January 6th Yeah But-ism
Yes the riots were a disgrace but the Democrats . . . .
Quite a few conservative sites are, to varying degrees, trying to have it both ways on the Capitol Riot: condemning the violence but also saying Democrats are making too big a deal about what happened. And I’m not talking about the usual suspects, either.
Townhall’s Guy Benson (“Reflections on January 6, 2021″) comes the closest of the non-NeverTrumpers to being unequivocal:
The Capitol riot of 2021 was a national disgrace that must never be allowed to happen again. It was not merely an over-the-top protest. It was not a tourist gathering that went a bit haywire. It was a violent and chaotic effort to derail the constitutional process of certifying the 2020 electoral college vote. It was an attempt to disrupt a core element of America’s sacred tradition of peacefully transferring power. Those who broke the law, especially those who savagely assaulted police officers and engaged in other forms of violence, are being held accountable. They should be. They are criminals (who are, of course, entitled to due process). They were inspired to commit their criminal acts by a series of lies about the 2020 election – namely, that results in a number of states were illegitimate, fraudulent, or rigged. This was and is false. Joe Biden won the 2020 election. He carried every state awarded to him in the formal electoral count. Donald Trump lost. Trump could not countenance a loss, so he cried foul, without substantiation, over and over again. He and some of his most reckless supporters repeatedly advanced claims in the public square that his own attorneys could not even come close to establishing in court.
These fantasies continued on January 6 itself, at a rally the soon-to-be-former president convened to amplify his conspiratorial grievances. The date was not chosen by accident. It was selected to coincide with the counting of the electoral votes on Capitol Hill (usually a formality), and to heap more pressure upon Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump had lobbied to violate his oath by indulging a wild and cockamamie legal theory under which a lone constitutional officer could somehow freeze or help overturn election results. The vice president rightly refused. Trump publicly lambasted Pence for his honorable decision, even while the vice president was potentially in harm’s way, and some of the rioters infamously reacted by chanting their desire to assassinate Pence by hanging. The president reportedly watched the hours-long spasm of violence on television, transfixed. His public admonitions urging peace were delayed, belated, and qualified, despite a deluge of desperate requests from political allies begging him to forcefully demand an immediate end to the havoc his lies helped unleash. Eventually, order was restored, and the constitution prevailed. The vote counting proceeded. Our institutions held. But they were strained from within by a mob whipped up by powerful people, including the president himself. Again, a national disgrace that must never be allowed to happen again.
That’s powerful and, I believe, sincere. But why muddy the waters with this?
January 6 is not the most important story in the country, which might come as news to consumers of various media outlets that have been treating it as such for months. There is a fixation on this event, and on the former president generally, that is plainly driven by ratings, clicks, and fan service, not news judgment. Outlets across the spectrum are guilty of this phenomenon, of course – and in some ways, that’s a fixture of our political media landscape. It’s reality. But the obsession with 1/6 has been particularly outsized among certain left-leaning news organizations who’ve hyped it relentlessly. It’s also worth noting that some of these same outlets have exhibited rather different standards on other election- and democracy-related lies, from Stacey Abrams’ outrageous claims in Georgia (embraced or flattered by nearly every leading Democrat in the country) to wild-eyed rants about the supposed illegitimacy of the Trump’s 2016 election (a widely-held belief among Democratic partisans) to hyperbolic declarations that American democracy will die if election results go the “wrong” way.
This is all nonsense.
Yes, Abrams has been lionized by her claims that the election was stolen from her. It was not. But she has a hell of a lot better argument than Trump: her Republican opponent, who happened to also be the state’s chief election official, used every trick in the book to purge Black voters from the ranks of registered voters and used other chicanery to boost his chances of winning. It just happens that Georgia also makes it really easy to re-register to vote, right up until election day, and Abrams and the Democratic machine did an excellent job of getting people re-registered and out to vote. Further, while she refused to concede the legitimacy of the outcome or say that her opponent was the victor, as Steven Taylor points out, she conceded that he was going to take office as governor and that there was nothing she could do to prevent that. And, most importantly, she did not encourage her supporters to form a violent mob to steal the election.
