When Seeing Is Not Believing

In case we were thinking that a violent insurrection encouraged by the president to overturn the results of an election he lost might serve as a wakeup call for our Republican friends, here are the opening paragraphs of “How Republicans Are Warping Reality Around the Capitol Attack” (New York Times):

Immediately after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, all corners of the political spectrum repudiated the mob of President Txxxx’s supporters. Yet within days, prominent Republicans, party officials, conservative media voices and rank-and-file voters began making a rhetorical shift to try to downplay the group’s violent actions.

In one of the ultimate don’t-believe-your-eyes moments of the Txxxx era, these Republicans have retreated to the ranks of misinformation, claiming it was Black Lives Matter protesters and far-left groups like Antifa who stormed the Capitol — in spite of the pro-Trump flags and QAnon symbology in the crowd. Others have argued that the attack was no worse than the rioting and looting in cities during the Black Lives Matter movement, often exaggerating the unrest last summer while minimizing a mob’s attempt to overturn an election.

The shift is revealing about how conspiracy theories, deflection and political incentives play off one another in Mr. Txxxx’s G.O.P. For a brief time, Republican officials seemed perhaps open to grappling with what their party’s leader had wrought — violence in the name of their Electoral College fight. But any window of reflection now seems to be closing as Republicans try to pass blame and to compare last summer’s lawlessness, which was condemned by Democrats, to an attack on Congress, which was inspired by Mr. Txxxx.

A Republican Explains Her Vote to the People Back Home

Jaime Herrera Beutler is one of the ten Republicans in the House of Representatives with enough integrity, courage or patriotism (or disgust) to vote to impeach the president. Some of her constituents weren’t too clear on why she voted that way, so she offered a brief summary of the case against him on Twitter:

In conversations w/residents about this week’s impeachment vote, some are unclear on what transpired before & during that involved President Txxxx.

Here are the indisputable and publicly available facts

The president helped organize the January 6 rally. Example: 

Peter Navarro releases 36-page report alleging election fraud ‘more than sufficient’ to swing victory to Trump https://t.co/D8KrMHnFdK. A great report by Peter. Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020

For months, he insisted the election had been stolen and consistently urged people to “fight” in order to change the results: “WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!” (Tweet, Dec. 12)

“@ senatemajldr and Republican Senators have to get tougher, or you won’t have a Republican Party anymore. We won the Presidential Election, by a lot. FIGHT FOR IT. Don’t let them take it away!” (Dec. 18)

“The ‘Justice’ Department& the FBI have done nothing about the 2020 Presidential Election Voter Fraud, the biggest SCAM in our nation’s history despite overwhelming evidence. They should be ashamed. History will remember. Never give up. See everyone in DC on January 6th”(Dec. 26)

He led Americans to believe that Mike Pence could overturn the Electoral College results, even though the VP does not have that power. On Jan. 5 he tweeted, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”

He told supporters at Georgia rally that day, “I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you. I hope that our great Vice President, our great Vice President, comes through for us. He’s a great guy. Of course if he doesn’t come through I won’t like him quite as much.”

During the president’s rally on January 6, he repeated phrases like “fight like hell,” and “we’re going to have to fight much harder.”

Many coming to the rally did intend to fight, with physical violence. Leading up to the rally, specific threats were numerous. Hundreds of TikTok videos promoted violence. Thousands of used hashtags promoting a second civil war.

One said, “Take your motherf—ing guns. That’s the whole point of going.” Another online comment said: “travel in packs and do not let them disarm someone without stacking bodies.”

Rather than take any action to curb the threats, the president at his rally said, “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules.” He said “You’ll never take our country back with weakness.”

While the riot was in full swing & a mob was in the Capitol hunting Mike Pence, the president tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, …. not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify.”

The mob at the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”

Trump supporters threaten to hang Mike Pence at Capitol – YouTube

This one of the mob attacking a Capitol Police officer. As we know, many were beaten and one died because of his injuries.

Mob beating Capitol Police officer – YouTube

The commander in chief’s primary job is to protect U.S. citizens. While this mob hunted for Pence, who had fled to a secure location, the only action we know the president took was calling GOP Senators, seeking their support to delay the Electoral College certification.

Hours after the Capitol was breached, the president released a pathetic video denouncing the violence but telling the perpetrators “I love you,” and “you are special.”

Unquote.

Those are some of the indisputable, publicly available facts. One I hadn’t heard before is how the president exploded the prices at his Washington hotel for inauguration week. This report was published by the Independent on January 1st:

The rooms initially opened at higher prices than usual, ranging from doubles for $886 to suites at $2,225. 

However, the prices seem to have been hiked further, as the hotel’s website now says a two-night minimum is required for guests visiting during the week of inauguration, with even the cheapest rooms priced at $2,225 a night for 19 and 20 January.

Make a buck. Make a coup. It’s all the same to him.

Garry Kasparov and Alexandra Petri on What Should Come Next

Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, left Russia in 2013, fearing persecution for his political views. He became a citizen of Croatia and now lives in New York City. He has some thoughts post-January 6th:

As terrible as the events of Jan. 6 were — and I’m on the record warning of “the unimaginable” — I’m going to repeat what I said after Election Day: It’s not over.

