One Thing at Time

Photo By TapTheForwardAssist

The Capitol Insurrection was a monumental event that, unless something even more dramatic and disruptive happens in the next few weeks, will likely shape American public life for the next decade.  Emotions are still raw, even while the investigations are underway and many of the facts are yet unknown.  What is clear already, however, is a broad consensus across the political spectrum that the attack was terrible, should not have happened, and at least some of the responsible parties should face consequences, even if there is some disagreement as to who those parties are.  What is also emerging are three distractions that threaten to divert attention and resources from the critical task of understanding this event and holding people accountable.  

The first distraction is focus on the tactical security situation.  Obviously, security at the Capitol on January 6th was insufficient, but right now this is giving lawmakers and pundits a way to sound angry and concerned without being productive or controversial.  Crowd security is not quantum physics.  We know how to secure a building.  We have counted the Electoral College votes in this manner for hundreds of years without anyone being killed in the process. What was different this time is the President of the United States and some of his supporters in Congress were calling the process illegitimate and demanding action.  Decisions were made to assemble this crowd, to give them a grievance, to send them to the Capitol, and to have minimal security present.  

Again, a healthy review of the security failings is necessary, but that is being done by the appropriate parties and is something that should not distract from the near-miss end of American democracy.  

The second distraction is coming loud and hard from the far-right, and from the most-exposed leadership in the GOP.  Talking points floated so far include: “The attack wasn’t that bad.” “It was a fiery speech.  The Democrats lit actual fires!” “BLM protests were worse and you didn’t condemn them.” “It was actually the left attacking the Capitol to discredit the President.”  “The protests were justified by the Democrats stealing the election. These people have every right to fight.” And “Okay, the attack was terrible and we condemn violence, but they don’t really represent us.  Any attempt to examine this further or hold anyone accountable will just further divide the country.”  

A careful reader will note that several of these arguments work at cross purposes.  If the attack was not as bad as it is being made out to be, why does one need to condemn it?  If the attack were actually launched by Antifa and BLM, why are all of the identified and arrested perpetrators vocal supporters of Trump and Qanon?  As to the riots and protests associated with Black Lives Matter over the summer, much of the vandalism came from provocateurs trying to discredit the movement, when there was violence and disorder many families of people shot by police and liberal leaders condemned it.  The BLM protests were also not aimed at overthrowing the government or lynching anyone.  Also, other instances of civil disorder are completely irrelevant to attempted insurrection in Washington D.C.

Calls for unity now ring quite hollow.  Mounting evidence suggests that the violent mob were inspired by the President and Republican leaders, given tours of the Capitol for recon and real-time information on the location of the Speaker by Republican members of Congress, and members of law enforcement and veterans took part in the attack.  President Trump and his closest associates have demonized their opponents for years, talked about the “2nd Amendment people” doing something to stop the Democrats, offered to pay for the lawyer if someone assaulted a protestor at a rally, and consistently insisted, on nearly a daily basis, that every grievance that Trump supporters have is real.  For two months now, the President has lied that the election was stolen from him.  

I refuse to say, “The President continues to falsely claim that there was widespread voter fraud despite a lack of evidence.” As the networks do.  He got millions of fewer votes than Joe Biden.  He knows this.  They all do.  Yet they went to court, raised hundreds of millions of dollars, and eventually sent an armed mob to murder people while claiming justification from a blatant, proven, lie.   There can be no reconciliation without consequences.  That is why the far right talking points are a distraction.

The last distraction is one actually shared by the extreme right and some elements of the far left.  The backlash against the Capitol Insurrection has been commensurate with its severity and the broad opposition to it.  The President was suspended from essentially all social media, Parler was hacked and de-hosted, corporate America is severing ties with politicians too closely aligned with the insurrection, and boycotts and criminal prosecution are facing participants.  To the far right, this is their worst nightmares about Cancel culture made real.  To the far left, there is alarm over talk of new security measures against protestors that will then be used on them in the future.  Fear of the raw power of the tech giants to censor speech, identify protestors, and economically ostracize undesirables is common among both ends of the political spectrum.    

Like the tactical security question above, there are legitimate issues here, and I don’t want to minimize them.  But right now, this week, they are distractions.  We’re not even out of shock as a nation yet.  We don’t know how deep the complicity went in Congress.  We don’t know if there are more attacks planned.  Almost all of the people who just attempted to overthrow the government of the United States are still free, unfettered, and (some) in positions of power.  When the new administration is secure, the threat of insurrection has passed, and members of Congress are confident that their colleagues are not plotting to murder them, we can start talking about breaking up the tech giants.  One thing at a time.

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