I’m not sure a Fox News report about a rant by a co-host of The View is the best evidence of conspiracy theories about Russian interference in the 2016 election. But there’s simply zero doubt that Russian operatives spread propaganda on Facebook and other outlets to damage Hillary Clinton and generally foment discord in the American populace. Still, most of the Democratic sense that the election was illegitimate springs from the fact that Clinton got 2 million more votes than Trump and still lost. It’s about the fairness of the system itself.
Regardless, none of that has the slightest thing to do with the Capitol riots. Or with the fact that right-wing and white-supremacist violence is a real and growing concern.
The Washington Examiner Editorial Board (“The cult of Jan. 6“) provides another example. Again, they start off well:
A year ago today, a mob determined to intimidate Vice President Mike Pence and Congress into delaying the certification of the 2020 presidential election descended upon the Capitol from the Ellipse, where President Donald Trump had falsely told them, “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide.”
While not everyone who marched on the Capitol that day planned to commit violence, many did, as evinced by the hockey sticks, wrenches, and baseball bats seen throughout the crowd. When this violent element was met with completely justified and restrained resistance from law enforcement, a riot broke out. Over 140 law enforcement officers were injured, over $2 million in damage was done to the Capitol building, and one rioter was shot dead.
What happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was not a peaceful protest. The violence committed that day was absolutely criminal, which is why the arrests of over 700 rioters by the FBI are completely justified, as is their continued prosecution by the Department of Justice.
But we start to see the pivot here:
Congress has also already held dozens of hearings into the communication and leadership failures that happened leading up to and on Jan. 6. This is not an event that has been forgotten or swept under the rug. Those that committed violence are being held accountable, and law enforcement agencies have implemented reforms to make sure they are not caught outnumbered like that ever again.
And then it comes:
As damaging as the Capitol riot was, however, far too many on the Left are making it an obsession that inhibits rational thought. The New York Times editorial board, for example, apparently believes that “every day is Jan. 6 now.”
“The Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends,” The New York Times says of the Republican Party. The New York Times editors apparently forgot an entire summer of violence by left-wing rioters in dozens of cities, explicitly designed to bring about political change.
“Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters — not by breaking laws but by making them,” The New York Times continues. “Thus the Capitol riot continues in statehouses across the country, in a bloodless, legalized form that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court.”
And this is how The New York Times morphs the very real and deplorable violence of a few individuals on one day into a condemnation of almost half the country for merely participating in the civic process of legislation. Remember those chants of “lock her up”? That’s what the New York Times editors are now saying about people who disagree with them on policy. “It’s a shame we can’t just lock them all up, lawmakers and governors included, because of something a few hundred completely unrelated people did a year ago.”
So, this is just silly. Nowhere does the NYT claim that all or even a significant number of the 74 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump are violent extremists. They merely note that there are violent extremists who are mobilized to act again and that Republican lawmakers across the country are trying to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote. Now, conflating this with “January 6” and the violent attacks on the Capitol may be a bit overwrought. But the point is that the notion behind the riots—that the votes of Democrats, particularly nonwhite ones, are illegitimate—is being carried forward by the leadership of the Republican Party.
This belief that Jan. 6 is a prism through which the entire world must be understood shares many of the same characteristics as a cult. Cultists are said to have a low tolerance for ambiguity, a strong desire for absolute answers, and a pervasive “us vs. them” mentality. There is even an apocalyptic element thrown in when this “every day is Jan. 6 now” mentality is applied to future elections.
This is rather rich coming from the folks who endorsed Trump’s re-election bid even while he was sowing the seeds for the Big Lie. If there’s a cult in American politics, it’s the people behind January 6, not those seeking to leverage it for political gain.
The strangest of the three that I highlight here, though, comes from The Editors at National Review (“Anniversary of a Disgrace“). Again, it starts strong:
On January 6, 2021, Mike Pence presided over a constitutionally mandated joint session of Congress to count the electoral votes. The Trump-Pence campaign disputed the 2020 results in election contests and in court, but by January 6, the legal options were exhausted. Each state government sent only a single slate of electors to be counted.
Under our Constitution and laws, nothing remained but to count the votes. Instead, an angry mob descended upon the Capitol to prevent that from happening. This will, and should, be remembered as a stain on the nation’s history.
There is no defense for what the mob did that day. None. The people have a right to form loud, angry crowds to petition and protest their government. They need not do so in ways that are pleasant or polite. The “Stop the Steal” protesters who listened to the speeches and went home were exercising their rights as citizens.
