So it’s come to this. The pathetic magical realism that a disturbing percentage of the American population is living in has propelled a group of them to storm the U.S. Capitol in the middle of the certification of a lawful election, forcing members of Congress to take cover, ransacking offices, smashing windows and doors, and then quietly walking away without (most of them) getting arrested. At least one woman, a military veteran, lost her life.
President Trump’s selfishness and irresponsibility, to the point of lighting the country on fire, were driven home profoundly by the day’s events, kicked off when he said he will “never concede” the election. We keep setting new norms as a country, thanks in large part to Trump, and it raises the odds of disaster. Mob rushes on the capitol during an election certification are now conceivable, and who knows who will do it next.
I don’t have a prescription for all of this, but I do think the diagnosis is that so many Americans are living in bubbles and soft unrealities. We don’t have agreed-upon facts. Not even close.
Before I get to that I want to try to bat away some of what I think is noise. People are comparing what happened yesterday to the riots in the summer, they’re calling what happened a “coup attempt,” and others are calling the mob “white supremacist terrorists.” I want to address those things.
Comparing what happened at the capitol yesterday to the riots that started in Minneapolis last summer, for whatever reason, isn’t useful. What happened in Minneapolis was spontaneous anger and chaos over the killing of a black man by police, a moment that inevitably carried the weight of American history, a history in which slavery has still (!) existed for longer as a matter of law than it has been abolished. It wasn’t right to burn down buildings, and it wasn’t right for some on the Left to downplay the tragedy of the looting and arson. In places like Portland, the rioting was indulged and has continued without the media covering it as vigorously as people on the Right would like. That’s all worth criticizing, but none of that has anything to do with what happened yesterday. Outside of people’s obsessive attempts to hold media figures accountable, I don’t think the summer (and fall) unrest is relevant.
Was yesterday a coup attempt? Maybe. But it was so poorly executed it doesn’t matter. There was obviously no plan for an actual coup. Trump has been hyping up conspiracy theories for months, and he’d probably welcome anything that keeps him in power, but after the mob forced its way into the vacated House chambers, what was supposed to be the next step? We’ll never know, because there was no next step. Trump doesn’t think that far ahead, the people rampaging through the capitol certainly weren’t thinking that far ahead, and I highly doubt any of them had the resolve to stage an actual coup. So spare me the opportunistic pearl-clutching about a coup. It was irresponsible, it was damaging to democracy, it was shameful, but it wasn’t a real attempt to overthrow the government. Congress was back in session by nightfall.
And then there’s the white supremacy talk. Had the people storming the capitol been Black, would they have mostly walked away unscathed? I don’t know. I kind of doubt it. But it’s worth remembering that police didn’t kill any rioters in Minneapolis, and protesters in Seattle were allowed to create an autonomous zone for weeks without police killing anybody. Some white supremacists, or at least people who like white supremacist imagery, appear to have been involved yesterday, but I think the “white supremacy” of the groups who stormed the capitol is very likely secondary to their belief in conspiracies.
Hundreds of thousands of people in our country (ok let’s face it: millions), believe in fantasies! I’ve talked to a few of them in recent months. They think the world is a Dan Brown novel, with villains behind the curtain that can only be defeated by melodramatic acts of heroism. They’re getting encouragement from a pathologically selfish president, and they’re unstable and they’re stupid. One woman I spoke to in Minnesota, a polite, neat, friendly person probably in her 60s, said she believed Donald Trump was the only hope for American salvation from pedophilia and pornography. I thought she was an outlier. It turns out, she’s not. Where this came from and why it’s taken hold of so many people, I do not know. I’ve only really started paying attention to this claptrap in the past few months. But it’s widespread, and it doesn’t fit clear categories of Republican vs Democrat or Conservative vs Liberal. None of this is helped by the bubble that a lot of people on the Left live in — one that has its own melodramas. They vilify people for opposing abortion, or for cherishing gun rights, or for not wearing a mask outdoors. They go on and on about how anyone who supports Trump is racist, as if that’s the beginning and end of the story. Not only do people on the Left condemn people on the Right for their views. They condemn anyone who does not also condemn them! And so the country is split into separate worlds. And even discussing these things in this way will cause some people to accuse me of “both-sidesism.” But guess what? Both-sidesism is reality. The world is complicated. The problem in America today is not a lack of moral certitude. It’s that too many people think the world is a comic book. That (plus some inexplicable incompetence from the Capitol Police) is how a bunch of costumed nutfucks get the energy to break into the capitol and shut down a joint session of Congress to certify an election.
Must watch: British TV report from the Capitol yesterday — ITV News
“We gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride. And the outrage of supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States. Those who choose to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy. Fairly or not they will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy...For any who remain insistent on an audit, in order to satisfy the many people who think the election was stolen, I offer this perspective. No congressional audit is ever going to convince these voters, particularly when the president will continue to say that the election was stolen. The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset, is by telling the them the truth! That’s the burden, that’s the duty of leadership. The truth is that president-elect Biden won the election. President Trump lost. I’ve had that experience myself. It’s no fun. Scores of courts, the president’s own attorney general, state election officials, both Republican and Democrat have reached that unequivocal decision. And in light of today’s sad circumstances, I ask my colleagues, do we weigh our own political fortunes more heavily than we weigh the strength of our Republic, the strength of our democracy and the cause of freedom? What’s the weight of personal acclaim compared to the weight of conscience?” — Mitt Romney, yesterday
About: I send this email most mornings to force myself to stay informed and in touch. It’s typically ~8 links, a quote, and an update on what I’m working on. Write me back! And please share the email. If I added you and you don’t like it, please click unsubscribe below. I was a newspaper reporter for 14 years at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Des Moines Register and Minneapolis Star Tribune. I gave the basic story of why my family left Minneapolishere. You can find my new venture, Scuffed News, onYouTube (please subscribe!), Twitterand Instagram, and you can support the project with your money, in exchange for exclusive video and early access to some of the video, on Patreon.
Thank you. You've done lots of hard work to arrive at this complicated understanding of a very complicated political and cultural situation. I agree that the attack on the capitol was not a coup as we have seen them overseas -- an organized attack with a goal to forming a new government. But I don't think those rioters would have minded if that had happened somehow, if they could have had some permanent impact, stayed in the building for a week, gotten Trump to visit, forced the legislators out of their own building. That sounds ridiculous, but all that happened yesterday was also ridiculous. The only thing lacking for it to be a coup attempt was more planning. Violence was not lacking.
And while I agree that that group was not, by definition, a white supremacist group with a membership role of white men, I cannot get past the fact that it was a sea of white male faces. That it wasn't anything close to 16% black. I know you've interviewed black Trump supporters, and they're out there. But it's pretty tricky to put any significant black participation together with Confederate flags.
I appreciate so much your dogged effort to get to the bottom of what makes all this tick. I still cannot understand the WHY behind Trump's appeal, in spite of that man's answer to your question on the video: "Love." That made me shake my head. Every gut instinct I've ever had about Donald Trump says slimy fellow. But we are living in many different bubbles in the US, and although they may seem bizarrely magical or comic book, they are so deadly. We've blamed the loss of neighborhood on so many things like TV or internet or whatever. But perhaps the bubbles are to blame. I hope you don't mind me replying so much to your work.