The unbelievable happened. The pictures will not leave us any time soon — a dark day in American history.
The idea that our country’s Capitol building, a citadel of national honor, has been invaded and vandalized by a group of terrorists, white supremacists and right-wing extremists, makes us cringe. Hearing of such an atrocity is astonishing and heartbreaking.
We will remember specific words with this national tragedy. “We love you,” and “You are special,” tweeted to the invaders by our president. These words will linger in the minds of many. Words like these, said during a period of great emotional intensity, often become cemented in our minds. More so if they are clipped, easy to remember and full of emotional baggage. But even these words, 10 years from now will be lost to most.
The images of this moment will last much longer. It has been 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center. Other than the emotional screams, I cannot recall the powerful statements undoubtedly made at the time.
Not so with the vivid images of the aircraft crashing into the buildings. Not so with the heart-wrenching sight of those who threw themselves from their office windows to their deaths or hovered on the ledge contemplating which form to end their lives. Those images will last to my dying day, and likely so for the rest of those watching the carnage of 9/11.
According to scholars, police brutality against minority groups has been known for decades. But the recent string of graphic videos, now seen in our living rooms rather than only described in print, has awakened many and created the Black Lives Matter movement. When the images are as explicit and damning as the knee on George Floyd’s neck, they become embedded and cannot be denied. Many watched with horror, while others needed to turn away from the pain and disgust they felt.
What images will be remembered from the invasion of our Capitol building? It’s hard to forget the avalanche of media and audaciously crass selfies taken by the vandals, terrorists and mobsters who invaded the “People’s House” — a term usually used for the White House, but which was widely applied to the Capitol after last week’s attack. Pictures of faux military commandos and an intruder sitting defiantly at Nancy Pelosi’s desk, or breaking windows or posing triumphantly with a Trump flag on a statue of a former president.
We see pictures with our eyes, but the ones we remember the longest are the ones we recall through our feelings. The positive ones can bring a moist eye, if not a tear. The hurtful ones likely reside in our stomach — not erased by looking away.
For most Americans, Donald J. Trump is now inexorably tied to the images of the Capitol invasion. For most, the depth of the negative feelings of those moments will not be forgotten. So powerful, they will continue to stain his accomplices long after the current heat has died down. When Trump’s political allies run for election again, you will see and remember the feelings from those images.
Before the invasion of the Capitol, I had written that Trump’s hold on the Republican Party and his power was at its zenith and henceforth would begin to slowly decline. The pictures of his supporters defacing the U.S. Capitol, iconic images, have altered that view. The images, indelibly embedded in our minds, have immensely greased that slide.
“Out damned spot!” said Lady Macbeth, futilely washing her hands. “Out I say!” The Republican Party, too, may be lamenting their stain at the hands of Donald Trump and his minions for decades to come. The images of traitorous men and women brazenly parading through the halls of our sacred building, carrying Confederate flags and defaming our national treasures, will return and return, unable to be washed away.
Robert Pawlicki is a retired psychologist and a frequent contributor to the Savannah (Georgia) Morning News.