But ours is a government of laws, not of men. A rule-of-law system has no place for physical intimidation or mobs obstructing the peaceful, constitutional transfer of power. The Founding Fathers feared few things more than mob rule. They created a federal district to avoid a repeat of a 1783 riot around the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
There is also no defense of what Donald Trump did to summon the crowd, tell it that there remained any option but counting Biden’s electoral victory, and urge the assemblage to march on the Capitol because “if we allow this group of people to illegally take over our country . . . you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Trump’s recklessness disgraced the office of the presidency.
Additionally, there is no defense of Trump’s pressuring Pence to take unilateral, unlawful action against the counting of electoral votes, then telling the crowd that Pence might do so, knowing full well that they would discover when they reached the Capitol that Pence would not. Some of them, entering the Capitol, chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.” It was Trump who led them to believe that his own vice president was allowing their country to be stolen.
Even as it starts to transition to the yeah, but, it remains clear-eyed:
For that matter, there is no defense of Trump’s prolonging the election contest far beyond the point of plausibility, spreading blatant lies about the election, and pressuring state legislators and governors to usurp their states’ popular votes and certify electors not chosen by the people.
What happened at the Capitol that day is best understood as a riot that was particularly dangerous because of its setting and context. It was not a purely peaceful protest, or a cartoonish costume party with a little bit of trespassing. The Secret Service had to rush Pence to safety. Members of Congress emptied the chamber and fled for cover. The vote-counting process was interrupted for five and a half hours. The Capitol itself was wreathed in smoke. This is the stuff of a banana republic.
January 6 was a day shrouded in tragedy. Four of the protesters died, including one woman who was shot by Capitol Police while she was breaking through a door at the head of a screaming mob, and a 42-year-old Capitol Police officer who was pepper-sprayed had a pair of fatal strokes just eight hours later. Even if not all these deaths are directly attributable to the riot, the mayhem that day has been documented on video — people being stomped on, one officer being beaten with an American flagpole, rioters crushing one police officer in a door. The violence is why, of the more than 700 people who have been arrested, over 200 have been charged with assault or resisting arrest, including scores charged with assaulting police with dangerous weapons (mainly toxic sprays). Police officials report that 140 officers suffered injuries including bad cuts and bruises, burns, and broken bones. There was also damage to the Capitol that was estimated to exceed $1 million.
But, then, it happens:
Defenders of Trump and apologists for the riot argue that the events of January 6 did not emerge out of nowhere. It is true that past Democratic misconduct helped to set the stage for the riot, but that does not exonerate Trump or the rioters.
For two decades, prominent Democrats have attacked the legitimacy of American elections. They claimed that the 2000 election was stolen from Al Gore. They indulged ridiculous fantasies about Ohio being stolen in 2004, resulting in dozens of Democratic members of Congress objecting to counting its electoral votes. Many of those Democrats are now powerful committee chairs, including the chair of the committee investigating January 6. Violent protests marred Trump’s inauguration, and leading Democrats denounced him as illegitimate. Polls showed that supermajorities of Democratic voters believed that Russian hackers stole the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton, and she has given every indication that she shares that view. In 2018, Stacey Abrams was anointed a hero by her party for refusing to accept the legitimacy of her loss of a governor’s race. It would have been wrong for Trump to emulate this behavior; but he went well beyond what even the most reckless Democrat has done in contesting an election.
Left-wing mobs have targeted the workings of government, for example overwhelming the Wisconsin state capitol in 2011 to protest Scott Walker’s union-dues bill. Republican legislators had to be evacuated by police, as Democratic legislators egged on the mob. In 2018, protesters repeatedly disrupted the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, chased Republican senators down hallways and into elevators, accosted them in restaurants, and broke through Capitol barricades, resulting in hundreds of arrests. Law enforcement was unduly lax in punishing these offenses against democratic self-government.
In the summer of 2020, riots convulsed many American cities with courthouses and businesses burned and police assaulted. Democratic politicians pandered shamefully to the rioters and in many cases went easy on prosecuting them. Media outlets expressed horror at deploying police and the National Guard to restore order. The conflict between the Trump administration and D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser over the summer of 2020 seems to have contributed particularly to the sluggish response to the Capitol riot. There is significant force to the claim that Democrats have forged a two-tiered justice system in which the radical Left gets a comparative pass for politically motivated violence. But then, two wrongs do not make a right.
