Last Wednesday and the Grotesque Old Party

Paul Krugman’s last two columns dealt with the insurrection and the Republican Party. I’ve taken apart “This Putsch Was Decades in the Making” and “Appeasement Got Us Where We Are” and rearranged some of the pieces:

So, is it finally OK to use the F-word?

One shouldn’t use the term “fascist” lightly. . . Mitch McConnell’s brand of politics has, in my view, greatly damaged America; but cynical legislative maneuvers aren’t the same thing as threatening and encouraging violence, and I wouldn’t call McConnell a fascist.

Dxxxx Txxxx, however, is indeed a fascist — an authoritarian willing to use violence to achieve his racial nationalist goals. So are many of his supporters. If you had any doubts about that, Wednesday’s attack on Congress should have ended them.

And if history teaches us one lesson about dealing with fascists, it is the futility of appeasement. Giving in to fascists doesn’t pacify them, it just encourages them to go further.

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One striking aspect of the Capitol Hill putsch was that none of the rioters’ grievances had any basis in reality.

No, the election wasn’t stolen — there is no evidence of significant electoral fraud. No, Democrats aren’t part of a satanic pedophile conspiracy. No, they aren’t radical Marxists — even the party’s progressive wing would be considered only moderately left of center in any other Western democracy.

All the rage is based on lies. But what’s almost as striking as the fantasies of the rioters is how few leading Republicans have been willing, despite the violence and desecration, to tell the MAGA mob that their conspiracy theories are false.

Bear in mind that Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, and two-thirds of his colleagues voted against accepting the Electoral College results even after the riot. (McCarthy then shamelessly decried “division”, saying that “we must call on our better angels.”)

Or consider the behavior of leading Republicans who aren’t usually considered extremists. On Sunday Senator Rob Portman declared that we need to “restore confidence in the integrity of our electoral system.” Portman isn’t stupid; he has to know that the only reason so many people doubt the election results is that members of his party deliberately fomented that doubt. But he’s still keeping up the pretense.

And the cynicism and cowardice of leading Republicans is, I would argue, the most important cause of the nightmare now enveloping our nation.

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Of course we need to understand the motives of our homegrown enemies of democracy. In general, political scientists find — not surprisingly, given America’s history — that racial antagonism is the best predictor of willingness to countenance political violence. Anecdotally, personal frustrations — often involving social interactions, not “economic anxiety” — also seem to drive many extremists.

But neither racism nor widespread attraction to conspiracy theories is new in our political life. The worldview described in Richard Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” is barely distinguishable from QAnon beliefs today.

There’s only so much to be gained from interviewing red-hatted guys in diners; there have always been people like that. If there are or seem to be more such people than in the past, it probably has less to do with intensified grievances than with outside encouragement.

For the big thing that has changed since Hofstadter wrote is that one of our major political parties has become willing to tolerate and, indeed, feed right-wing political paranoia.

This coddling of the crazies was, at first, almost entirely cynical. When the G.O.P. began moving right in the 1970s its true agenda was mainly economic — what its leaders wanted, above all, were business deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. But the party needed more than plutocracy to win elections, so it began courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals. . . .

But it’s not just about race. Since Ronald Reagan, the G.O.P. has been closely tied to the hardline Christian right. Anyone shocked by the prevalence of insane conspiracy theories in 2020 should look back to “The New World Order,” published by Reagan ally Pat Robertson in 1991, which saw America menaced by an international cabal of Jewish bankers, Freemasons and occultists. Or they should check out a 1994 video promoted by Jerry Falwell Sr. called “The Clinton Chronicles,” which portrayed Bill Clinton as a drug smuggler and serial killer.

What has changed since then? For a long time Republican elites imagined that they could exploit racism and conspiracy theorizing while remaining focused on a plutocratic agenda. But with the rise first of the Tea Party, then of Dxxxx Txxxx, the cynics found that the crazies were actually in control, and that they wanted to destroy democracy, not cut tax rates on capital gains.

And Republican elites have, with few exceptions, accepted their new subservient status.

********

Consider a few milestones on the way to the sacking of the Capitol.

One big step happened in February, when every Republican senator other than Mitt Romney voted against convicting the president on impeachment charges despite clear evidence of his guilt. Susan Collins famously justified her vote by hoping that Txxxx had “learned his lesson.” What he actually learned was that he could abuse his power with impunity.