There will be more violence, especially if the Capitol perpetrators and those who incited them — starting with the President — are not held accountable.

The correct response is the dispassionate application of the law. Not political persecution, but not politically motivated leniency, either. We don’t have to choose between unity and justice. Avoiding doing the right thing will only prolong the crisis and give aid and comfort to enemies of the state and of the peace.

[The] Founding Fathers failed to resolve the historical challenge of slavery, passing a bloody Civil War on to future generations. Despite Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Reconstruction allowed the South a “defeat with honor,” decades of Jim Crow, and the pernicious Lost Cause mythology that persists today.

. . . No new mythology should be allowed to sprout from this vile transgression. The worst result would be letting the mutineers off the hook — and this includes the elected officials who encouraged them, . . . especially President Txxxx. That they, and scores of other Republicans, continue to attack the integrity of the election even now is beyond the pale. . . .

History teaches us the cost of well-meaning but shortsighted attempts to sacrifice justice for unity. Russians learned this in the hardest possible way after the fall of the Soviet Union. . . . They declined to root out the KGB security state in the interest of national harmony. It would be too traumatic, our leaders said, to expose the countless atrocities the Soviet security forces committed and to punish their authors.

A feeble truth commission was quickly abandoned by President Boris Yeltsin, and soon even the Soviet archives were closed, although not before researchers . . . revealed some of the KGB’s atrocities. The KGB’s name was changed to the FSB and its members quietly stayed in touch and intact. The result? A mere nine years after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia elected a former KGB lieutenant colonel, Vladimir Putin, to the presidency. It was the last meaningful election we ever had. We chose unity and we got dictatorship.

America should not make a similar mistake. The truth may hurt, but lies will do far greater damage in the end. Americans should be prepared for a long fight against these anti-democratic forces. The attack on the Capitol has opened every eye; there can be no more feigned ignorance of the crisis.

Many Americans were shocked by how many of their compatriots, including nearly all GOP officials, have been willing to go along with Txxxx’s open assault on the pillars of their open society, from the free press to fair elections. . . . Demagogues don’t find radicals to lead, they steadily radicalize their followers one outrage at a time. The culmination, so far, was January 6.

Hemingway wrote in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”: “There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.” The time has come, and we are finding them out. . . .

Unquote.

Alexandra Petri writes a humor column for The Washington Post. One of her columns last week was called “I See No Choice But to Resign from this Death Star as It Begins to Explode”. Today she has “Now Is Not the Time to Point Fingers, Julius Caesar. Now Is the Time for Healing”. She’s very good at her job:

Now is not the time to cast blame and call out names. Now is the time for healing. Please stop bleeding on my toga; that is a sad reminder of a hurtful time I hope we can put behind us. The last thing we need is to be thinking about the past, when I have already dropped my dagger, forgotten every threatening or negative thing I ever said, and am, frankly, ready to move on. Now is the time to come together, for the good of Rome.

The Present Danger

According to The New York Times:

[A joint intelligence bulletin issued by federal authorities says] the deadly breach at the Capitol last week will be a “significant driver of violence” for armed militia groups and racist extremists who are targeting the presidential inauguration next week.

Disseminated widely to law enforcement agencies across the country, the bulletin is labeled “Domestic Violent Extremists Emboldened in Aftermath of Capitol Breach, Elevated Domestic Terrorism Threat of Violence Likely Amid Political Transitions and Beyond.” [It says] anti-government militias and racists extremists “very likely pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in 2021″.

The “boogaloo,” a movement that seeks to start a second civil war, and extremists aiming to trigger a race war “may exploit the aftermath of the Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a climactic conflict in the United States,” according to the bulletin.

The federal officials wrote that extremist groups have viewed the breach of the Capitol as a success and have been galvanized by the death of Ashli Babbitt, a QAnon follower who was shot by the police as she tried to enter the . . . Speaker’s Lobby, just outside the House chamber. The extremists could perceive that death as “an act of martyrdom”.

[The bulletin says] the Capitol breach, as well as conspiracy theories from QAnon, will likely inspire such extremists “to engage in more sporadic, lone-actor or small-cell violence against common” violent extremist “targets, including racial, ethnic, or religious minorities and institutions, law enforcement, and government officials and buildings”.

The federal officials also wrote that “the shared false narrative of a ‘stolen’ election,” the false claim perpetuated by President Txxxx, “may lead some individuals to adopt the belief that there is no political solution to address their grievances and violent action is necessary.”

The Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., and subsequent breach of the Capitol also offered an opportunity for militia members and extremists from different groups to meet, which could increase the extremists’ “willingness, capability, and motivation to attack and undermine a government they view as illegitimate.”

Unquote.

So some parts of the federal government are already conveying accurate information. It’s a step forward that people at these agencies were allowed to point out that their (current) boss is lying about winning the election and that right-wing extremists are the most dangerous domestic threat (as they’ve been for years). 

In other good news, Jim Acosta of CNN tonight referred to the president as “Lord of the Lies”. But where was he with that phrase the past four years when we really needed it?

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.

********

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.

********

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.

********

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.