The New York Times editorializes that “Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now,” and one of its columnists argues that Democrats should “Wave the ‘Bloody Shirt’ of Jan. 6” as Republicans did against Democrats after the Civil War — as if this compares to a four-year war in which 3 million Americans served and 750,000 died. Other opportunists (including Joe Biden) call the riot the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War” or say it is comparable to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. CNN and other cable news obsessives plan wall-to-wall coverage of the anniversary in order to inflate its importance and help Democrats wave that bloody shirt.
This is a loss of perspective. In 1915, a former Harvard professor set off a bomb at the Capitol and shot J. P. Morgan. In 1954, five congressmen were shot by Puerto Rican nationalists in the House chamber. In the early 1970s, the left-wing Weather Underground set off bombs at the Capitol, the Pentagon, and the State Department. In 1983-84, the Communist group M19 bombed the Capitol, an FBI office, and Fort McNair and the Navy Yard in D.C. In 2001, 3,000 people died on 9/11, air travel was grounded across the country, the president was shuttled to a secure location, and a wing of the Pentagon was destroyed. In 2017, a gun-toting Bernie Sanders supporter attempted to massacre Republican congressmen at a baseball practice, gravely wounding Steve Scalise, the Republican House whip.
This is mostly an extension of the talking points that Benson pointed to earlier. There’s truth in all of this and I’ve made many of these arguments myself over the years. Too many on the left, and too many Democratic Party leaders, justify conspiracy-mongering and resort to mob violence. As I noted many times during the Black Lives Matter protests, the valid concerns they were drawing attention to risked being overshadowed by the ancillary violence if the movement didn’t condemn and disassociate itself from it. And the “riots are the language of the unheard” mantra embraced by far too many works both ways.
I must admit that, even though I was not only alive but politically aware in 1983-84, I had to look up the M19 bombing spree, having no recollection of it whatsoever. Their story was interesting but it rather pales in comparison to the January 6 attack:
Amidst the social and political turmoil of the 1970s, a handful of women—among them a onetime Barnard student, a Texas sorority sister, the daughter of a former communist journalist—joined and became leaders of the May 19th Communist Organization.
Just before 11 p.m. on November 7, 1983, they called the U.S. Capitol switchboard and warned them to evacuate the building. Ten minutes later, a bomb detonated in the building’s north wing, harming no one but blasting a 15-foot gash in a wall and causing $1 million in damage. Over the course of a 20-month span in 1983 and 1984, M19 also bombed an FBI office, the Israel Aircraft Industries building, and the South African consulate in New York, D.C.’s Fort McNair and Navy Yard (which they hit twice.) The attacks tended to follow a similar pattern: a warning call to clear the area, an explosion, a pre-recorded message to media railing against U.S. imperialism or the war machine under various organizational aliases (never using the name M19).
As to the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice, Doug Mataconis blogged about it when it happened. It was one dude and everyone, including Sanders himself, roundly condemned it:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Wednesday he was “sickened” by the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and others at a congressional baseball practice, which appears to have been carried out by a former volunteer to his presidential campaign.
“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign,” Sanders said in a statement delivered on the Senate floor.
“I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” he added.
The Vermont senator said real change can only be achieved “through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”
The fact of the matter is that, unlike all these examples, the January 6 riots were directly sparked by the President of the United States, who spent weeks before the election making baseless charges that Democrats were going to steal the election and doubling down on this afterward trying to overturn the results. And, rather than recoil in horror and denounce him, almost all of his party’s leadership rallied around him. Further, pledging fealty to the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen is not some fringe position; it’s a de facto requirement to win a Republican primary.
These things are not equivalent. It ain’t the same ballpark. It ain’t the same league. It ain’t even the same sport.
I saw the speech (which I watched in full later in the day) as having two purposes: a full-throated defense of our democratic heritage and what it takes to maintain it, and two, the beginning of the takedown of Donald Trump.
I found the first inspiring and necessary to remind everyone of the big picture.
The second is what is necessary in the long run. I wonder if the the Democrats have the stamina and discipline to continue the pounding now that they are on the offense. Every little speech, press conference, new release should be an attack on the former president. Every phrase should reference the failed Trump presidency, the dishonest and corrupt Trump, etc. Repetition and message discipline is important and something the Republican do really well.
