Political Struggle in a Time of Polarization
Two things stand out in the image. First, there’s the beautiful fasces in the upper left, the twin of a second fasces on the other side of the speaker’s podium. Based on writings of the Roman epic poet Livius Andronicus, the fasces is described by a website on Italian fascism as “a bundle of white birch rods tied together with a red ribbon. The Fasces represents ‘strength through unity’ – since rods bundled together possess more strength than one individual rod. The axe represents the power of the state to punish the people. Many populist movements in Italy, ranging from socialist to nationalist, used the symbol of fasces for their movements, but the symbol is now recognized almost entirely for the Fascist political ideology of Benito Mussolini.” The former journalist Mussolini coined the term fascism from the Roman fasces, which was employed by magistrates in grand processionals that often included war booty, exotic animals and captured slaves.
So there they are: Two quite large and beautifully rendered bronze fasces on the wall behind the speaker's podium of the US House of Representatives on the opening day of the new Congress, the same day a gang of House Republicans (let's visualize them in robes in a Roman drama) tried to disembowel the House ethics oversight body. It should be pointed out that the fasces is not of the order of the swastika. It works more as the symbol of a certain type of power arrangement versus a symbol linked to a specific odious regime. It appears frequently in august locations like the US House of Representatives.
What adds dark power to the image is Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's upraised arm reminiscent of Adolf Hitler's characteristically throw-away, limp-wristed heil salute. Sure, we know that Ryan was swearing in the new Congress and not giving a "heil Trump!" salute. For a regime that encourages a climate where symbol and emotion trump facts and power trumps truth -- my question is: Does the poetic meaning of an image like this trump the real-life fact?