The events of Jan. 6 will certainly become a part of every U.S. history textbook, an example of extremism run amuck. A group of thugs — a word used by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to describe these individuals — broke into the U.S. Capitol building and ransacked it.
Nothing like that had happened since the British severely damaged it in the War of 1812. National Guard forces in both Virginia and Maryland mobilized to quell the violence in the capital, something that had not been seen in this country since 1801.
But there is one event that took place during this insurrection — a term used by both participants and opponents of the assault on the Capitol — that is most telling and disturbing. I am referring specifically to the removal of the American flag at the Capitol building and its replacement with a Trump banner. Symbols matter, and that action spoke volumes.
When Americans join the armed services, they take an oath, part of which reads as follows: “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Those who take that oath make it clear that they are protecting the nation and the document that established its democratic form of government.
What we witnessed Wednesday was something very different. There are numerous examples in world history of cults of personality in which a single individual becomes synonymous with the state. These one-person dictatorships date as far back as ancient Rome and exist today in such places as North Korea. Devotion is given not to the country and its institutions, but to a single individual.
Whether intentional or not, by tearing down the American flag and replacing it with Trump’s was tantamount to declaring support not for the nation and its institutions but to one person. It demonstrated that what these insurrectionaries wanted was not to protect democracy but to serve the interests of a president with dictatorial ambitions. If any good comes out of what happened yesterday, it is, I hope, a realization that the extremism condoned by Trump will now be seen for the anti-Americanism that it is.