Supporters of US President Donald Trump clash with the US Capitol police during a riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. – Donald Trump’s supporters stormed a session of Congress held January 6 to certify Joe Biden’s election win, triggering unprecedented chaos and violence at the heart of American democracy and accusations the president was attempting a coup. (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN / AFP) (Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Republicans should support a new Biden domestic terror law the moment the DNC and the New York Times admit Andrew Breitbart was right about President Barack Obama, and not a moment before.
The reason why the party must oppose the crackdown everyone in DC is baying for right now is that Democrats consider domestic terrorism a viable political strategy. We know because they have pardoned lots of domestic terrorists and incorporated them into their coalition. For instance, Susan Rosenberg, the domestic terrorist whose sentence was commuted by President Clinton, now works for the payment processing company of BLM.
When a party which considers domestic terrorism a viable political strategy, and has not even made clear that domestic terrorists are unwelcome in their coalition, calls for new laws against domestic terrorism, we cannot assume they are sincere, and we must assume they will use them to go after their opponents. In a similar way, it’s hard to credit the highflown talk about our desecrated People’s Temple coming, as it usually does, from people who treated Donald Trump’s presence in the White House as a similar desecration. When those laws are passed, does the party think it will still be able count on the support of Trump’s voters if they join an effort to impeach or remove the president now?
As the story of the Trump era ends and becomes history, the thing I want my children to know is that it felt like he wasn’t supposed to be there. Like many others, I made career decisions expecting he wouldn’t be. Expecting four years of a dreary and depressing Hillary Clinton presidency, I quit my job as a conservative op-ed editor and left DC for Kansas. I woke up the morning after Election Day to find that many of my former contributors were now involved in his administration, some in fairly big ways, and I remember thinking I might have made a mistake. His election did offer the promise of policies I liked, but the main reason I greeted the shock of his election with something other than the shattering despair typical to white people of my age, background and education, is it represented the hopeful possibility that politics wasn’t all decided by algorithms and in smoky rooms; the fix wasn’t always in. Everyone knew it wasn’t supposed to happen.
But I want my children to know this because I think they will try to erase it. They already are. The efforts to retcon the unexpectedness of 2016 began very quickly, framing Trump as an outgrowth of a 400-year history of American race relations, which, whatever the merits of the argument, tended to obscure more immediate causes. The deployment of accusations of racism to cover genuine corruption began in a big way under President Obama, a mentee of another domestic terrorist. The genuine scandals of his Justice Department were timidly covered if not dismissed out of hand by the media, a pattern that has now culminated, during Russiagate, in its merging with the intelligence community. History will vindicate Glenn Greenwald and very few others for telling the truth about this.
In the Trump years, a new kind of what we will call, at some point in the future, regime loyalist propaganda began to appear. A seminal essay, their designation not mine, was in the Atlantic, a magazine which during the Trump years struck a tone that would be familiar to Juan Guaido’s communications team. It was a remarkably effective piece of rhetoric called “The Cruelty is the Point,” and it begins with a touching tribute to the museum the author’s mother helps curate on the National Mall. Whether or not an Atlantic reader might sympathize with, say, Trump promising to end wars, it’s wrong to compromise with cruelty, so we’ll have to work toward ending wars another time.
The beauty of this line was that it became a way to discipline anyone who might get it in their head to start listening to these people. Doing so was racist, or a sign of internalized racism anyway, and to make political compromises with cruel racists is surely a betrayal of some kind. But there was some sleight of hand about who exactly it was betraying. They said it was a betrayal of black Americans to take Trump supporters seriously, but what they meant is it would be a betrayal of us. It does not surprise me that the son of two people affiliated with institutions installed in buildings on the national mall in the last decade dislikes populists (the other at the foreign service retirement home and regime change think tank built near the Lincoln Memorial, the Navy thinks on human remains), but I am disappointed so few people were able to see why.
Trying to put a cordon sanitaire around a political faction large enough to capture the White House was bound to have enormous, damaging consequences, and so it has. The remarkable closing of the ranks in the early Trump years was not how a healthy political system accommodates demands for change, and we saw some of the fruits of that this week. I don’t put it that way because I approve of what the rioters did, but because the same thing will happen again if nothing changes, and it will surely be worse.
The political dynamics of the left dictate that they will probably not take stock of this moment and think about how they got here. My prediction is we can expect to hear a lot about Reconstruction in the coming years, there’s already a Slate podcast. What they’re going to say is the political purging and upscaling of domestic surveillance and law enforcement is necessary to deliver on the promise of multiracial democracy. So much the better if they can make this argument with a woman of color prosecutor as head of state. They will try to restore faith in the system through bare assertion and by silencing their opponents. The scary part is they actually think this will work.
Trump himself does deserve a lot of the blame for what happened Wednesday, and not just because of his actions since the election. But at the risk of civic impiety, a guy in an animal suit with viking horns exuberantly running around the Capitol, having absolutely no plan after he got in, until it eventually dawns on him that he’s now in serious trouble, could be a metaphor for the whole Trump administration, which, again, wasn’t supposed to happen. But if he’d throw his supporters under the bus by putting Mike Pompeo and John Bolton in his administration, of course he’d be willing to send them off to the Capitol with little concern about what might happen—least of all to them. To be clear, the people who did violence at the Capitol should be prosecuted. But criminal trespass charges may not be warranted if the cops opened some of the doors. Seditious conspiracy charges are nuts, and probably wouldn’t be successful.