Another big step came in the spring, when armed protesters, with Txxxx’s encouragement, menaced Michigan authorities over Covid-19 restrictions. That dress rehearsal for this week’s violence drew some tut-tutting from Republican politicians, but no serious pushback. Indeed, one of the leaders in these events — who was also involved in Wednesday’s rioting — is in line to become co-chair of the Michigan G.O.P.

Again, the lesson was clear: Right-wing activists can get away with threatening elected officials, even when this includes brandishing weapons in public spaces.

Then came Txxxx’s unprecedented refusal to accept electoral defeat. Many Republicans joined him in trying to reject the will of the voters . . .

But even those who didn’t actively join his attempts to stage a coup tried to let Txxxx and his followers down easy. McConnell waited more than a month before accepting Joe Biden as president-elect. One senior Republican said to The Washington Post, “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?” Well, now we know the answer.

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What happened on Wednesday? A Txxxxist attack during the confirmation of Biden’s victory was completely predictable. So why was security so lax? Why were there hardly any arrests?

What we know suggests that the people who were in charge of protecting Congress failed to do so because they didn’t want to be seen treating the MAGA mob as the danger it was. . . .

And even if the inauguration goes off smoothly, the threat will remain. If you imagine that the people who stormed the Capitol will just go away once Biden is installed in the White House, you’re delusional.

********

You might have hoped that a significant number of sane Republican politicians would finally say that enough is enough, and break with their extremist allies. But Txxxx’s party didn’t balk at his corruption and abuse of power; it stood by him when he refused to accept electoral defeat; and some of its members are responding to a violent attack on Congress by complaining about their loss of Twitter followers.

And there’s no reason to believe that the atrocities yet to come — for there will be more atrocities — will make a difference. The G.O.P. has reached the culmination of its long journey away from democracy, and it’s hard to see how it can ever be redeemed.

********

So what can be done? It’s time to stop appeasing the fascists among us. Law enforcement should seek to arrest as many of the participants in Wednesday’s attack as possible . . . and anyone who tries to violently interfere with the transfer of power. . .

Finally, there needs to be an accounting for whatever crimes took place during the past four years — and does anyone doubt that Txxxx allies and associates engaged in criminal acts? Don’t say that we should look forward, not back; accountability for past actions will be crucial if we want the future to be better.

Appeasement is what got us to where we are. It has to stop, now.

The Outgoing Capitol Police Chief Gives His Side of the Story

Tonight, The Washington Post published an interview with the former chief of the Capitol Police, combined with other reporting. This is most of it. It’s painful to read:

Two days before Congress was set to formalize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund was growing increasingly worried about the size of the pro-Txxxx crowds expected to stream into Washington in protest.

To be on the safe side, Sund asked House and Senate security officials for permission to request that the D.C. National Guard be placed on standby in case he needed quick backup.

But, Sund said Sunday, they turned him down.

In his first interview since pro-Txxxx rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, Sund, who has since resigned his post, said his supervisors were reluctant to take formal steps to put the Guard on call even as police intelligence suggested that the crowd President Txxxx had invited to Washington to protest his defeat probably would be much larger than earlier demonstrations.

House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving said he wasn’t comfortable with the “optics” of formally declaring an emergency ahead of the demonstration, Sund said. Meanwhile, Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger suggested that Sund should informally seek out his Guard contacts, asking them to “lean forward” and be on alert in case Capitol Police needed their help.

Irving could not be reached for comment. A cellphone number listed in his name has not accepted messages since Wednesday. Messages left at a residence he owns in Nevada were not immediately returned, and there was no answer Sunday evening at a Watergate apartment listed in his name. A neighbor said he had recently moved out.

Stenger declined Sunday to comment when a reporter visited his Virginia home. “I really don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

It was the first of six times Sund’s request for help was rejected or delayed, he said. Two days later on Wednesday afternoon, his forces already in the midst of crisis, Sund said he pleaded for help five more times as a scene far more dire than he had ever imagined unfolded on the historic Capitol grounds.

[When] an army of 8,000 pro-Txxxx demonstrators streamed down Pennsylvania Avenue . . . Sund’s outer perimeter on the Capitol’s west side was breached within 15 minutes. With 1,400 Capitol Police officers on duty, his forces were quickly overrun [Note: It’s been said elsewhere that only 500 Capitol Police were on duty].

