Watching yesterday’s events, from Trump’s rally to the surging crowd outside the Capitol to the oddly-decorated Capitol-crashers to the House Members and Senators convened, hour after hour, processing the Electoral College vote, I was reminded of Sturgis, South Dakota, which became the biggest super-spreader event of the whole pandemic to date, sowing death and disease across a wide swathe of America.
Yesterday’s Brownshirts-in-drag weren’t as numerous as the Sturgis crowd, but they sure yelled a lot, often at close range in the faces of other people. Who knew that “ACAB,” when yelled in the right tone, is NOT a plea for hired conveyance, but shorthand for “All Cops Are Bastards?” Many cops are now also potentially contagious. Even the Congressional sessions, relative models of decorum, were disturbing. Sure, they were wearing masks, but few of the masks were N95-grade. They and their staff members were close together indoors for endless hours, in a space recently swarmed by the unmasked unwashed from all over the country.
Many of the elected worthies are advanced in years, and all were very tired. A number of the speechifiers had mask management issues, with coverage repeatedly slipping below their free-range noses. Politics is the art of putting heads together to reach understandings, and lots of heads spent a lot of time together. In the Senate, Mitch whisperers and Chuck whisperers leaned close and whispered.
In the House, I watched fascinated during one voting period as AOC held court; she was at the center of a knot of 4-5 men. All were masked, but they were cheek by jowl. She’s an impressive woman who knows how to hold attention: the boys stayed very close—virus close—for at least half an hour. Elsewhere in the chamber, other knots formed and dissolved, but AOC’s was the most durable, the biggest, and the most tightly-packed. That’s simply asking too much of the kind of cloth masks most of them wear. What she was breathing, they were breathing.
In the world outside the Capitol, America is buckling under the blows of the pandemic. Yesterday saw 3,865 deaths, the 4th new record in the past 9 days. It also saw over 250,000 new cases, the 2nd-worst day since the pandemic began. One and possibly two new variants of the virus are on the loose in America, both markedly more contagious, both a risk to at least partially evade tests, treatments, and even vaccines. Both are more capable of punishing lapses in good behavior. I hope we got lucky, and that yesterday’s vile threat to our democracy doesn’t turn out to also be a literal killer of citizens and their elected representatives: Trump’s mob spreading Trump’s plague. A pox on his house.