@Scott: I thought that Biden, with Psaki’s help later, was placing a small bet on a moderate long shot – that they could goad Trump into completely losing it. They know Trump’s reactions are animalistic. Dwelling on the fact that he was a loser is like putting bloody chum in the water. Trump can’t help but go after it. (FWIW, I thought his rather bizarre statement that “Biden used my name to divide America” when Biden made a point of never using Trump’s name was illustrative of how incapable Trump is of resisting such bait.)
If that bet drives Trump over into such petty, angry tantrum that it starts to turn off the mushy middle 70% of Republican voters and gives the motivated base pause, the party will turn on him pretty quickly. No one who knows him personally likes Trump. And those that find themselves tied to him inevitably hate him. If Trump is seen as sufficiently weakened the pack will turn on him and strip him to the bones in seconds. And then… Democrats will run against Republicans who have publicly toadied themselves to a loser, to a weakling. What does that make them?
I don’t give this high odds of succeeding. In Trump’s long, long history of failure after failure, he rarely loses it in public, but rather goes off to sulk in silence. But in giving this a try I think Biden and Psaki are risking little for a potentially high payoff. Such bets are usually worth taking.
November will determine TFG’s future in the R party. If Rs do not meet the electoral expectations in retaking the house and senate, TFG will be blamed. As we have discussed here several times, their is entire generation of R polls who want to be president and amongst them, a large cohort of party professionals that want to recapture the party to be a vehicle for a return to fealty to their donors. To do that TFG needs to be pushed off the stage.
You made an excellent point that anyone who knows Trump personally can’t stand him. It’s only those who’ve never met him, and never will meet him, who adore him. What’s fascinating to me about this is that they’ve invented a totally false persona to worship: Trump the faithful husband, Trump the devoted father, Trump the devout Christian, Trump the mot successful businessman ever, Trump the greatest president ever, and, worst of all, Trump the man who loves them most and looks out for them.
A self-created delusion. Even when they venerated Sarah Palin they were a bit more realistic.
Sorry, but no. We’ve heard this for going on 6 years now. If ‘grab them by the pussy,’ ‘both sides at Charlottesville,’ kidnapping children at the border, and the actual January 6th insurrection didn’t give the motivated base a pause, no speech of Biden’s will do anything. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a motivated base if the opposition’s words could give them pause.
That is not to say goading Trump in this way is a bad idea, or that you are wrong on what Psaki and Biden are doing. Rather, their target audience here is their current winning coalition and those GOP-leaning voters who stayed on the sidelines last time, reminding them that if you couldn’t stomach Trump last time you still wont’ be able to stomach him.
I second that.
We’ve seen the only thing that gives the unhinged base anything like “pause,” is when Benito does something decent, like tell people to get a COVID vaccine. He’s too self-obsessed to make this mistake often.
I take your point, but I think it is important to observe what happened in California. Disaster at the ballot box didn’t cause a course correction in the Republican Party there, but rather a doubling down on their current course with a subsequent increase in malignancy. What ended up happening was the Republican Party became more extreme but was driven into irrelevance as a negative feedback cycle drove sane people from the party, leaving an increasing percentage of loons and bigots.
I guess I’m not clear on my point. All of those incidents and Trump’s subsequent refusal to apologize or admit error, causes that mushy middle Republican voter to see Trump as a tough son of a bitch who never backs down. Those things offend us but if Republican voters were offended by such stuff they would have left the party during the Gingrich era.
Trump recognizes the only thing he has to worry about – being seen as weak, as a loser, as ineffective. It’s why he can’t admit he has lost the election. Trump recognizes that Biden’s anger only builds him up in the eyes of that mushy middle (and, of course, actually exalts him amongst most of the active and motivated Republican voters). It’s Biden’s contempt that he fears. To be held in contempt is water on the Wicked Witch of the West. Biden and Psaki are pushing that to see where it will take them.
@Scott: @MarkedMan: @Sleeping Dog:@CSK: @Neil Hudelson: I’m befuddled as to what any of this has to do with the post?
