The irrelevant in the room

It’s the obvious problem we all can see but refuse to talk about. This time it’s a Repub­lican-branded beast, depicted as an elephant since 1874.

Civil War soldiers used the expression of “seeing the elephant” to mean they had seen combat, until the political cartoonist Thom­as Nast used an elephant among a menagerie of other animals to signify the Republican vote. The image stuck. Since then the ele­phant hasn’t left the room.

Populist movements — often personal­ity-driven — tend to lose their spark once that personality has left the stage. I hope this turns out to be the case for our nation’s recent experiment with authoritarian rule. That experience has surely been a failure, but occasionally a movement lingers after the big top gets packed away. We may have inherited the herd.

There’s no better place to start discussing an undeniable problem than with an investi­gation of the January 6th attack on our na­tion’s Capitol. Many who listened to the Sen­ate impeachment trial say they have heard enough. But what took place on January 6th was orchestrated by a personality and a populist movement, and many of the actors in the drama held and continue to hold posi­tions of power in the government alongside the Constitution they claim to represent.

Recently conservatives in the Senate blocked the House’s attempt to form a 9/11-style investigation into the attack, forc­ing the House to approve a smaller commit­tee by a narrow House majority, with only two Republicans voting in favor. From the elephant’s point of view, obstruction will be the plan.

It’s obvious many conservatives don’t want to talk about January 6th. They don’t want anybody to talk about it. They want the country to “move on,” stop blaming and pointing the finger. So let me do just that, move on and try to figure out why that el­ephant won’t leave the room.

According to NPR, data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive reported 189 people killed, with 516 (including two police offi­cers) injured, in shootings over this Fourth of July weekend. The shootings overwhelm­ingly took place in Chicago, Texas, Virginia, and Ohio. And that’s just the casual holiday slaughter disclosure, not the mass shoot­ings we’ve grown so accustomed to hearing about. The problem with gun violence, as they say, is “in our face” but gun legislation has been consistently defeated. Proposed laws in a dozen red states seek to nullify any federal gun-control measures, allowing local police to stop enforcing existing fed­eral laws. Texas, for example, just passed an open-carry gun law that takes effect on Sept. 1, allowing Texans to carry handguns with­out any license or training.

Also let me mention our nation’s health, because over a half-million Americans have died from the COVID virus. CDC guide­lines have been asking citizens for over a year to wear a mask for the sake of personal and public safety, as well as urging Americans to choose vaccination as a means of limiting the vi­rus spread. These guide­lines, based on an ever-changing and emerging science, have been ma­ligned and stirred into a pot of conspiracy soup, fed to the populists as if the government is trying to control, but not pro­tect them. It makes sense that COVID cases are rising in much of our country, but those rates are doubling in states where vaccinations have been refused, the same places where public health recommen­dations for safety have been ignored or in­convenient mandates quickly stripped away.

I went to the food market last week to buy a loaf of bread. My preferred brand has been sporadically out of stock, but the delivery man’s rolling carts full of new bak­ery items stood beside the shelves and he was filling in the empty spaces. I thanked him for resupplying my favorite. He stood up and looked at me, as if explaining to a loafer that if the Democrats would stop giv­ing people money, America would have been back to work long ago. I wanted to remind him that stimulus payments were also ap­proved by Republicans when they held the majority, some of those dollars even before the pandemic in the form of permanent tax breaks received by wealthy cor­porations, which aren’t exactly complaining about the handouts. Jobs will always be important, but working for peanuts is only popular with el­ephants, creatures that supposedly never forget. It’s just their counter­parts who don’t like to be reminded.

Not to mention names, but maybe it’s time for the irrelevant to get down from the elephant. You know, the one who thinks he’s still the ringleader of this political circus. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus mercifully retired their elephant acts in 2016.

Is it just a coincidence this one showed up about that same time in Washington, D.C.?

David Feela, an award-winning poet, essayist, and author, writes from Cortez, Colo. See his works at

From David Feela.