“If we would have had the National Guard we could have held them at bay longer, until more officers from our partner agencies could arrive,” he said.

Just before 2 p.m., the pro-Txxxx mob entered the Capitol, sending lawmakers and staff scrambling for safety. D.C. police had quickly dispatched hundreds of officers to the scene. But it wasn’t enough. At 2:26 p.m., Sund said, he joined a conference call to the Pentagon to plead for additional backup.

“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” Sund recalled saying. . . .

On the call were several officials from the D.C. government, as well as officials from the Pentagon, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. The D.C. contingent was flabbergasted to hear Piatt say that he could not recommend that his boss, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, approve the request.

“I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background,” Piatt said, according to Sund and others on the call.

Again and again, Sund said, “The situation is dire,” recalled John Falcicchio, the chief of staff for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser. “Literally, this guy is on the phone, I mean, crying out for help. It’s burned in my memories.”

Pentagon officials have emphasized that the Capitol Police did not ask for D.C. Guard backup ahead of the event or request to put a riot contingency plan in place with guardsmen at the ready, and then made an urgent request as rioters were about to breach the building . . .

“We rely on Capitol Police and federal law enforcement to provide an assessment of the situation,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said during a news conference last week. “And based on that assessment that they had, they believed they had sufficient personnel and did not make a request.”

Despite Sund’s pleas, the first National Guard personnel didn’t arrive at the Capitol until 5:40 p.m. — after four people had died and the worst was long over.

Sund, 55, offered his resignation the next day, telling friends he felt he had let his officers down. Many lawmakers, infuriated by the breach and angry that they had been unable to reach Sund at the height of the crisis, were only too happy to accept it.

Under pressure from lawmakers, Stenger and Irving also resigned.

In a wide-ranging interview, Sund sought to defend his officers, who, he said, had fought valiantly. And with threats of violence looming ahead of Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, he said he remains worried.

“My concern is if they don’t get their act together with physical security, it’s going to happen again,” he said. . . .

Last Monday, Sund said, he began to worry about the Jan. 6 demonstration.

“We knew it would be bigger,” Sund said. “We looked at the intelligence. We knew we would have large crowds, the potential for some violent altercations. I had nothing indicating we would have a large mob seize the Capitol.”

Sure, there were claims that alt-right instigators had discussed storming the building and targeting lawmakers. But Sund said such threats had surfaced in the past.

“You might see rhetoric on social media. We had seen that many times before,” he said. “People say a lot of things online.”

Still, he decided to call Irving and Stenger to ask for permission to request that the National Guard be put on emergency standby. Irving didn’t like the idea, Sund said; he said it would look bad because it would communicate that they presumed an emergency. He said he’d have to ask House leaders.

On the way home that evening, Sund did as Stenger suggested, calling Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, the head of the 1,000-member D.C. National Guard, to tell him that he might call on him for help.. . . Sund said, “how long do you think it would take to get us assistance?”

Walker said he thought he could send 125 personnel fairly quickly. Over the weekend, Sund had also conferred with D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III, who also had offered to lend a hand if trouble arose.

On Tuesday, Sund said he briefed Irving and Stenger, who said that backup seemed sufficient.

Just before noon Wednesday, Sund was monitoring Txxxx’s speech to the crowd on the Ellipse when he was called away. There were reports of two pipe bombs near the Capitol grounds. . . . Sund said he now suspects that the pipe bombs were an intentional effort to draw officers away from the Capitol perimeter.

The first wave of protesters arrived at the Capitol about 12:40 p.m.

“As soon as they hit the fence line, the fight was on,” Sund said. “Violent confrontations from the start. They came with riot helmets, gas masks, shields, pepper spray, fireworks, climbing gear — climbing gear! — explosives, metal pipes, baseball bats. I have never seen anything like it in 30 years of events in Washington.”

Using video footage from the Capitol and radio transmissions from his incident commanders, Sund could see his officers trying to hold the line. But the rioters immediately yanked the barricade fence out of the way and threw it at his officers’ heads.

“I realized at 1 p.m., things aren’t going well,” he said. “I’m watching my people getting slammed.”

