Updated: Jan 7, 2021
By Thomas Neuburger
A large number of electrons will be spilled over the event at the Capitol — the riot, the insurrection, the performative acting out, however one wants to see it through whatever lens one wants to see it through. I may be one of those spilling them.
But today I want to make a few preliminary points.
First, it appears the police invited or allowed the rioters in. Consider this video showing the cops clearing the barricades and walking away as the protesters/insurrectionists poured through:
Joy Reid had a righteous rant on MSNBC as the events were unfolding, making the unvarnished point that white/right-wing protestors know "the cops are with them" (my paraphrase). In that context, the video is stark and damning. All praise on her for that — no punches pulled at all. (Why might this reliable Democratic Party defender have been tempted to pull her punches? Read on.)
This point, that the cops are aligned with the rioters, needs a full exploration in the days ahead. The nation needs to confront the fact that, in fact, police as an institution are a right-wing force.
If Democrats are tempted to soften and hide this fact in mistaken "centrist" loyalty to violent agents of the state they often excuse, it will tar them further in the eyes of those who see the obvious truth. That will not only be morally wrong; it will have electoral consequences, and Democratic leaders are already flirting with disaster on that front.
Second, there must be a response or this will become normalized, just as this explosion was normalized by events like the Brooks Brothers riot in 2000. The response should take several forms.
Ayanna Pressley has called for the immediate impeachment of the president:
This is correct. Trump should have been impeached on day one, as soon as it became clear he was in violation of the Emoluments Clause (I wrote about the need for that impeachment here), and he should be impeached now. This started, never forget, with a late morning speech that same day at which Trump instructed a crowd of his supporters to take their grievances to the Capitol building:
Calling the outcome of the election “this egregious assault on our democracy,” [trump] said his supporters should “walk down to the Capitol.”
“We are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” he continued, “and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them — because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
When bad deeds go unpunished, they become permitted. This deed will become permitted if it's not addressed with force. Immediate impeachment counts as force, and failing to address it with force counts as cowardice at best, and complicity in future similar events at worst. This is another trap that Democratic leaders may easily fall into.
Security-state media conduit David Ignatius made an additional point as these events unfolded — that Trump must be sealed off from power to keep him from doing even greater harm.
This too is correct. It must be done, however, in constitutional ways, not by staff disobedience or in-house insurrection. That too would set a terrible precedent. (Whether that kind of insurrection has already occurred, recently or not, is beside the point. It must not happen now with all eyes watching.)
Third, look for even more calls for even more Internet censorship and a further ramp-up of the security state. You can see this starting now in the pages of the New York Times:
The New York Times has published two new articles titled “The storming of Capitol Hill was organized on social media” and “Violence on Capitol Hill Is a Day of Reckoning for Social Media“, both arguing for more heavy-handed restrictions on speech from Silicon Valley tech giants.
In the former, NYT’s Sheera Frenkel writes “the violence Wednesday was the result of online movements operating in closed social media networks where people believed the claims of voter fraud and of the election being stolen from Mr. Trump,” citing the expert analysis of think tank spinmeister Renee DiResta of “Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian asset” fame. As usual no mention is made of DiResta’s involvement in the New Knowledge scandal in which a Russian interference “false flag” was staged for an Alabama Senate race.
“These people are acting because they are convinced an election was stolen,” DiResta said. “This is a demonstration of the very real-world impact of echo chambers.”
The first shot has already been fired. Bipartisan elites and most of the "DC consensus" want a more locked-down society; it maintains the status quo from which they all feed.
Do you think Democratic leaders want a George Floyd-like movement that colors outside the borders of what benefits them? That's never been true; Joe Biden wants to increase police funding. The same is true of Republican leaders, all but those who want to cynically benefit from insurrectionist feelings, like Josh Hawley.
No one in permanent power wants a populace that meaningfully expresses dissatisfaction with the whole lot of them. Shutting down avenues of organization and action will always be on the menu. The Capitol assault enables more of it.
Finally, there are something like 74 million voters — and who knows how many non-voters — who may think (incorrectly) that Biden is an illegitimate president-elect. This act, storming the Capitol building, flows from that thought.
A wrong thought, yes. One fed by opportunism and propaganda, yes. But clearly, those who think this way have withdrawn their "consent of the governed" from the present U.S. government. This is a problem, but not the one you're likely thinking about.
The Problem In a Nutshell
To get a sense of the problem I’m referring to, consider the following. Flip this situation around and imagine that Trump had been narrowly elected instead, amid numerous charges of fraud and dereliction by Republican election officials. Now imagine the courts upheld the result that election, despite obvious perversions to obtain the outcome. This is not beyond imagination; it happened in 2000.
Four more years of Trump would be a sentence to hell in the minds of many voters. They would not be wrong, given his bent of mind and radical incompetence. Now think of the dystopian role-play scenarios floated on the liberal left in the run-up to November, how many they were, how wide-ranging and panicked they were in what they thought might occur.
If any of those fears were truly realized and Trump were the winner, how many of "us" — whoever "us" may be — would feel like the 74 million fed by Trump? And if we did, what would we do about it?
We may not riot in the Capitol building. But we might do other things, like appeal to electors to violate their oath, to turn "faithless." This is certainly what happened in 2016...
Over 3.6 million people have signed a petition on Change.org asking electors to pick Clinton when the Electoral College meets on December 19 to cast its ballots....
The petition notes, “Mr. Trump is unfit to serve. His scapegoating of so many Americans, and his impulsivity, bullying, lying, admitted history of sexual assault, and utter lack of experience make him a danger to the Republic.”
...just the behavior that "our" side decried in 2020.
We might do many things. Many would argue we should do many things. After all, in both our minds and fact, that Trump government would not be legitimate in the literal sense of the word.
I fully understand that this Trump mob is entirely wrong-headed, and that there's no comparison between Trump's electoral failure in 2020, when he lost popular vote, and Clinton's in 2016, when she won it. I also understand that Trump, while not uniquely evil, is at least, by temperament and malignant psychology, a genuine danger to any Republic he rules.
But set that aside. The way we feel would feel about a stolen Trump election, is the way they feel about a "stolen" Biden one. Would we act as those people did? I hope we would not. But we would act, using whatever levers of power we thought were fair, including, perhaps, unusual Constitutional ones, like challenges to electors; and including, perhaps, numerous and energetic protests.
Please be clear: I don't think we are like them. But also be clear: They feel as we would feel if what they fantasize happened to them, had happened in fact to us.
And that's the problem in a nutshell. If you want to feel this conundrum viscerally, watch this video.
How do we deal with these people going forward?
And what do we do when we are in their place — as, so I think, we may certainly someday be?