the other side. That shows respect.
It is hard not to use religious words about a space that is set aside particularly for respect. I think it is worth the effort. Is the Capitol “sacred space?” Not by any religious understanding I know about. Is it revered? Certainly.
Still, it is natural to see the action I described above—throwing the banana peel—as somehow wrong. It isn’t littering. It is disdain. It is not our House; it is their House. It is enemy territory and the banana peel is an accurate representation of the feelings of the protesters. And it was done with such glee! I remember seeing that same expression on the faces of students who took over dean’s offices on major college campuses during the Vietnam war or that took over mayor’s offices during protests for racial justice. They were being “bad” and they knew it and they were loving it. Do you suppose that someone will invent a battle ribbon to be worn with pride by the veterans of Operation Take Back Our House, or whatever they decide to call it? Will there be meetings of the veterans of this operation as there were for many years, meetings of the Watergate plotters?
It is worth thinking about the effect of this event on our politics. It could be thought of as a vaccination against populist uprisings. The “body politic,” having received this vaccine is now producing antibodies against it, making us less vulnerable to any reoccurrence. Or it could be thought of as an episode of disease that results in the permanent weakening of the body, making us more likely to sicken and die of the next wave of infection.
It could go either way. The time between now and the inauguration will determine which way we begin to go. The two questions that most need to be asked, as I see it, are these: a) how serious was it? and b) how shall we describe what actually happened?
I ask these questions with the results of the actions in mind. I am not asking for the most detailed and accurate answer or the most thoughtful and discriminating judgment. I am asking what answers will help us recover our balance and go on. What I want to know is just this: what answers to those questions will help us most? Was it patriots our for a lark? Was it saboteurs intent on destroying democracy?
Don’t let your dislike of President Trump influence your answer. Just look at the video and listen to the best of the commentary and decide: what answers will help us? Trump’s role was beneath contempt. Hardly anything you can think of to say against it would be too much. But…what will help us?
Still, there is some fun in all this. I have an example in mind. If you stayed until the very end, you saw a lot of civic liturgy. Papers were passed back and forth between the presiding officer, President Pence,  and the clerks who read and verified the judgments of the states about their certificates of election. In our electronic era, it all came down to these pieces of paper. No papers, no process; no process, no outcome.
Imagine that a diamond of incalculable value was in a big wooden box and that burglars were assembling outside the raid the building and steal the diamond. Would you protect the box? I would. If I thought of it.
But the Capitol Police are bursting into the chamber and giving instructions about gas masks and oxygen supplies and herding duly elected members out of the chamber and into “a secure location.” And in all this noise and confusing, there sit the boxes with the certificates in them. And everybody is being hustled out of the chamber.
At that point, some Congressional staffer says, “Do you think we ought to take the boxes with us?”
Those boxes are what all this is about. They are the incontrovertible evidence that 50 states have done their due diligence and recorded the results of their voters and then their electors. If we didn’t have those papers, how would we confirm their accuracy? They are absolutely crucial to the process. If you stayed up late to watch the liturgy, it was those papers that were being handed back and forth.
So, in all of this, my favorite person is the one who said, “You know, maybe we should take the boxes with us.” There is absolutely no alternative to having a good staff. What, otherwise, would you lean on?
 It does look funny on the page, but Vice President Pence was acting, yesterday, in his capacity as President of the Senate.