In Christian circles, January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is roughly Greek for "revelation." The day marks when, by tradition, the three Wise Men came upon the baby Jesus by following their own star. Epiphany follows the 12 days of Christmas, the 12th of which is called, appropriately enough, Twelfth Night. In Elizabethan England it was a night of sanctioned topsy-turvy, when commoners were permitted to switch places with noblemen for a night of revelry and pranks.
The crackpots who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday missed Twelfth Night by just hours, but they brought the topsy-turvies all the same. Congressmen and Senators were displaced by a motley mob of miscreants in MAGA hats, Viking horns, animal pelts and ghillie suits. They took President Trump seriously and, for once, literally too, when he told them to march to the Capitol and make sure his second term wasn't stolen from him. It seemed fitting that after the losses piled on losses of the Trump years, they would end showing us how we could always lose a little more.
Trump's feckless enablers are starting to resign in protest, refusing to be a part of it. They let him have his way for years, and are now suddenly shocked -- shocked! -- that demagoguery ends in mob rule. They act like this is something new, but it's not. Storming the Capitol is the natural consequence of the fires this president has been fanning since before he took office. We all knew he would leave a mess before he left. The only surprise is where and how.
The most feckless of all is former Attorney General Bill Barr. "Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable," he said after the melee. "The President's conduct yesterday was a betrayal of his office and supporters." Oh sure, now he says that -- after having spent the last several years arguing how the President, as the "unitary executive," can do no wrong. See http://www.brokeandbroker.com/5292/aegis-frumento-insecurities-caligula/. We've seen where that sort of advice has taken us, as Trump has systematically pardoned dozens of his friends and fellow grifters, and now talks about pardoning himself. He should do it too. After all, the Justice Department may charge him with inciting the riot. Overcoming a self-pardon would actually make that case interesting.
And yet, so far he's proved more Teflon Don than John Gotti ever was. Sure, he's lost the House, the White House and now the Senate, but the worst that's happened to Trump personally is that he's been locked out of Twitter, Facebook and Shopify. I know that's not nothing. But one hopes for a steeper comeuppance. The Wall Street Journal says he should resign; the Times says he should be impeached. I think he should ponder his own executive order threatening anyone destroying federal property with 10 years in the slammer. https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-protecting-american-monuments-memorials-statues-combating-recent-criminal-violence/. But not the 25th Amendment. That's intended to deal with a president who's disabled, not a scoundrel who threatens revenge on the whole pack of us.
Tradition deemed it unlucky to take down your Christmas tree before Twelfth Night, and if you missed that opportunity, unlucky again not to wait till Candlemas, February 2. We don't pay much attention to those superstitions anymore; we usually ditch it by New Year's. But in this topsy-turvy time our tree is still up, and it will stay up till February even if it ends up looking like Oscar Madison's. You may be right that we're looking for luck in all the wrong places, but these are desperate times.
We would be very lucky, for example, if last Wednesday provides at least one epiphany. Democracies are fragile by nature, and ours is no different. Especially in a multicultural society, democracy only works if everyone doubts a little their own infallibility and commits to it more than to one's own petty fancies. Anyone who's been in love knows what I mean. Votes, debates, traditions and, yes, norms, are all rituals that we cannot value precisely, but we do them and accept their outcomes because they keep our society civil. It's no surprise that the Capitol was so easily overcome by a mob. A mob could easily overrun a cathedral too, and for the very same reason. The very sanctity of the place protects it -- until it doesn't. And the ultimate test of a democracy is the extent to which the people commit to preserving it in hard times. Those who reject democratic norms in stormy weather reject them forever, for the rain it raineth every day.
Edmund Fawcett just published a comprehensive survey, Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition. William F. Buckley noted that conservatism "stands athwart history, yelling Stop," https://www.nationalreview.com/1955/11/our-mission-statement-william-f-buckley-jr/. But one only stops on the way to someplace. Fawcett points out that modern conservatives cleave into those who accept progress but want to slow its pace, and those who want to reverse course and return to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The reactionaries never win for long, if at all. Reality moves forward and won't be denied. But the distance between moderate conservatives and moderate progressives is not so much a fine line as a boggy heath. There's a great deal of terrain that both can stand on, even if none of it is solid ground. That marshy no man's land is where our Republic lies, if we can keep it.
But Donald Trump and the no-hopers, jokers and rogues who fly his flag and riot in his name are traveling neither to the future nor to the past. They are on a road to nowhere just to see where it goes. We saw where, on Epiphany last.