Every good American of a certain age has been on a field trip to Washington, D.C. After a semester of U.S. History, we piled into buses, waved goodbye to parents in an early morning parking lot and set out on a five-hour drive to the nation’s capital. Fueled by fast food, sugary snacks and sodas, Ritalin and pre-teen hormones, we were the nightmare of hotel night clerks and Smithsonian Museum tour guides.
But we are nothing compared to the field trip from hell that we watched play out on CNN just days ago. Grown men and women, playing dress up in camo gear, Viking horns, Confederate flags and face paint traveled from across the country to converge and scourge the capitol. It was a classless (in every sense possible) excursion.
And their permission slip was signed by Donald Trump, Proud Boy proudly and with a big old Sharpie felt-tip.
He was the chaperone, too. Not because he understands government or governing or guiding young minds. He’s more like the gym coach who got caught peeping into the girls’ locker room and who has sustained way too many tackle blows to the head. Unfit for field trip duty — but what else are we going to do with him?
There’s no excusing the thugs who committed acts of violence and sedition on Tuesday afternoon. They were dumb, dumber and Instagram-captured. I can hear the other kids now: Just wait until you get back to school. You are sooo busted.
But people (i.e., lawyers in expensive suits, Rush Limbaugh and conservative interest groups) will try to excuse the acts, just like parents and handwringing school counselors will intervene to save delinquents from detention or juvie hall. They’ll point to video games, the dark Web, enabling mothers, cruel fathers, the wrong crowd, lost jobs and a system that’s just not fair. Those long guns have to compensate for something, after all.
There’s no excuse for breaking and entering, putting public servants in harm’s way and trashing the U.S. capitol like a rock band in a hotel room. The ‘they didn’t know better’ defense doesn’t hold up.
Except for this: I don’t believe they know enough about democracy to truly understand the value of what they’re trashing, stealing or trying to ‘take back.’ They slept through civics class and didn’t wake up until four years ago.
And in some odd way, I find pitiful solace in that fact. Because the tenets of democracy, the ideals of our founding fathers, the Constitution and the commitment to a more perfect union — those are national treasures that can’t be stolen or spoiled by ignorant hoodlums. They cannot grab those ideals because they cannot grasp them.
I am reminded of the 2011 riots in Cairo, Egypt, and the fear the world felt as looters entered museums holding antiquities. And the sigh of relief I felt when I heard that most damage had been confined to the gift shop. What the U.S. capitol thugs stole was akin to Pharaoh bobble heads and pyramid keychains — cheap souvenirs that will tarnish quickly. They are bumbling tools for a ego-maniacal fool who doesn’t read, know or respect history. While he’s stirring them up and telling them to ‘be strong’ and to fight, he’s floating the cowardly notion of a self-pardon.
The whole premise of the Washington, D.C. field trip is to instill a sense of pride, purpose and citizenry. We want our kids to gaze up in wonder at the Lincoln Memorial. To test their echo in the Rotunda, surrounded by the ghost voices Jefferson, Madison, Adams and the rest. To rub their hands over the names carved in black granite at the Vietnam monument. To be inspired in ways small and grand. Inspired to serve, defend, run for office, vote, volunteer, debate, and yes, protest. Inspired to respect the history we share. The rite-of-passage field trip should should spark interest and a sense of belonging to something vast and beautiful. It should not be an incendiary call to arms.
All of that was lost on those who took their misguided tour Wednesday.
The MAGA mob who stormed the steps and broke down the door of the Senate chamber may have wrapped themselves in flags, but they are the furthest thing from patriots. They are punks — back-of-the-bus punks who ruin the field trip for everyone and take nothing home from the experience other than shop-lifted souvenirs. They need to be tried for their crimes and held accountable.
So does the chaperone-in-chief who plied his charges with tequila, weed and conspiracy theories and then drove the bus into the Potomac.