Sund immediately called [D.C. Police Chief] Contee, who sent 100 officers to the scene, with some arriving within 10 minutes. But at 1:09 p.m., Sund said he called Irving and Stenger, telling them it was time to call in the Guard. He wanted an emergency declaration. Both men said they would “run it up the chain” and get back to him, he said.

Minutes later, aides to the top congressional leaders were called to Stenger’s office for an update on the situation — and were infuriated to learn that the sergeants at arms had not yet called in the National Guard or any other reinforcements, as was their responsibility to do without seeking approval from leaders.

“What do you mean that there’s no National Guard, that there’s no reinforcements coming?” aides demanded to know. “Why haven’t you ordered them, why aren’t they already here?”

Sund said he called Irving twice more and Stenger once to check on their progress. At 1:50 p.m. — nine minutes before the Capitol was breached — Sund said he was losing patience. He called Walker to tell him to get ready to bring the Guard. Irving called back with formal approval at 2:10 p.m. By then, plainclothes Capitol Police agents were barricading the door to the Speaker’s Lobby just off the House chamber to keep the marauders from charging in.

Sund finally had approval to call the National Guard. But that would prove to be just the beginning of a bureaucratic nightmare to get soldiers on the scene.

At 2:26 p.m., Sund joined a conference call organized by D.C’s homeland security director, Chris Rodriguez. Among those on the screen were the District’s police chief, mayor and Walker.

Unlike anywhere else in the country, the D.C. Guard does not report to a governor, but to the president, so Walker patched in the office of the Secretary of the Army, noting that he would need authorization from the Pentagon to order soldiers to the Capitol.

Piatt noted the Pentagon still needed authorization from Capitol Police to step foot on Capitol grounds. Sund ticked through details on the severity of the breach, but the call got noisy with crosstalk as officials asked more questions.

Chief Contee sought to quiet the din. “Wait, wait,” he said, and then directed attention to Sund. “Steve, are you requesting National Guard assistance at the Capitol?”

Sund said he replied: “I am making urgent, urgent, immediate request for National Guard assistance.”

But Piatt, dialed in from across the river at the Pentagon, pushed back, according to Sund, saying he would prefer to have Guard soldiers take up posts around Washington, relieving D.C. police, so that they could respond to the Capitol instead of guardsmen. Sund’s account is supported by four D.C. officials on the call, including Bowser.

Bowser told The Washington Post that Sund had “made it perfectly clear that they needed extraordinary help, including the National Guard. There was some concern from the Army of what it would look like to have armed military personnel on the grounds of the Capitol.”

Falcicchio said that once Contee confirmed that Sund wanted the National Guard, D.C. officials echoed his request.

“Contee was definitely — I hate to use this term, but there’s no other term for it. He was pleading,” Falcicchio said. “He was pleading with them to fulfill the request that Capitol Police was making.”

But the entire discussion was in vain. Only McCarthy, the secretary, could order the Guard deployed — and only with the approval of the Pentagon chief. McCarthy has since said that, at the time of the call, he was busy taking the requests to activate more Guard to acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller.

At one point, according to a defense official, Contee said, “Let me be clear, are you denying this?” To which Piatt responded that he wasn’t denying the request; he simply didn’t have the authority to approve it.

“It was clear that it was a dire situation,” the defense official said. “He didn’t want to commit to anything without getting approval.”

At 3:45 p.m., Stenger told Sund that he would ask his boss, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for help getting the National Guard authorized more quickly. Sund never learned the result. More of Contee’s officers had arrived and were helping remove rioters from the grounds. Capitol Police worked with other federal authorities, including the Secret Service, the Park Police and the FBI, to secure lawmakers, eject rioters and sweep the building so lawmakers could return to finish counting the electoral college votes that would allow them to formally recognize Biden’s victory later that night.

According to a timeline the Defense Department published Friday, Miller verbally authorized the activation of the entire D.C. Guard at 3:04 p.m. It would take two more hours for most of the citizen soldiers to leave their jobs and homes, and pick up gear from the D.C. Armory.

Sund, who was officially replaced as chief Friday, said he is left feeling that America’s bastions of democracy need far more security. He said the violent crowd that mobbed the Capitol was unlike anything he has ever seen.

“They were extremely dangerous and they were extremely prepared. . . . I’m a firm supporter of First Amendment. This was none of that,” he added. “This was criminal riotous activity.”

