If some future Democratic demagogue does exactly the same thing as Trump, and asks a horde of riled-up followers to fight like hell and walk with him only hundreds of yards to the Capitol to overturn his electoral defeat precisely at the moment of certification, then is that OK? Should his fellow partisans let him off the hook when the time comes for accountability?
No! Any Democrat should absolutely face all punishments that can be levied on him for such a thing. And yet, there’s this persistent allowance of absolute wrong in regards to Trump.
Of course, let me say this now, because we are so quick to dismiss each other over partisan feelings. I’m not blind to problems on the left. For instance, I see deep problems with the Democratic Party’s embrace of punitive language control, where new terminology is added online at a blistering pace in the name of not being offensive and anyone not in line with the new speak risks total alienation. I get the good-heartedness of not wanting to see anyone hurt, and I agree with that general spirit. But I think this must also come within the context of liberals actually being liberal-minded, which is simply the mindset of being willing to listen to those not like you. Too many liberals seem to forsake liberal-mindedness for a self righteousness limited to only those with certain identities and ways of speaking. The Democratic Party sees a cult in Trump, but it doesn’t need to grow too cultish itself in requiring adherence to a single-minded, single-voiced, safe-space ideology instead of actual liberal-mindedness, where debate flourishes and people listen to each other. A movement of inclusiveness that becomes too rigidly tribal contradicts its mission.
But I honestly see Trumpism as another form of safe space, just on the opposite side. It demands rigid compliance with a singular way of thinking, and if you completely adhere, you are safe in the group. It is safe to scoff at the humanity in “the others” when we ourselves are cocooned by our team’s good graces. There is peer pressure at work. And those controlled at the core by peer pressure are often capable of really awful things to maintain acceptance by a larger group that has no problem belittling the others. I don’t think any ideology is immune to this human tendency.
That’s why we need to have at least a few higher principles that transcend all this mess, all this cultural hostility. We will never see complete social cohesion in this country. It’s just not going to happen. There will always be real differences between people.
But we have to maintain structures that keep these differences from consuming us. All of us need good educational systems. We need food supplies that are affordable and secure from farms to our table. We need electricity and decent roads, and police, firefighters, EMS. We need justice that is truly blind to privilege or poverty. We need outlooks on all of this that aren’t partisan in nature but driven by professionalism and societal health. We need improvements in all of these areas. And we need to be honest about how. I’d say my own industry desperately needs some kind of economic overhaul, where so much of the media economy isn’t so driven by the perverse profit incentive of riling up a target audience into a constant state of hate. How do we get there on any of this? We need to be adults, not tantrum throwers.
An actual America that is great focuses on the bigger things that need to get done for all of us, not the small grievances that are almost like drug hits of rage, where people seek more and more indignation, because fury itself begins to feel like an old friend.
One of the primary pillars of the country is our electoral system. I feel like the old, American electoral house just had the foundation rocked by a storm. And now it’s shakier for the next storm, which will inevitably come, just like the weather.
There would have been no attempted insurrection if Trump had done what all national politicians in the United States of America have done throughout our history — concede when the legal process plays out. He should have conceded after his court challenges didn’t work. Again, that’s not a partisan statement. I would expect no less of any candidate of any party. His refusal to do so is not just about him and his supporters. It’s about where we go from here. So many previous politicians have suffered bitter defeats that stung them to the core. But there is dignity in realizing that the American system can’t work unless everyone respects the framework of the electoral process. Anything outside of that framework is a breaking with the fundamental aspect of American governance — a peaceful transfer of power.
But now we welcome a much harsher future where that valuable American principle is now a three-legged, not four-legged table. And we sit together, realizing that this wobbly table can absolutely be knocked over. And some want to splinter the table into firewood! Provoking forceful resistance to an electoral defeat was just legitimized as an American tactic by the Republicans who failed to hold Trump accountable for doing exactly that.
You don’t think there’s danger in that?
Our electoral system seems fragile these crazy days. And I think we just witnessed the creation of a new template for navigating an increasingly hostile national political environment. It goes like this: Declare fraud long before any election is held, rendering any unwanted result illegitimate. Refuse to concede if you don’t win. Continue to declare it a fraud. Rile up enough supporters to try and overturn your loss. If you succeed in this, then you take power by force. (Let me ask you, do you think he would have declined to retain power if Congress was slaughtered and the violence worked?) If you fail to take power by force, then you can be cleared so long as your party is committed to you, not the Constitution.
Perhaps you find a recurrence of this far-fetched. But given the state of hate in our nation, I don’t think it’s at all absurd to expect more of the same. In fact, it seems inevitable unless we get our society into a better place.
To demand that any Republican or Democrat be held fully accountable for such a destructive act on our nation-long structure of governance is not at all partisan. It’s patriotic and outside of partisanship. On the flip side, letting any Republican or Democrat off the hook for such awfulness, well, that’s equal to the declaration of a new system, a new structure, one that encourages blood, not peace. And that’s a fact, whether it’s written in red or blue ink.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.