So much has been said and written about the events of Wednesday, January 6, that I hestitate to add anything. But Wednesday’s events were so shocking that it seems irresponsible to say nothing.
Shocking, but not all that surprising. The incidents of mob violence and rioting that began (most recently) with Charlottesville and have continued for the last several years have deep roots in American history. I’ve been reading Erik Loomis’ A History of America in Ten Strikes, and one theme that recurs is the remarkable amount of violence that has permeated our history from the very beginning. By comparison to many workers’ strikes of the 19th century, the five fatalities from the Capitol siege was tame. And just over the last few months, capitol buildings in Michigan, Idaho, and Oregon were overtaken by mobs of armed, violent men who threatened the elected representatives. So even the particular nature of this incident should come as no surprise.
At this point I should warn you, dear readers, that at the end of this post I am going to place a photograph of the violence at the Capitol. It is disturbing. So if disturbing photos upset you, you should stop scrolling.
The image above is “The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters,” an etching from the 1790s created by Francisco Goya, that great Spanish chronicler of the human capacity for monstrousness. It’s an appropriate title for our time, unfortunately, because so many of us have allowed our reason to go to sleep.
So how do we reawaken our reason? I think one necessary step is to require ourselves to start facing up to difficult facts. The world is not always as we want it to be, but pretending that it’s something else entirely is no help in coping with its difficulty.
So to start: By now, it’s quite clear that the election result was not in doubt from the very early days after November 3. This fact applies both to the popular vote and the electoral count. In the U.S., elections are governed by individual states, unless the state’s practices are so egregious as to create a civil rights violation; so if you think there were irregularities in an election, the proper place to seek redress is in the state courts or with the state elections commission. Those efforts have been tried repeatedly, and they haven’t affected the results. In fact, courts and election commissions almost completely rejected those complaints. If you’re having a hard time with this fact, all I can advise is to keep trying. That’s how elections work. Somebody wins, and the people who lose accept that fact and then start planning how they might be able to win the next time around.
So, with that fact known and understood, we have to think about the riot at the Capitol. Several thousand people attended the morning rally because they either refused to accept that fact or they believed those leaders who understood that fact but chose to mislead them. What would make so many people wilfully disbelieve the obvious?
Well, wishful thinking, for one. Nobody likes to have their wishes thwarted. I know when a candidate I support loses, I find myself in disbelief for a while. How could anybody have voted for X when they could have voted for Y? But after that wears off, I come to terms with the fact that it sure enough happened, and start thinking about the future. Refusing to believe the obvious truth only cripples me for what is to come. I think most of the people at the Capitol that day fall ino this category: wishful thinkers whose path toward reality has been unnecessarily prolonged by leaders who see advantage in not making them face facts.
But there appears to have been another group there, people who knew full well that the election had been lost but who didn’t care. They weren’t there to “stop the steal” or whatever other slogans were being chanted. They had come to start trouble, to engage in violence, and if they were lucky to kill some people. You can see them in the photographs in their military-style gear, with the weapons and tools of destruction that they had not brought with them. These were not misguided truth-deniers who got caught up in the moment. These were people intent on harm.
But they needed the mob for cover, and so the many Trump supporters who swarmed to the Capitol were useful to them. So we have a large group of fact-denying wishful thinkers who imagined themselves reversing an election that they foolishly believed to be “stolen,” and a smaller group of dedicated troublemakers who had come to commit crimes. Those with criminal intent, though, needed the mass of people who had let their reason go to sleep. Even those who came with what they believed to be patriotic intent were enabling the thugs. If the polls are to be believed, a large majority of those people and their supporters still fail to see the connection between their actions and the horrifying crimes that occurred. But that connection is clearly there, and until everyone acknowledges it, we will not have a true reckoning about the storming of the Capitol.
Subsequent events have revealed more wishful thinking, at least in my opinion. I stress here that I’m in the realm of opinion now, not facts, so you can feel free to disagree. But the whole idea of impeaching somebody who is about to leave office, knowing that there’s no time to have a trial, seems nonsensical to me. At best, it’s an emotional gesture, a final declaration of enmity toward a despised opponent. At worst, it’s just political opportunism, a chance to score points and fund-raise. The net effect in practical terms is zero. If Nancy Pelosi was the kind of mad genius she is portrayed as being in right-wing media, she’d avoid impeaching the president entirely, because his continued presence in the Republican Party is tearing it to pieces, and she wouldn’t want to disturb that process. But as I said, this all is just my interpretation, not a statement of incontrovertible facts like the result of the election.
Reawakening our sense of reason and respect for facts will not happen overnight. But I do hope that those who have been gulled into believing a pack of lies will be able to rejoin the world of reality, bit by bit, once the shock of last week’s events has taken hold. We will all come to grips with the fact that a mob of thousands of people desecrated the U.S. Capitol. That’s not patriotic.
These people are not patriots: