The impeachment of Donald Trump is built on so many interlacing layers of folly, it is hard to untangle them all. At the center of the national-security declarations about “white nationalism” and “Christian nationalism” lie extraordinarily stupid assertions, to which fanatical anti-Trumpers devote themselves more steadfastly the more the logic behind the impeachment decomposes.
The fact that it’s unconstitutional for Congress to carry out a trial against a private citizen is important but not even the main deficiency in our current process. The central paradox here is that our government is criminalizing activity—debate and redress of grievances—that is not only a cherished tradition in America, but also, protected by the Constitution. The United States has long valued the ritual of assembling to show political strength and of gathering in front of symbolic sites (monuments, courthouses, capital buildings, etc.) in order to express discontent to the government (part of the “redress of grievances”). Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience is still considered a classic.
With every “march on Washington,” people partake in this rite of passage. The disorderly conduct and violence that took place on January 6 involved a tiny fraction of the crowd, yet the impeachment presumes that the entire exercise of marching on Washington was illegal violence against the government.
Calls for Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to be expelled from the Senate have not been based on fantasist claims that they partook in vandalism and bedlam, but rather, on the tenuous accusation that their statements questioning Joe Biden’s electoral win incited and constituted violence.
Any distinction between the hundreds of thousands who gathered for a good old-fashioned rally in Washington and the hundreds who trespassed into the Capitol building would exonerate Trump since his actual words supported the former activity, not the latter.
Even the trespassing wasn’t insurrection, since not all criminal behavior is treasonous. Otherwise, the Left’s thousands of rowdy protests in the name of their martyrs with criminal records, such as George Floyd and Jacob Blake, would be classified as sedition. And that sedition would far surpass the supposed insurrection committed on January 6.
As I pointed out in this podcast, four follies constitute the mainstream argument about the January 6 violence.
It Was “Insurrection”
Donald Trump’s supporters are among the most prolific gun owners in the country. According to recent polling, 47 percent of Trump supporters live in households with guns (slightly above the national average). The FBI’s vague announcements about tips and leads related to the Capitol Hill riot must be received in the context of that agency’s general untrustworthiness. I am old enough to remember when leftists knew who J. Edgar Hoover was and not only distrusted but also loathed his legacy, and not because of the salacious rumors about him wearing a tutu and engaging in gay dalliances with Clyde Tolson.
Whatever comes of the FBI’s investigations into preplanned pipe bombs, these findings do nothing to counteract the basic reality that the Trump supporters who entered the Capitol did not open fire en masse, which they could have and would have done if their intent was “insurrection.” Their purpose and motive were clear: to show Congress that they disagreed with the certification of the election results. In other words, they were there to make a point, not to overthrow the government.
It Was a “Coup d’état”
A coup d’état would involve deposing current leaders and assuming control of the government by putting forward a new leader. No massive group of people sought to depose leaders and assume control of the government.
Donald Trump was the president of the United States on January 6 and ceded control of the executive office to Joe Biden on January 20, two weeks later. The rioters went home.
The deaths associated with this incident are still only one-tenth the fatalities of the Orlando Pulse shooting, which nobody, least of all the Left, considers an insurrection or a coup. Only one fatality, Ashli Babbitt, was clearly the result of violence, and the violence directed at her came from the government. The causes of the other deaths remain unclear.
“Trump’s Lies Led People to Attack the Capitol”
Everyone must stop talking about the Trump supporters who gathered in Washington as if they were children or illiterate stooges. The people who gathered around the Capitol and entered were not all Trump supporters. The adults who did support Trump held a particular stance about the government’s treatment of the people. These people went to great lengths to travel to Washington D.C.
The problem is not one between Trump and Congress, but rather, between the people and Congress. Aside from needing to maintain proper perimeter security, if Congress doesn’t like popular aggression directed toward them, they need to have more respectful relationships with the voters who do not feel currently heeded. The world is always dangerous for people in power and, like Roman emperors, they are in a safer position if they have the people’s goodwill.
“White Nationalism” and “Christian Nationalism”
The storming of the Capitol had nothing to do with white supremacy. Let us, for the sake of argument, pretend we are critical race theorists. Reading our Frantz Fanon and Angela Davis, combined with general Marxist semiotics, we are conscious of how “hegemonic” infrastructures “reify” power and “naturalize” a hierarchy with white people on top.
An edifice of Greco-Roman architecture built to headquarter a mostly white and male legislative body empowered by the Constitution, which was written by slave-owning white men to regulate affairs on land stolen by Indians, satisfies so many points on the critical theorist’s checklist (“signs of white supremacy”) it would be impossible to cast its sacking as a white supremacist attack.
Notwithstanding the melodramatic accounts by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a woman of Puerto Rican descent, most of the people in Congress who were ostensibly fearing for their lives were not women or people of color. In the 116th Congress, 78 percent of lawmakers were white, 75 percent were male, and 88 percent were Christian. The contested winner being shielded by the mostly white Congress was Joe Biden, a white male claiming to be Catholic; and indeed, most of the members who had angered the mob by balking on the certification vote were also white: Senators Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Representatives Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) among the other usual RINO suspects.
Stuck on Stupid
Much to the country’s shame, an entire impeachment trial is now taking place in Congress based on assertions that can be disproved in thirty seconds.
The rampant mindlessness lies in America’s continued and seemingly unshakable belief that our biggest problems result from letting people say things we don’t like. One doesn’t need to reprise the lengthy roster of “cancel culture” causes célèbres to believe that the postmodern American fear of words has become positively religious in its obsessions. The sheer number of people who spend their waking hours tracking down misstatements by other people, posting incriminating screenshots, and forwarding them around the world in an endless rampage of firings, service refusals, denunciations, blacklistings, and suspensions boggles the mind.
It is a mystery how our society gets anything done anymore when so many employers are consumed in investigating their employees’ and customers’ offhand remarks. In the vast majority of cases, employees are fired or disciplined for saying things that had nothing to do with their job performance, and in the absence of any proof that their stated beliefs hurt anyone at the workplace.
In countless cases people have lost their jobs because of things they said in private or things they deleted. The dangerous words for which the language police held them “accountable” were hidden truffles that snitches had to go to great lengths to find.
The predictable response by the neoliberal establishment to the January 6 riot—cancel more people, ban more people, erase more voices, unpublish more books, fire more undesirables—is akin to seeking relief for hypertension by taking pills that raise one’s blood pressure. The hundreds of thousands who gathered in Washington knew that society’s growing censoriousness was on track to erase them. They saw evidence of election fraud and found that all the politically correct forces that had mobilized against racist and sexist gaffes were now mobilizing against reasonable statements that happened to inconvenience the powerful. And it was for the oldest motive in the world—to remove obstacles to their power and consolidate control. If not for cancel culture, those masses would have had more orderly means of conveying their grievances to the government.
History Threatens to Repeat
If you label people subhuman, criminalize their beliefs, belittle their experience, refuse to hear their grievances, expel them from platforms, and threaten to block them from licensing or employment, you leave them no choice but to do what hundreds of trespassers did on January 6. They will have to travel and do their best to confront you face to face. Those confrontations will become volatile, dangerous, and at times fatal. But human history is full of lessons that show us that you can’t stamp out ideas you don’t like.
To marshal the language of national security and cast January 6 as a domestic terrorist threat composed of white and Christian nationalists, is doubling down on dumb. Such a course of action hangs more hopes for progress on the suppression of language and ignores the unmistakable reality that people with uncomfortable opinions (many of which might be true) don’t disappear when you try to render them invisible. They find other forums, grow angrier, and come to the inevitable realization that they have nothing to lose.
As it turns out, the gay activists who said “SILENCE=DEATH” in the 1980s were right. Many people—probably millions—would rather die than lose the right to speak. This timeless reality may frighten leaders, but nowhere in world history have leaders had little to fear from the subjects they lord over. Placed in perspective, the January 6 incident was incredibly mild. Only a country deprived of perspective could truly consider that a dangerous insurrection.