Not An Escalation of Trumpism, An Acceleration of Consequences
The House of Representatives has taken the historic step to impeach President Donald Trump for a second time, just one week after he fanned the flames behind a shocking domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol building. The Senate is set to take up the trial after President-Elect Biden is sworn in on January 20th, less than one week away. Our nation — reeling from terrifying images of an attack on an American symbol not seen since 9/11 — is struggling to navigate a full-on crisis in our Republic. But our people and institutions must face this catastrophe squarely if we are to prevent future threats to our democratic process. Efforts are already underway to deflect to other issues or bypass the careful study leading up to the events of January 6th.
We absolutely cannot afford to let that happen.
Deflecting is easy, and the GOP is excellent at it. Immediately after the storming of the Capitol, conservative media questioned the most obvious of facts, namely that the perpetrators were agitated, violent Trump supporters. Greg Kelly, the highest-rated host on Newsmax told his viewers “These people don’t look like Trump supporters. Trump supporters don’t do these things.” “I’d like to know who the agitators were,” Fox News host Sean Hannity told his crowd, maintaining that “those who truly support President Trump…do not support those that commit acts of violence.” Laura Ingraham told her audience “They were likely not all Trump supporters,” and Tucker Carlson sought to cast doubt on ever knowing who the true identities of the men and women involved, declaring “I keep seeing all kinds of accounts of who they were and what their motives might have been.” The popular refrain was Antifa, a loosely-structured group of people on the left who physically confronted white supremacists, had somehow infiltrated the group. Never mind this was precisely the fa that bunch is staunchly anti.
Luckily, establishment conservative outlets offered a strong rebuke to the de-facto head of their party. Matthew Continetti wasted no words at The National Review, writing, “The lawbreakers cannot go unpunished. Nor can the person ultimately responsible. His name is Donald Trump. The men and women who breached the House and Senate chambers were doing it for him. They carried just as many Trump flags as American (or Confederate) ones. They were not chanting “Make America Great Again” as he fueled their anger during his speech at the Ellipse this morning. They were crying, “Fight for Trump.” It wasn’t an idea or even a country they stood for as they knocked over barriers, climbed walls, bashed windows, forced open doors, and desecrated public property. It was one man. And this irrevocable loyalty to an individual, this devotion that places his interests above the plain text of the Constitution and the rule of law, is not characteristic of democracy. It is tyranny.” How strongly the Republican Party course corrects their populist base may very well be the defining factor to securing our democracy. The focus of unity is misplaced; it is not between the left and the right, but rather a long due course correction of the Republican establishment content to throw xenophobic and race-bating rhetorical red meat to its now uncontrollable populist base.
Too many on the right refuse to understand what has led our democracy to a breaking point. We are learning more about the events that transpired that day, including our lawmakers’ being urged to draw the curtains, stay away from windows, barricade the doors, remove their lapel pins lest they be identified as members of Congress, all while they heard explosions and the din of a mob consumed by bloodlust. We now know how organized the insurrectionists were, with their maps of the buildings, the pipe bombs set with timers placed around the city.
We did not take right-wing chatter of violence seriously the way we should have after the march on Charlottesville by white supremacists or the recently foiled plot to kidnap and harm Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Violence at this level has been in the making for quite some time, and those on the left raising the point were called alarmists or partisan.
This is a draining moment for our nation. We are processing the onslaught of information while trying to reconcile it all in our minds. The temptation to absorb this as yet another political upheaval we are desensitized to is great, but that would be shortsighted and bluntly, invite more terror into our nation. We can — and should — focus on the role of Big Tech and its influence in our society, but it must not come at the expense of facing the reality of this attack. Secretary Pompeo’s latest decision to designate Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism can — and should — be analyzed but not at the expense of our homegrown terrorism. Nothing is either/or. We are more than capable of focusing on multiple things at once and spotlighting the most dangerous threats to our country must be done on an urgent basis.
Nothing can be allowed to supplant or outweigh the ghastly reality that a group of Americans, many with military and law enforcement backgrounds, were incited by a sitting President to storm the Capitol during the certification of our election results with the singular aim to kidnap and harm our elected representatives.
Our President called for violence, aided and abetted by his absurdist lawyer Rudy Guiliani and soulless GOP members including Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. We knew the President wanted a show of force, and yet reading Washington Post’s excellent reporting, in which aides report the President gleefully watching the events unfold on live tv still feels like a twist of the knife.
