• Michael McAuliff

One Nation, Under Guard

You don't think of armed troops patrolling the United States Capitol.

National Guard troops protect the entrance to the U.S. Capitol while the House votes to impeach Donald Trump.

In spite of the generally tight security, the grounds of our nation's legislature were remarkably open. All you needed to do to get into any of its office buildings was walk through a metal detector, then go about you business.


Even to get into the Capitol building itself, it was never all that hard, as long as you had ID and knew the place you were going so you could inform the front desk.


Of course, that changed with COVID-19, which prompted the Sergeant at Arms to bar all but staff, select appointments and lawmakers.


Then came the Jan. 6 insurrection, when hundreds President Trump's unhinged supporters violently stormed the complex, where there weren't nearly enough police, and urgent calls for help -- before and during the assault -- met inexcusable delays.


But now the troops are here, providing security and building out the Capitol's perimeter ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20.


These forces are welcomed and thanked by all. Yet, they are as jarring in their way as the mob that battered its way into the building chanting "Hang Mike Pence," as the Vice President was presiding over the counting of the Electoral College votes.


There are not supposed to be uniformed soldiers toting long guns and riot gear patrolling the grounds of the seat of the world's most revered democracy.


Yet here they are, a stark symbol of an America divided under Donald Trump.


Where school groups and tourists should be gathering in lines to tour the Capitol and take in the the Capitol Visitors Center presentations on the remarkable story of America, soldiers have makeshift bivouacs and staging areas.


How long they will have to stay is unclear.


The hope is that once Biden is sworn in, the nation will settle down.


But the evidence so far has not been encouraging.


Even after the traitorous horde swarmed though the House and Senate in a rampage that killed and officer and left four other people dead, there was little unity on the floor of the House. Just 10 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the attack.


Some other Republicans condemned Trump as well, but couldn't bring them to vote to toss him out early in hopes of preventing more harm.

National Guard soldiers store riot shields and backpacks in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center.

Many said trying to punish Trump will only make matters worse.


Right-wing groups and white supremacists were already feeling emboldened and promising worse damage to come, so it's not entirely clear what Republicans thought was getting healed by withholding punishment.


And that leaves America, home of the oldest, most successful democracy in history, protecting its elected officials with armed forces.


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