Feast of Fools on Capitol Hill

Disrespect and Moral Violation


My first indication that anything was awry yesterday came when I saw a tweet that read “I WANT TO SEE PUBLIC HANGINGS.” Like many Americans, I spent the rest of the day watching events unfold, and at least according to our political leaders, here’s what happened:

The American Capitol was subject to a “failed insurrection” (Mitch McConnell) by “domestic terrorists” (Chuck Schumer) who chose “Trump over truth” (Cory Booker) and whose perpetrators “should be provided no leniency” (Chuck Schumer), as their actions, according to Joe Biden, “border[ed] on sedition.”

I want to see public hangings. “Shoot the protestors” was a similar sentiment from another tweet that has since been removed. Perhaps some other old-testament-style punishment rumble up into your own imagination.

Few things can summon this deep, vengeful intuition that was shared by so many observers. This was a moral violation of the highest order—a sacred house has been desecrated, the image of Muhammed has been drawn. The scale of this transgression requires the highest degree of punishment. Humans have a long history of destroying heretics, after all.

The Associated Press says it’s not a coup (at least, not yet). It’s difficult to watch footage of the disordered pod of boomers and internet personalities clomping through the halls of the senate, smashing windows and taking selfies, and see it as any kind of organized attempt to overthrow the government. But it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. All that matters is what it feels like. And it’s clearly given many observers a terribly seditious feeling in their stomach and a treasonous sensation in their head.

Let’s look at some images that have summoned this feeling the most:

This man is sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk. In his denim and flannel, with his boots perched on her desk—where she conducts her sacred duty to defend the constitution—he’s laughing, enjoying himself. The disrespect is palpable.

Here’s a man walking through the halls of the Senate with the confederate flag. Depending on the observer he’s flying a symbol of a failed secession, of rebellion, of white supremacy, of southern heritage, or of slavery. 

These men invaded a holy place, disrespected its sanctity, and turned the entire thing on its head. They might as well have been worshiping Satan in the house of God. 

And in many ways, this is the symbolic analogue to what happened yesterday. It was a feast of fools.

Feast of Fools

The Feast of Fools was a Catholic inversion ritual practiced locally in early the medieval ages whereby official positions of authority (such as priest, bishop, or pope) were temporarily occupied by subordinates, and churchgoers would engage in crude practices such as gambling, singing profane songs, drinking, and otherwise subversively partying their way through the liturgy. 

Although the scholarly accounts of these practices are varied and debated, the central church was never too pleased about this ritual, and issued plenty of condemnations until it died out. Blasphemy, after all, is the highest of moral violations.

So just as the house of God was intentionally subverted in early medieval Christendom, the congress was intentionally corrupted by subversive transgressors. That is to say, the point of disrespecting Nancy Pelosi’s desk and the Senate was to be disrespectful (and have fun doing it).

Of course, there are many differences between the events of yesterday and a true inversion ritual. Such rituals are not protests or calls for change, but rather function as pressure-relief valves—reinforcing the status-quo in the end. And we can hardly say the “Stop the Steal” protest has any intention to support the status quo.

Nevertheless, like the Feast of Fools, the violation of this sacred space was to burst the holy bubble of Congress. Subordinates occupied positions of power, with their muddy boots on Nancy Pelosi’s desk and their profane chants echoing through the most reified chamber in the nation. 

Humans have a history of destroying heretics. In other parts of the world, some still do. And in the American part of the world, some have that desire today.

Here’s why some want people to hang (Remember: no leniency):

That Trump-supporting mob invaded a sacred building, penetrated a holy chamber, and desecrated the space. Symbolically, the barbarians pillaged, looted, and raped an innocent and pious village. And there is no avoiding the deep intuition for righteous retribution—the hanging, the beheading, the drawing and quartering, the search and destruction of those evil men.

It does not matter that no members of Congress were physically hurt. Nor does it matter that the building was relatively unscathed. 

So no (material) harm, no (material) foul? 

No. The altar of democracy was sullied by a vile mob of brutes. Deep, sacred harm was committed against the spirit of America, and there is little forgiveness for enemies of the people. Demons ought to be exercised, rapists ought to be killed, and barbarian kings ought to be brought to justice. 


No amount of purported secularism, utilitarianism, or rationalism can mitigate moral intuition—that feeling in your gut that says God is angry, or pleased, or demands retribution. And insofar as our American democracy is our religion, a righteous, vicious response to the unrighteous, unholy violation of our church that we witnessed yesterday is all but inevitable. And perhaps the violators will learn their lesson after all the punishment has been doled out. Or perhaps they’ll take just their blasphemy more seriously.

That’s all for now.



*This is not the whole story, nor is this an exhaustive treatment of everything that happened yesterday. Here’s what I didn’t talk about: A protestor/rioter was shot by security. A man wore a sweater that referenced Auschwitz. They built a hanging galley. Two bombs were found at the RNC and DNC. And I’m sure there’s plenty more I’ve missed.