Sund blamed Txxxx for putting his officers at risk, saying “the crowd left that rally and had been incited by some of the words the president said.” Sund said he fears what may come next.

What Could Happen Next If We’re Not Careful

A scholar who’s studied authoritarians around the world discusses this week’s insurrection and how it might be the beginning, not the end. An interview from Huff Post:

HP:  Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a history professor at New York University and author of the book “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present.”  She [thinks we] could be headed for even more violence and political unrest. 

This historic insurrection was the culmination of five years of fascist rhetoric from the president. You’ve been at the forefront of identifying and documenting how Txxxx and the “Make America Great Again” movement represent a real authoritarian or fascist insurgency. Were you still surprised to see what you saw Wednesday?

RBG:  No, I wasn’t surprised. I was extremely calm when it happened because I just kind of expected it. Of course, it was shocking to then see the lawmakers cowering, and then I became very angry at the arrogance and lawlessness, and the fact that the police didn’t do anything and that these guys went out for drinks later, these insurgents. But no, this has been set up since Txxxx’s presidential campaign, when he actively cultivated all of these various militias and far-right forces, so it’s that cultivation entwined with this victim cult.

Because this doesn’t work if you don’t have the cult leader. And the leader is the victim. So the leader is the protector, he’s going to save the nation, blah, blah, blah, but once they bonded to him, it’s very fascistic. It’s very fascist. If he’s in trouble, their duty is to save him. And so Txxxx has played them like a violin all these years, doing exactly what he needs to do to string them along and keep them loyal. Give them just enough crumbs of affirmation.

And then he called on them because the other things that he was trying to do didn’t work.

HP:  You’ve described this kind of leader-follower relationship like a fascistic relationship. Typically how is that spell broken? How do people get out of that?

RBG:  Unfortunately, they don’t get out of that. What I mean is — the other cases are, in some ways, not analogous, because when you have a real dictatorship, there’s no opposing voices. In fact, in a way, it makes our case all the more scary and remarkable because he didn’t have time to ruin democracy.

You know, we had a very robust opposition press. But yet he still managed to have this huge mass of fanatically loyal people. And so once they bond with a leader, historically the only thing that gets people out of it is direct experience with disaster. So it’s very Interesting that the coronavirus didn’t cause more people to turn away from Txxxx. And again, he’s very skillful at propaganda, so he knew how to present it all so that . . . he wasn’t touched — the mismanagement wasn’t blamed on him. 

But some people did, some people woke up and made videos, saying, “I used to believe Txxxx and my wife died,” so that’s the kind of thing that needs to happen at a mass level. And it’s been horrifying that it hasn’t happened. Indeed he got more votes. 

And in Italy and in Germany — and again, you had many, many years of total dictatorship — but the only thing that ruined or started to dissipate the personality cult was when the Allies bombed Italy and Germany and regular people had immense hardship. And in that sense, what’s parallel is the shock of people seeing the Capitol breached, and lawmakers having to run for cover. That shocked some Txxxxians into resigning, like it woke some people up.

HP:  I think what I’m seeing some people express concern about is that, although it made certain people decide to leave MAGA world or whatever, or at least some people in the White House, the storming of the Capitol could also end up being a kind of a recruiting event.

RBG:  Yep. I think . . . you could easily see January 6 as the start of something. It’s the start of a new phase…. It’s the start of a new phase of subversive extremist activity. It could be.

HP:  Yeah, because it kind of feels like — like they breached the Capitol, they got in, the Capitol’s vulnerable. 

RBG:  Then they got to go out for beer. They didn’t end up in prison. [although more are now being arrested]

HP:  They just went out for beer.

RBG:  So that’s what actually made me not sleep last night. I’m so angry about that…. It’s just everything wrong for our future. 

HP:  We are entering these last couple of weeks of the Txxxx presidency . . . but it feels like Jan. 6 was a significant point of a new, subversive extremism movement in this country. Is there an analogous situation in history of authoritarian figures not being in power but still holding so much power? 

RBG:  Again, it’s not an exact analogy, but [Chilean dictator] Augusto Pinochet was voted out and he’d been in for 17 years and had a real dictatorship . . .  normally these guys, they either go into exile or they die or they’re killed. So one of the only ones was Pinochet, who was voted out. It’s maybe the only one I know about. 

