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To what ends / January 13, 2021
As we learn more about the insurrectionist violence at the U.S. Capitol last week — a historical turning point that ought to be viewed as every bit as shocking as 9/11 — the scarier and more disturbing the episode becomes.

Who organized and funded the mob violence that ended with the Capitol building sacked and five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer? How close did others come to death and serious injury from the mayhem, and who is responsible for these crimes? (You’ve probably seen the video by now of the pro-Trump mob yanking an officer to the ground and beating him with objects including a flagpole bearing the American flag. Meantime the officer who died, Brian Sicknick, was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher and succumbed to brain injuries. A murder investigation has been opened.) How close did America come to seeing the wholesale slaughter of its representatives in Congress? Was the invasion of the Capitol an inside job? So many questions, so few answers, at least for the moment.

What we do know is this wasn’t simply a rabble of disorganized goons, although plenty such people were spotted in the fray. Far more ominous elements of a criminal conspiracy — pipe bombs, firearms, body armor, Zip Ties — suggest that an unknown number of these traitors envisioned a full-on coup to keep Trump in power. Until we know more about the full scope of their operation, the idea of letting go of our collective anger and determination to get to the bottom of this crime is unthinkable.

So too is the idea of excusing the words and deeds of Republican leaders who egged on the violence with lies about voter fraud and a rigged election. The loser of that free and fair election, Donald Trump, bears greatest responsibility of all — “Be there, will be wild!” Trump tweeted ahead of the riot, one of the few times in his life our President has been caught telling the truth — but Trump is far from alone in whipping up the mob. A total of 147 Republican members of Congress, including our newly elected 5th District Rep. Bob Good, voted on the floor to perpetrate the fraud that Trump was cheated out of a second term after he lost soundly in November to President-elect Joe Biden. Good is a newcomer to Washington, so the full extent of his creep-dom is underappreciated, but no such of lack of exposure obscures the loathsomeness of Trumpist supporters such as senators Josh Hawley of Missouri or Ted Cruz of Texas. Even fellow Republicans seem to detest Hawley and Cruz, even if they try to hide the fact.

Amid this national outrage, cries have gone up within the Republican Party urging Democrats to “come together” to promote “unity” after Wednesday’s insurrection, typically followed by twerpish complaints that Democrats will tear the country apart if they insist on removing Trump from office through either the 25th Amendment or a second impeachment. (Good, ever the loathsome little troll, released a statement urging Democrats to join with Republicans in “a unified solution,” without offering a single idea on what a unified solution is supposed to look like. Yet a remarkable turn of events Tuesday does suggest the potential for a “unified solution”: Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, released a statement saying she would support the impeachment of Trump after he “summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President.”

Cheney added, “The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

That Liz Cheney, hawkish daughter of uber-hawk Dick Cheney — architect of the Iraq War and a man who arguably has more blood on his hands than any living American — would side with Democrats to expel Trump from office suggests that national consensus might not be such a fanciful notion after all. Also on Tuesday, The New York Times published a bombshell report that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supports the Democratic push to impeach Trump, although with McConnell you never know what dirty schemes lie underfoot. But in the interests of coming together for a good round of Kumbaya, let’s credit the handful of Republican leaders who have openly and squarely laid the blame for this insurrectionist violence where it belongs, thus affirming that cheap politics, while a fact of life on par with death and taxes, doesn’t have to rule everything we do and experience in life. The chances of unseating Trump at this late juncture of his presidency are not good. But they’re not non-existent, either.

It’s at times like these that we should remember most people don’t care about politics one way or another, and aren’t emotionally in the business of thinking of their fellow countrymen as traitors and seditionists. The most cynical elements of the Republican Party leverage this understandable sense of detachment to their advantage, behind which lies the sudden clamor of mushmouth appeals for “unity.” Who doesn’t want “unity” after all? Yet what last week’s crime really demonstrates is that the Republican Party writ large is either unable or unwilling to come to grips with rising fascism within its ranks, leading the party to relentlessly pursue scorched-earth politics without pause and, from a policy standpoint, practically without purpose. Power is the only goal, the end that justifies all means. From top to bottom, whether it’s the President of the United States inciting a full-scale riot or low-level hacks like our own Frank Ruff and Tommy Wright peddling hum-drum falsehoods in Trump’s name, the only unity Republicans are interested in is their own.

McConnell, one of the smartest in the bunch if not the most evil, seems to understand that the party has pushed the envelope too far this time. His apparent desire to usher Trump off the national stage can be understood as a return to a traditional Republican style of hypocrisy, as opposed to the genuinely dangerous turn to anarchy on display last week. Hypocrisy was famously defined by French author François de La Rochefoucauld as the tribute that vice pays to virtue, but QAnon crazies and Proud Boy neo-Nazis have no use for truisms, tributes or tactical niceties. It’s hard to know what they want, really, except to set the country on fire.