Within the White House and campaign, a stolen election was probably an easier pill to swallow than the obvious, though perhaps not mutually exclusive truth that the campaign failed in a big way. They have now exposed his supporters to what is likely to be a crackdown, or demands for one, from the left. Will the rest of the White House, Trump aside, have their backs after doing that? Will Jared Kushner, whose failure the Stop the Steal protests have distracted from? Will the GOP?
There are also lots of ways in which other conservatives, Mitch McConnell and John Roberts for instance, might have taken Trump’s instability into account and defused this situation. Mitch McConnell could have passed the $2000 checks. Any Roman emperor could tell you doing so probably would have avoided the riot on Wednesday. And John Roberts could have let them have their day in court. People talking about purging Josh Hawley and other Republicans have this very, very wrong. What absolutely must not happen right now is for tens of millions of Americans to come away from this month thinking their only recourse is to stockpile guns and join a militia. I’m not kidding about this, it’s a serious concern, and similar to ones writers in in this magazine have often voiced about the actions of the United States government abroad in the last two decades.
Trump’s supporters got almost nothing they wanted these last four years, now a very strong message has been sent by the powers that be, who will shortly have control of both legislative chambers and the White House, that they are considered seditious traitors. With the president’s own party running from him as fast as they can, and an effort to expel politicians aligned with him from government, Trump’s supporters are back where they started: neither party represents them. The difference is now they have stormed the Capitol. I think it would be better if the GOP figured out how to actually represent them. To date, not many congressional Republicans have tried, and to do it they have to be more like Hawley than Cotton or Liz Cheney. For God’s sake, get on with it.
I think the reason Senator Cotton blamed Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley for the riots is his faction of the party, at one time the same one as Bill Kristol, has already made peace with a broadened domestic security apparatus. One wonders if they are prepared to let Biden put all this stuff into place and do what they need to do, maybe a little IRS targeting here, a little gun-dealer entrapment there, because they hope to pick it up in four years and use it against the left. I find this, to put it mildly, extremely cynical.
There are several issues that Republicans can no longer avoid. Whatever the economic direction of the party, which I think must become substantively populist, the libertarian issue of government transparency must be on the table, with the party raising a huge stink about it, in a way that no one currently in office save maybe Rand Paul has done in their political careers. I’ve already explained why, but issues in the last week, for instance NPR reporting a fake DOJ investigation two hours before the Capitol policeman died, must be explained to the public, and we must still have a full accounting of intelligence agencies’ role in subverting this president the last four years. This is very much not about Trump.
The GOP has abetted the growth of the American empire, voting for every war and every expansion of the military and surveillance state in my lifetime. What happened Wednesday is what politics in an empire looks like, the emperor sending mobs of supporters against the senate, it’s clear as day. Now, I was watching on Twitter last week as all the regime-change think tanks put out statements on events at the Capitol, and began to ask myself at what point can one reasonably begin to wonder whether that apparatus is being turned on them. I know Trump doesn’t care much about republican government, but do Republicans? The most absurd spectacle of the last few years has been Republican politicians who supported the disastrous and draining Global War on Terror, with all its concomitant infringements on liberty, denounce government programs on the supposedly principled grounds that government only exists to secure liberty and nothing else. Unlike the left, I don’t think they believe the words coming out of their mouths. This has to change. This magazine has opposed the sort of aggrandizements of the security state under Republican and Democratic presidents, and we reject the charge of extremism for resisting the ones being contemplated today.
Should the party vote to impeach? No. Obviously they should not. Again, this is not about Trump, it never has been. We have criticized him more than most conservatives. But every scandal of the Trump administration, the storming of the Capitol included, has pointed to a tyranny much darker and more complete opposite him. We have now had, in the last week, muddiness in the military chain of command, communication established between the Joint Chiefs and the opposition party in Congress taking precautions about control of nuclear weapons, public broadcasters reporting nonexistent DOJ murder investigations into the death of Capitol Police, an effort by private industry (though probably not just them) to cut off the president’s remaining channel of communication with the public, collusion on the part of the largest tech firms to silence remaining dissenting media platforms, a state of emergency declared with thousands of national guardsmen being deployed to the capital city, the opposing party vowing vengeance and new domestic law enforcement and surveillance measures, promises of the blacklisting of staff in the previous administration, and the State Department website broadcasting that his presidency is over. This is not QAnon stuff, all these things happened. If not for the riot, you’d think there was a coup in the other direction. Every American, left or right, should think very carefully about what’s going on right now, and what sort of country they want to live in.
A writer I’ve published in the past, a friend of mine, worked in conservative foreign policy circles and, when I’m sure it must not have been easy, he took to heart what voters were telling the country in 2016. He actually worked to make the Republican Party platform less warlike, the only crime more heinous than racism in Washington. They ruined his life in the fake Russiagate inquiry. Now former Republicans who have always been on the hawkish side of the party are building blacklists of a huge part of the party’s political cohort, presumably so is the left. And the GOP appears to lack resolve in resisting what appears to be a full-spectrum legal, political, surveillance and media assault on their base. Personally, I’m done selling these people out, and if you think that discredits me from thinking to do so could very easily cause greater instability, so be it, but I do. Since I’m beginning to worry we’re approaching a lives, fortunes n’ sacridonner moment, I’ll put my cards on the table: I do not want to live as a dissident, and will do almost anything to avoid it, but until the GOP draws a line conservatives are forced to assume they are. I will not live as a dissident in the country of my forefathers, for believing the same things they did and for wishing to live under their system of government, without a hell of a fight. We owe them that.
As for the Democratic Party and the media, congratulations. You’ve destroyed the mad brute, but much more than his presidency is in ruins; faith in the electoral system, faith in the rule of law, the credibility of the left, a media dedicated to adversarially covering the intelligence community, take your pick. How does it feel?