There has been much to see during our 319 days of self-imposed coronavirus confinement. Many were things we thought we would never see:
- a president attempting to sustain himself in office in spite of a clear electoral loss (there is even a word for it most of us had never heard – autogolpe),
- his feckless efforts to use the judicial branch first by packing it and then by flooding it with sterile lawsuits hoping he would find appointees willing to advance his case,
- a significant portion of the population consumed with bizarre conspiracy thinking,
- and finally, a mob assaulting and desecrating the seat of our national government.
Sitting around in lockdown with not much to do but watch news and drink coffee gives me plenty of time to lie in bed awake at night trying to figure out what has gone wrong in the country of my birth and what we can do to repair it.
The violent invasion of the Capitol by our own citizens just over a fortnight ago was the most jarring emotional upset I have experienced since September 11, 2001. You may say “but it did not result in as many lost lives.” But I would say that the aims of the invaders, if accomplished would have resulted in many more. Extending Donald Trump’s stay in the White House would have extended his mismanagement of a public health emergency that has already, since January a year ago, resulted in over 400,000 deaths. And, even worse, it would have caused the death of a government and way of life many have fought and died to defend and protect.
I used the fusty old word “fortnight” in the previous paragraph purposely because in my late-night musings about the Capitol mob, it occurred to me that the attitudes they betrayed were like those of teenagers who were magically taken inside their simplistic Fortnite gamer world. No longer were they limited by their controllers and broadband speed. They got real world response to their guns and clubs. They roamed the halls and shouted threats seemingly with little understanding of what they were doing.
Of course, some of them knew very well what they were doing. They were the violent thugs from the more organized racist e-gangs who had mobilized followers to do things that were outside the bounds of their usual behavior. It is a well-known phenomenon of adolescents in groups.
My thought was not to condemn videogames. But maybe we should look at the ease with which grown men and women moved from victimless on-line killing of an undefined “other” into one of the most sacred temples of our democracy looking for the very real Vice President and Speaker.
In the games they play night after night, they routinely take out humanoid characters with guns, bombs, and clubs. I have watched groups of teenagers play Fortnite and it was an unsettling experience for me. These were good kids, and they were having no problem moving into this violent world. On January 6, we saw the grownups showing similar ease in moving the opposite direction, from their online dystopia into the real world. Was it every gamer’s dream? The game becomes reality and you get a taste of the power that can come with violence.