Trump, idiot and liar, is a perfect vessel for their endlessly aggrieved movement, and it’s this toxic relationship between idol and follower that not surprisingly blew up in America’s face last week. There are 74 million Americans who voted for Trump in the 2020 election — not nearly a match for the 81 million who voted for Biden, but a significant number nevertheless. And it’s genuinely absurd to believe that all 74 million support the destruction of American democracy to keep Trump or anyone else in power. But how many are at least open to the proposition? Five million? 50 million? Whatever the number is, it will grow unless the leadership of the Republican Party — within the administration, in Congress, in statehouses, the business community, the media and elsewhere — come to grips with what the GOP threatens to become, if it isn’t there already. Democrats have long decried the dangerous path that their rivals in America’s two-party system of government have taken. It’s up to Republicans to accept obvious truths about their movement and expel radical elements within their ranks, or stand by and await the next attack on the foundations of our democracy.

There is much excellent work being done in the aftermath of last week’s tragedy to place it in the proper context, by reporters, historians, law enforcement authorities, intelligence analysts, and politicians on the left and right — from soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to Illinois Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger, a withering critic of Trump’s. (“If these actions” — referring to Trump’s incitement of mob violence to stop the electoral vote count -— “are not worthy of impeachment, what is an impeachable offense?” Kinzinger wrote Tuesday.) One piece this week that especially stood out in my mind was penned by Politico’s Tim Alberta, who has spent the past four years traveling around the country speaking to Trump supporters. His article, “Jan. 6 Was 9 Weeks — And 4 Years — in the Making”, is a masterful summation of how the Republican Party has come to find itself in the thrall and servitude of Donald Trump. Let’s sign off with a long excerpt:

Despite all of these arrows pointing toward disaster — and despite Trump encouraging his followers to descend on Washington come Jan. 6, to agitate against certification of Biden’s victory — not a single Republican I’d spoken with in recent weeks sounded anxious. The notion of real troublemaking simply didn’t compute. Many of these Republicans have kept so blissfully ensconced in the MAGA embrace that they’ve chosen not to see its ugly side. Beyond that, it has long been canon on the right that leftists — and only leftists — cause mayhem and destruction. Democrats are the party of charred cities and Defund the Police; Republicans are the party of law and order and Back the Blue. As Republicans have reminded us a million times, the Tea Party never held a rally without picking up its trash and leaving the area cleaner than they found it.

And yet, the right has changed dramatically over the past decade. It has radicalized from the ground up, in substance and in style. It has grown noticeably militant. President Trump once told me, “The Tea Party still exists — except now it’s called Make America Great Again.” But that’s not quite accurate. The core of the Tea Party was senior citizens in lawn chairs waving miniature flags and handing out literature; the only people in costumes wore ruffled shirts and tri-corner hats. The core of the MAGA movement is edgier, more aggressive and less friendly; its adherents would rather cosplay the Sons of Anarchy than the Sons of Liberty.

There is one thing that connects these movements: Both were born out of deception. Republican leaders convinced the grassroots of 2009 and 2010 that they could freeze government spending and reform entitlement programs and repeal Obamacare. Trump convinced the grassroots of 2015 and 2016 that he, too, could repeal Obamacare, while also making Mexico pay for a border wall and overhauling the nation’s infrastructure. The key difference is that the Tea Party slowly faded into obscurity as voters realized these promises politicians made were a scam, whereas the MAGA movement has only grown more intensely committed with each new con dangled in front of them.

Make no mistake: Plenty of the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol complex on Wednesday really, truly believed that Trump had been cheated out of four more years; that Vice President Mike Pence had unilateral power to revise the election results; that their takeover of the building could change the course of history. I know this because I know several people who were there, and several more who planned to go. They bear responsibility for their actions, of course. But the point remains: They were conned into coming to D.C. in the first place, not just by Trump with his compulsive lying, but by the legions of Republicans who refused to counter those lies, believing it couldn’t hurt to humor the president and stoke the fires of his base.

On Tuesday afternoon, just 24 hours before the siege of the Capitol, a very smart and accomplished Republican caught me off guard. While talking by phone about another subject, he took a sudden detour. He told me there were whispers that I’d become infected with “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” He wanted to know, given my impassioned accounting of the president’s lies and recklessness since Election Day, if I could still cover the GOP objectively.

I thought about that question Wednesday while watching the president incite a furious mob of supporters to march on our great fortress of American democracy. I thought about that question while watching Trump dispose with Pence, his most loyal advocate, like a used rag, for the betrayal of adhering to the Constitution. I thought about that question while watching domestic terrorists violently infiltrate the Capitol building and force the nation’s leaders to flee to a bunker, fearing for their lives.

Maybe this president has made me deranged. Although judging by what I saw on Wednesday — not just the terrorist assault on Washington, but the decision made by more than 100 Republicans to vote with the purpose of placating those terrorists — it seems I’m not alone.

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