HP:  We’re seeing some people finally starting to distance themselves from Txxxx and his efforts to throw out the results of the election. So we have [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell give this speech on the floor of the Senate, and now his wife, the secretary of transportation, has submitted her resignation. What’s your reaction to that?

RBG:  Partly “OK, great. Better now than never,” but partly I’m rather cynical about it, because this fits the history of such things where these people, once they make their crony deals with the leader, they back them no matter what they do, and the only thing that makes them act is if they feel their personal safety is threatened. Literally them. It’s so interesting to me that only when the Capitol was breached and they actually had to go into lockdown against an armed insurgency did they decide that there was some danger enough to merit distancing from Txxxx. . . .  It’s just their self-interest. 

However, they could have not [distanced themselves] . . . .

HP:  What do you see as the best path forward, for both the immediate future dealing with Txxxx over the next couple of weeks and looking forward at the MAGAverse and how to deal with that over the next few years? 

RBG:  I think every day he stays there it’s like increasing danger. And it can get more dangerous . . . because he’s going to be more inclined to do desperate things, to sell intelligence, to sell out people, to take revenge ― just [ramping] up everything he’s already been doing. And so he shouldn’t be allowed to stay there. . . .

He’s the far-right wacko in chief, and he should be de-platformed for sure. He’s the biggest danger to society we have. So going forward, I mean, unfortunately, I foresee a lot of turbulence, an attempt to make America as dangerous as possible and blame it on “antifa” and other groups; and a lot of extremism and domestic terrorism, all to create the need for “law and order” government so that Republicans can get back into power. I mean, I hope that doesn’t happen, but I could see that happening.

HP:  And that essentially is what you think is the motivation behind this campaign to blame everything on antifa? 

RBG:  A day before this happened, [the Txxxx administration] issued that weird proclamation about antifa being terrorists. And it’s like, what? Interesting timing. But luckily, the attempt to blame antifa hasn’t really stuck. I mean, I know it’s being circulated on right-wing sites, but the visuals are so compelling it’s hard to blame it on the left. [Note: More on this in a future post]

HP:  What do you think happens on Inauguration Day?

RB:  He’ll have some kind of rally. It will be like the victimhood rally, depending on what happens to him, but if he’s just allowed to stay there, he’ll have some kind of rally, and that will help to kick off this next phase that we’re talking about. And it’ll be like super-dangerous grievance stuff, because now that he’s out of power, he’s going to be more unleashed and unhinged than ever. I hope people are realizing that. You know, I feel bad because people want to relax, because Biden’s coming in and we didn’t even get to enjoy the victories in Georgia, and instead they have to prepare themselves, to be ever more vigilant.

HP:  That feels like an argument for arresting him.

RBG:  Yeah. He has to be removed. For the good of everyone.

Unquote.

I don’t know if she’s being pessimistic or realistic. The history of other countries suggests “realistic”. Twitter, Facebook and Google are finally demonstrating some responsibility. Arrests are slowly being made. What happens depends on how the rest of us, including people in the government and media, deal with this right-wing cancer that’s been unleashed. 

Part 1: Trumpism as a Chronic Condition

What follows is a meditation on Trumpism written by Philip Kennicott, an art and architecture critic for The Washington Post, a few days after the election. Later I’ll post what he wrote after the attack on the Capitol:

No matter what happens to Dxxxx Txxxx or who assumes the presidency in January, we can say this: He brought the truth of America to the surface. I’ll leave his policies and his politics — to the extent that he ever had policies or coherent politics — to the pundits. As a critic, I can say that he embodied, embraced or inflamed almost everything ugly in American culture, past, present and perhaps future. He made it palpable and tangible even to people inclined to see the bright side of everything. That this week’s election wasn’t a repudiation of Trumpism, that some 6 million more Americans believe in it now compared with four years ago, is horrifying. But it’s also reality, and it’s always best to face reality.

He also gave our unique brand of ugliness — rooted in racism, exceptionalism, recklessness, arrogance and a tendency to bully our way to power — a name. Trumpism is now rooted in the lexicon, and although white supremacy may be the better, more clinical term for what ails America, Trumpism is a useful, colloquial alternative. It encompasses an even wider category of people that includes not just avowed racists who have publicly supported the president but also those who downplay the problem, or align with it for personal gain, or are simply unwilling to acknowledge its history and persistence. Naming a thing is an essential first step to understanding it . . .