I should have mentioned that those who seek to succeed TFG will be happy to inherit the policies/positions that animate that R base. A Cruz of Hawley will be just as supportive of an R majority state legislature that overturns the states popular vote and awards the states’s electoral votes to the R presidential candidate. Large parts of the party simply want to be free of the TFG as a force in the party. But they love the idea of a minoritarian R party governing America.
The Georgia and Arizona GOP are flirting with similar failure.
Sorry James, your post has been hijacked. 🙂
Sometimes things take on a life of their own.
@James Joyner: Well I responded not to your post, but to Scott’s comment and from there the streetcar jumped the tracks, and went careening down the hill crashing into fruit stands and flower stalls along the way. Give us a minute and we will get to the “workmen carrying a giant pane of glass” and the “baby buggy bouncing down the stairs” phase of this train wreck.
Do you ever feel today’s Republican party isn’t even living in the same planet?
I’m going to try to get the commentary back on point…
Pity the poor GOP booster publication, but what else is there for them to do but muddy the waters. Their call to action – a national disgrace can never happen again – would require actions being taken against prominent members of the GOP, including TFG. We can’t have that, can we?
I’ve been trying to come up with an editorial angle that would allow unequivocal condemnation of January 6th that could also reflect well on Republican behavior since then. If that angle exists, it’s beyond my imagination.
The commitment to this editorial position (That is – 1/6 was bad, but it wasn’t that bad, and besides the Democrats are worse.) was set in stone the moment the GOP Senate acquitted Trump of his second impeachment. An opportunity for a clean break from Trump was given and wasn’t taken up. This is what it looks like to live in the bed that was made that day.
That’s fair enough.
I can at least understand the Washington Examiner’s position for re-electing Trump—he’s a crude asshole but the alternative is a near-irreversible shift toward a larger welfare state, might pack the Supreme Court and undo all of our work, etc. But how hard is to to acknowledge that violent attempts to override democracy are un-American, that Trumpism actually is bad for the Republican Party (it lost by 2 million and then 7 million votes!) and that advancing conservative principles requires a different strategy?
I’ve got the “crates of chickens being stacked” ready to go.
Of course they do. The GOP is now a religion for the bulk of Republicans, a co-religion with whatever flavor of theism they subscribe to : Christian fundamentalism, traditionalist Catholicism, ultra orthodox Judaism, whatever.
Religious people don’t compromise, and they have God’s backing, what with God’s law taking precedence over man’s law.
As I just said above, nothing justifies standing against God’s will.
Let me clarify further – TFG is now a mascot or totem, like Tommy Trojan for USC. He stands for what they stand for, they are defending their values and principles more than just TFG.
It doesn’t have to be that hard, but it would start with the understanding that democracy requires the support of the majority of the governed which can sometimes mean compromise.
And it would require an admission that the alternative to Republican rule needn’t be anything nearly as radical as irreversible growth in the welfare state. There are no prominent Democrats (not even identified “radicals” like Sanders, Warren, and Ocasio-Cortez) calling for authoritarian socialism. Even the calls for “packing” SCOTUS are based on restoring a semblance of balance after the well-documented anti-majoritarian skewing resulting from McConnell’s machinations.
The end of Trumpism in the Republican Party has to start with the end of the shameless mischaracterization of Democrats as demonic radicals.
I’ve got two thoughts about this.
First, I think it reiterates the importance of basing judgments on consistent, objective standards of behavior and not on whatever happens to be the worst or most recent bad behavior from one’s opponents. The latter is how the “yeah but” argument works and also various other arguments that seek to justify actions based on what opponents are doing. Whatever Abrams did does not lessen what Trump did and vice versa.
Political behavior instead ought to be judged in the ways we judge behavior in practically every other domain – with a set standard where the seriousness, penalties and potential remedies depend on the severity and scale of the deviation from the standard.
For instance, we have a whole bunch of behaviors that we call “crimes” yet we understand that not all crimes are the same. Theft and murder are both wrong but one is clearly worse than the other. For another example, workplaces expect employees to be on time but everyone understands that being 10 minutes late is not the same thing as being 5 hours late. A manager will take the latter one much more seriously.
So that is how I look at these endless comparisons between Abrams and Trump. They are differences in degree, but differences in degree are very important.
In my view, Abrams is like an employee who was 15 minutes late to work and missed an important meeting while Trump is like an employee who shows up at the end of the workday drunk and throws up on the most firm’s most important client, causing them to cancel a contract. Neither is acceptable conduct, but they also aren’t the same in terms of scale and impact.