For several hours, frantic calls were made by trapped members of Congress, begging for help. They went unanswered. Everything about this day requires a thorough investigation. Get those aides to testify, under oath. Call in the leadership of the National Guard to confirm their requests to help the Capitol Guard were rebuffed by a disinterested White House. Review the humiliating failures and breakdown of security leading to our Congress and Vice President’s lives to be in stunning danger, twenty years after 9/11 and incalculable amounts spent to fortify our nation. This ugly episode is Trump’s legacy, but it must only be relegated to last week. We must never allow this to happen again.
How can we rest knowing our democracy is safe by happenstance? Pipe bombs not going off, or certain police officers heroically diverting the mob giving our Senate chamber seconds to evacuate show that we narrowly escaped a far worse outcome that day, by sheer luck in the face of Presidential inaction.
What we have witnessed is not an escalation of Trump’s tone, but an acceleration of his consequences. If we do not defend America and her ideals in this moment, we leave the door open for another person in the image of Trump to capitalize on the enraged sentiment of his followers. Perhaps no group of people is more qualified to apply their work than those of us who have worked in the national security extremism/terrorism apparatus in these last few years.
We can begin by addressing who these people largely are: ethnonationalist Trump supporters craving a past wherein white men are the center of society, when America was reportedly great. The last few decades have seen the upending of the social order as women, racial minorities, and LGBT groups have claimed their equal standing under the banner of “We the People.” For the millions of Americans who found a leader in Trump, this has all has felt like a loss, an involuntary subordination. Note their chants of “We are here! See us!” on January 6th. The rhetoric exposes an unfiltered fury, an increasing sense of invisibility and hopelessness as they perceive lost ground in the political, material, and cultural spaces. While the gains for minorities have nowhere near leveled the playing field, they are felt as taking away avenues for success for the Trump base. Women controlling their fertility, marriage equality becoming the law of the land, witnessing people of color in political office is a gross affront to the white heteronormative worldview. White supremacy and racism are defining characteristics of this particular set but they also feel rejected as members of the working class. The particularly bitter irony is that on matters of the overlooked working class, they would align with some of Trump’s most vocal opponents on the left. But white supremacy and racism overwhelm other factors, and the mob was willing to attack the Capitol, the very seat of power dominated by white men, because even they have turned their backs on them and are traitors.
Trump’s supporters are not all non-college educated blue collar folks. Trump has enjoyed the support – financial and political – of many of the nation’s 1% and leading corporations and the financial diversity is evident amongst his supporters. Jenna Ryan, one of the rioters at the Capitol, is a real estate mogul from Texas who packed her private jet full of friends to participate in the insurrection. Regardless of socio-economic status, every single person who traveled to Washington, DC for the rally on January 6th was there because he or she fervently believed the lie the election was stolen. Republican politicians and conservative media relentlessly offer alternative facts, alternate realities, conspiracy theories for them to sink into like quicksand. We cannot move past this without taking the enablers of a civil insurgency to task. They, perhaps more than the rioters, deserve the blame. We cannot have unity without accountability. We cannot be safe from further attacks without consequences to those who unleashed this horror.
Americans are trying to maneuver work, family, friendships, physical and mental health in an ever-worsening pandemic, so we can be forgiven for not obsessing over these events on a daily basis. But our law enforcement, governmental bodies, and media ecosystems responsible for our safety and information cannot return to business as usual.
A total of 197 Republicans voted against impeaching Donald Trump. The logic is flimsy, counter-intuitive, conspiracy-theory driven — all of which is frustrating and dangerous. The most generous reason for failing to impeach him would be out of concern for their own safety and that of their staff, friends, and family. Those members would be well-advised to draw strength from countless Americans who did not allow fear to win. Let us not witness the party of Lincoln devoid of courage. As long as Trump commands the base, and as long as a conservative media peddles lies and deceit, Trumpism will become the face of a once respectable, sorely missed conservative party. We cannot water this down. We cannot escape into another rewatch of Schitt’s Creek and move on to the next outrage. This can easily happen again and it will be worse. On January 20th, 15,000 National Guard members will be patrolling Washington, DC, more boots on the ground in our capital than in either Iraq or Afghanistan. We have become our own worst enemy, and our Republic may not so luckily escape another self-inflicted wound.