In moments of despair, it’s easy to think that the past four years were a failure of civic discourse, that slightly more than half of America simply failed to convincingly argue against Trumpism. America, in the aggregate, seems just as stupid as it was four years ago, when it became clear that we would have to learn some painful lessons, and learn them the hard way, through the collapse of competent governance, the destruction of civility and, now, the ravages of a grossly mismanaged pandemic.

But if we are stupid in the aggregate, many individual Americans are more clear-eyed and conscious than four years ago. The 2016 election proved that the argument against Trumpism had largely failed, but although losing an argument is maddening, it also makes your argument stronger, clarifies your reasoning and orders your logic. Half of America may be right where it was four years ago, still mired in Trumpism, but some part of the other half of America isn’t just opposed to Txxxx but also smarter and more cognizant of how Trumpism has rooted itself in the society. That’s not a negligible accomplishment.

Grappling with white supremacy, or Trumpism if you prefer, was never going to be easy, because it exists not just in a handful of ugly epithets, the caricatures we see in old movies and statues scattered across the landscape. It is existential, precognitive and pervasive, as fully present in how we conceive of beauty as it is in the assumptions we make about that driver who just cut us off while swerving between lanes.

Changing how we think would be difficult even if we all agreed on the necessity for change. It is even more difficult given that 48 percent of the country resists the project entirely. But for all the damage Txxxx has done, much of which may never be undone, he has inadvertently, accidentally and unintentionally left us with a model for what needs to be done.

Trumpism is embedded in America and can be fought only through rigorous self-discipline, through constant surveillance of the thoughts we think, the words we use and the assumptions we make. There was White supremacy before we started thinking of it as Trumpism, but before Txxxx, there also was a tendency to think of it as “out there” rather than “in here.” Now we know it not as a perverse blemish on American culture but as foundational to American culture. That’s progress.

On a summer morning in 1861, holiday makers, the picnic crowd, the Washington swells went out to the battlefield at Manassas to watch a quick and decisive battle bring an end to the Civil War. Head east past the battlefield on Interstate 66 and you’re roughly retracing the holiday crowd’s steps when they fled back to Washington in panic and disorder after Confederate troops routed Union forces. Some of them, safe again in the nation’s capital, were perhaps slightly less ignorant about the magnitude of the war that awaited them.

Disillusionment isn’t an event — it’s a process. It doesn’t arrive and do its work all at once, like an epiphany. It is a way of living, a perpetual vigilance, a habit of mind. We may wish that Trumpism could be defeated, like an external enemy. But reality requires that we think of it as a chronic condition of American public life — not a virus that can be quarantined and perhaps cured, but a lifestyle disease rooted in sedentary thinking.

Terrorists announce attack on Washington. Federal police agencies allow it to happen.

This was published in The Washington Post yesterday:

Talk of guns and potential violence is rife on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, the conservative social media site Parler and on thedonald.win, an online forum that previously operated on Reddit before the company banned it in June after years of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and calls for violence.

Trump’s tweet last month pushing baseless fraud claims and promoting the “big protest” on Jan. 6 — “Be there, will be wild!” — has become a central rallying cry. It was the top post on thedonald.win Tuesday morning, and anonymous commenters saw it as a call to action: “We’ve got marching orders,” the top reply said.

Discussion in the thread followed about how most effectively to sneak guns into Washington, laced with occasional references to using them. . . .

Of carrying guns in D.C., one poster in the thread wrote, “Yes, it’s illegal, but this is war and we’re clearly in a post-legal phase of our society.” Wrote another: “LIVE AS A FREE AMERICAN AND BRING YOUR ARMS!”

Unquote.

Here are some of the federal police agencies that could have protected the Capitol building today, but weren’t around:

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But if you’re a White male terrorist from the radical right, possibly heavily-armed, you have privileges the rest of us don’t. Much of Trump’s administration is on their side. So are many police officers. The U.S. Capitol Police failed miserably. They apparently didn’t ask for assistance from other agencies, even though the likelihood of an attack was public knowledge. 

In striking contrast, scenes at peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Washington this year:

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