But it seems to me that most partisans don’t look at it this way. Hence you get so many dumb arguments.
Secondly, and related to that, my primary worry is that elections are following the same kind of destructive escalation spiral that we’ve seen over the past 30 years with the judiciary. And these escalation spirals are enabled by the stupid tribal justifications of bad behavior. In the case of the escalatory spiral for the judiciary, at each ratchet one side always justified its escalatory actions based on the escalatory action(s) done by the other side. That process has brought us to the point where most of the norms for judicial appointments are gone and with it much of the judiciary’s legitimacy. And we’re not done yet – partisans are openly desiring more escalatory measures so the spiral continues.
I think the same thing is happening with elections. Questioning the legitimacy of election outcomes and processes is becoming normalized. Like it nor not, Abrams and her veneration by many Democrats is part of that – not very important by itself, but important as part of an overall trend.
But Trump and his supporters skipped right to the end with an escalation that dwarfs all others – January 6th and the big lie was a massive escalatory leap and a shock to the system. There is no equivalent comparable action in the judiciary escalation spiral (yet). This wasn’t the typical pattern of creeping normalcy as norms get eroded over time through a series of smaller moves.
So the question for me, and one that I think is the most important question for the future, is how will this affect the escalation spiral?
Sometimes a shock may break the spiral and stop it or cause a reset. Other times it can hasten the spiral. Sadly I think the latter is much more likely than the former.
I think it depends on what you mean by “conservative principles.” The traditional notion of conservative principles as a desire to conserve the enlightenment principles and ideals of America’s founding are things that Trump populism specifically rejects. This is why most of those who have that traditional view of conservative principles are #nevertrumpers. And it seems they are headed to the political wilderness.
But I think you’re right about election strategy. As long as it is a binary choice, rationalizing the lesser evil is what will inevitably happen.
You are absolutely right that consistent, objective standards of behavior is the critical gauge by which to judge.
Which is why Abrams is such a good example, even though it undercuts your bothsiderism on the growing trend to question election legitimacy. Pay attention to the details and you will clearly see that that Abrams is not being “lionized” or “venerated” by Democrats because of how she (as OTB has noted) reasonably responded to her loss to Kemp. She is held in high regard for her behavior after that when she took her grievance to the streets and activated a powerful get out the vote effort.
If greater enfranchisement is escalation, I’m all for it.
I have to admit, I don’t think that assessment is accurate. I tried to explain why here:
Revisiting Stacey Abrams’ Nonconcession.
@Steven L. Taylor: I think it’s both fair to say that she was lionized for claiming election was stolen and has since expanded her support by her efforts to increase Black registration and to reform electoral systems. In my own post comparing the non-concessions, I quote Guy Benson:
These things in fact happened, most of them almost immediately after she lost the election by 54,000 votes despite record Black turnout. As you yourself posted at the time, there was a WaPo column in the immediate aftermath calling for her to be made Speaker of the US House of Representatives! She was floating a run for POTUS/a> based on her newfound stature.
“I think it’s both fair to say that she was lionized for claiming election was stolen and has since expanded her support by her efforts to increase Black registration and to reform electoral systems.”
Not all claims that an election was stolen are the same. As Steven says it the article he cited:
“Look, I understand how, on the surface, any assertion of electoral shennigans undercuts public trust in democracy, and that has consequences. But calling attention to legitimately questionable behavior, which is what Abrams did, is in a different universe from making boldly false claims about the electoral outcomes in mutliple states.”
There is a world of difference between using the refusal to concede to draw attention to legitimate issues with how an election was run which could have made a difference in the outcome, and making up allegations out of whole cloth and using them as a reason not merely not to concede, but to urge your followers towards violent insurrection. And painting them with the same brush (as the articles you cited do) is certain to encourage more attempts to undermine democratic elections without evidence.
Bing, bing, bing, we have a winner for the questions James posted:
The other part of the answer is that in American politics (and society in general), admitting that you were wrong is typically seen as a sign of weakness. Which get’s to Scott’s other point:
To admit that “violent attempts to override democracy are un-American, that Trumpism actually is bad for the Republican Party (it lost by 2 million and then 7 million votes!)” unravels the entire ball of yarn. That requires all the people who defended Trump and downplayed 1/6 to admit that they were wrong and to one degree or another complicit in the coverup.
