This Cheesy Documentary About the US Capitol Dome Sure Hits Differently These Days

There isn’t much to do on a Saturday night these days. So last night I found myself down a YouTube rabbit hole, learning about the history of the US Capitol building. I stumbled across a video published by the Architect of the Capitol, the federal agency responsible for maintaining the entire US Capitol Complex. It’s the sort of timpani-laced propaganda flick that practically bleeds cheese. But instead of finding my eyes rolling, I found them, I hate to admit it, misty? I’m not the only one. As YouTube commenter “BN” notes, “This hits different in 2021.” Sure does, BN. Another commenter, four weeks ago: “Made my eyes water considering what just happened a few days ago.”

The video is about the $59.5 million restoration of the Capitol’s dome that began in 2013, and was completed in November 2016—and the loving craftsmanship applied to every detail, overlaid with some heavy-handed patriotism and bipartisan bonhomie from a cast of top leaders. Put aside the nostalgia for a time of party unity that never actually existed, and focus on the preservation science, the moments of real archeology (analyzing paint layers!), and notes of genuine can-do pride from the expert workers. (The Architect of the Capitol’s blog also provides this compelling and detailed account of how they cleaned up and repaired widespread damage after the January 6 insurrection. It’s a great read.)

Remarking on the vastness of the restoration project, and the dome’s sheer heft, one conservator notes in the film, “What we’re trying to preserve here is the solidness of our country.” Good to ponder, before a week in which we will be inundated by images of the Capitol under attack, during Trump’s second impeachment trial.

(Am I being too sentimental? Happy to field your cynicism in the comments.)

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