As we learn the chilling details of an armed insurrection on our U.S. Capitol last week, some larger, deeper understandings come into focus.
With similar threats looming on the horizon for the inauguration of President Elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20, the events of Jan. 6 appear to be not the end of one chapter but the beginning of another.
What on earth did we think the result would be?
We could catalogue all the ways in which political discourse has run off the rails, to the point where disagreement turned into vilification and dehumanization and anybody remotely left of center would be painted as un-American.
We could pinpoint specific thresholds where the constant repetition of talking points created groupthink that was grounded not just in a difference of opinion but in beliefs that were based on premises that were demonstrably untrue.
We could observe the effect of electing a president whose false statements exceed 20,000 over the course of his term. We could examine what happens when people who have been conditioned to trust their own news sources and their beloved politicians are bombarded with this misinformation.
We could look at the hordes of politicians in the GOP who damn well knew the danger of the president’s rhetoric but stood in blind obesiance. Most of them are still doing so. Maybe now they’re scared. Someone built a noose in Washington, D.C. last week. Someone was carrying flexible handcuffs.
We could add in the fetishization of firearms in this country, the notion that highly militarized police are the ones who are vulnerable, and the mythology of the armed rebel as the hero in the situation.
We now have a situation where a significant portion of the electorate still wants to believe their president is in charge, successful, and robbed of his rightful victory. They do so against all evidence. The complaints about voting irregularities have been swatted down, over and over, and laughed out of court by judges whom the president himself has appointed. If this election were at all in question, the judicial process would have played out far differently, and the president would be taking the oath of office for his second term.
More than 60 courts have weighed in: He lost.
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Maybe you are among those who think that the storming of the Capitol was justified. Maybe you are among those who believe in Donald Trump as a good president and an honorable human being.
If you are, you likely will believe that we in the news media are part of the problem, part of a corrupt media intent on smearing an honorable man doing a good job. We can’t make you believe in the facts that we would use. We can’t argue against news that is engineered to make you believe that the president has behaved and governed in good faith. We can’t convince you that if the media had an iota of actual evidence that there was a steal, it would have been front and center.
The only thing we can say right now is that it must stop.
Politicians who have adopted positions and rhetoric that follow the contours of the president’s rage, who know that what they are doing is dishonest and cynical, must now reject that stance, regardless of the political cost.
We must look at the origins of the violence on Jan. 6. We must follow the truth where it leads. And right now, it looks like a very obvious through line back to a president and his steadfast insistence that he won an election that he quite simply lost.
If you found yourself rooting for the people wandering through our people’s house, you likely will never take our word for it. Nor should you. But just open your eyes. Trust your brain. Be critical — not just of the “radical left media,” of everyone’s information, and your own. Be skeptical of social media — if a post outrages you, it was likely created to do just that. Ask yourself by whom, and ask yourself why. As a true patriot, your own opinion should have integrity if it’s going to be worthy of the courage of your convictions.
If you are watching people you care about standing on the other side, consider the long history of how this situation has been weaponized for decades as the necessary cost of a strategy for political gain. This scenario of our country destabilized from within was also outlined as a goal of Russian interference in the 2016 election. It is so easy to vilify otherwise good people whose desire to be good citizens of the United States makes them vulnerable to undermining the very country that they love.
We must develop a language to be able to talk about what we actually believe as individuals, irrespective of what we have been conditioned to repeat. And we must rewire ourselves to be willing to talk to one another in good faith, to listen, to learn. To argue good arguments with depth and conviction, not volume and blind loyalty.
People can change. A lot of us must, in ways that are going to be uncomfortable.
We are very likely too late to put this insurrection back into a bottle. But what will happen if we don’t try?