Again I will point out that no conservative commenter on this blog has ever address this topic in over a year. The closest we got was JKB whatabouting BLM protests. Asking John two days ago to articulate his position on it was enough to make him disepear until the next time he wants to snark at an article. if anonymous contributors to this blog cannot do that, why do you expect anyone can do on record about it.
The best strategy is to memory-hole this and downplay it.
Also, I think there is, on some level, an understanding that the party has tied it self to an individual who doesn’t give one crap about the party and is willing to burn it to the ground to save his own fragile ego.
As James noted, her fame and influence are the direct result of her claims about the election being stolen.
I think you also have to consider the example this sets and the incentives for other Democrats. And by the same token, the example of Trump saying his election was stolen. In both cases, the result has been more influence and more money raised. Other politicians will see that and start doing the same thing – the escalation spiral continues.
There aren’t any conservative commenters on this blog IMO but, as noted to James, much depends on how one defines “conservative.” That word seems to have become a stand-in for everything right-of-center which makes it mostly useless.
Well you have the extremes and then you have a big mushy middle. I am mostly where James is somewhere in the mushy middle. And so I think there is a wide range of legitimate opinion for judging how serious this was and what future actions should or shouldn’t be taken in response. I reject the extremes, but acknowledge and can understand the arguments of those who either think it was more or less serious than I do and those who want more vs less action.
In contrast, most on the extremes have a kind of religious self-assurance that their interpretation of 1/6 is the correct one, and that anyone who deviates is stupid or bad or both. It should be obvious that such attitudes are, at the very least, counterproductive.
Also, tribalism and tribal in-group vs out-group behavior is everywhere – it’s not something that uniquely affects Trump supporters. People always give politicians on “their side” the benefit of the doubt and tend to rationalize mistakes accordingly.
Assuming the last two paragraphs were meant to be a response to my comment, the Wikipedia page on that election notes:
1. A bogus and inflammatory claim by Kemp that the Georgia Democratic Party hacked into the state voting database a few days before the election.
2. 53,000 (a number nearly large enough by itself to make up the difference in the election, and certainly enough to send it into a runoff) voter registrations delayed by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office (with the Secretary of State being Kemp).
3. Closures of polling places, primarily in poor and minority neighborhoods, with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution estimating that between 54,000 and 85,000 voters did not cast ballots as a result.
These seem like serious allegations to me. Has the Republican-run Georgia government treated them as such, as you put it “taken seriously, investigated seriously, and adjudicated seriously”? Or have they instead swept them under the rug and passed a law, which among other things, allows the State to replace the locally elected election boards?
@Moosebreath: I condemned Republican voter disenfranchisement attempts in that campaign in real time and, in every post about it since conceded that, while Abrams almost certainly lost legitimately, she had ample cause for complaint about the attempt.
@Andy: I agree that ‘conservative’ had many meanings and, while there are fundamental ways in which my politics are conservative, I’m not a Conservative and haven’t been in a long time. But we need a strong right-of-center party as a counterweight to the Democrats that can win elections by building plurality coalitions, not making it harder for their opponents to vote.
@James Joyner: The thing is, I don’t think that she claimed that the election was stolen. I think that is the way some people are characterizing what she said (although maybe I am missing something).
And as to the fellow you quoted, I think he mischaracterizes her non-concession because she clearly accepted that she lost.
Her fame and influence are far more driven by coming within a hair of winning and then being central to Biden, Warnock, and Ossoff winning. I think if she lost by 10 points and GA went red in 2020, her influence would not be the same, regardless of that speech.
I feel like she is often both-sided (if not simply downplayed) more than is is appropriate.
Now, the speech was significant, because it hits on real issues in American politics.
And I cannot stress enough that there are huge problems with her opponent making decisions that directly affected the electorate.
“I condemned Republican voter disenfranchisement attempts in that campaign in real time and, in every post about it since conceded that, while Abrams almost certainly lost legitimately, she had ample cause for complaint about the attempt.”
My comments was deliberately directed at the articles you quoted, not at you personally (“And painting them with the same brush (as the articles you cited do) is certain to encourage more attempts to undermine democratic elections without evidence.” — emphasis added)