America, you’re better than what happened at the Capitol

You thought of the hotel clerk in Rome, three springs ago. The one who professed how much he loved NASCAR. The Italian kid who couldn’t get Carolina off his mind.

“If I go to America …” he asked, then paused.

The kid leaned closer.

“If I go to America,” he whispered, “am I going to be OK there?”

What would you tell him after what happened Wednesday?

After the jaw-dropping images coming from Washington D.C.? After the shattered glass and shattered ideals? After the circus turned tragic?

“It’s been intense,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada said by phone Wednesday evening, not far from the chaos at the Capitol that marked one of the darkest days in U.S. history.

“You heard things, where it was some noises of (what sounded) like explosions out there.”

This was banana republic stuff, the kind of mob scenes plucked from newsreel footage and documentaries. The sort of things you’d gape at, like a 12-car pile-up, and convince yourself could never, ever happen here.

Until they did.

“(Wednesday) is a day that really makes me mad, let’s put it that way,” Perlmutter said. “And I’m very disappointed in folks who would dishonor and desecrate the Capitol of the United States of America.

“But we will get on with our business. We’re going to get back to debating and get these electoral votes counted, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated as President and Vice President in two weeks.”

Protest, loud protest, is an absolute, unassailable right. Storming the Capitol is a criminal offense.

For hours, we watched helplessly as malevolence rattled the gates of Democracy, literal and figurative, before crashing through. We saw the sort of vandalism and terrorism, retaliatory fantasies conceived on the darkest corners of the internet, play out in real time. A Carhartt Coup.

A woman was shot. Someone died for this. Make America Great Again? A Great America dissents. It doesn’t destroy.

A Great America doesn’t break into the office of the House Speaker and scrawl messages of warning on her desk. It doesn’t stick MAGA hats on the statue of Gerald Ford. It doesn’t dangle from the Senate balcony like it’s the set of a Tom Cruise movie.

Lock them up. Every last one of them. Get the names, the social security numbers, the lot.

A Great America has consequences. And guardrails. And decency.

If I go to America, am I going to be OK there?

What would you tell him after Wednesday? What would you tell him now?