No matter what your pet topic, it won't matter unless we address this
January 6th isn't over. It's only just beginning.
I haven't seen this story from the Washington Post get much play. Maybe because it's mostly a recap of the events leading up to, during, and after the January 6th attack on the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump. It’s still a critical read. It helps refresh the memory of how horrible and dangerous this moment was, how simultaneously indifferent toward and supportive of the violence Donald Trump was, and how long-lasting the event’s effects will be.
Something I often hear said is, "No matter what your pet topic, it won’t matter unless we address this," with the "this" usually being something big, like climate or voting rights. Well, I say unless we address this - the January 6th attack - we’re sunk as a polity. Already it likely signals that we are living through the beginning of the end of the republic.
But what exactly is "this"? What does the January 6th mean? It's frustratingly hard to define - unlike, say, climate, which in the real, non-political world is a fairly easy to define scientific and engineering issue.
First and foremost, this was the use of violence to disrupt our political process. We needed an absolute repudiation of the use of violence against our democratic institutions. Instead, Republican leaders have cynically shrugged for the most part, and those with the courage to speak up - like Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, and the others who voted for the second impeachment of Donald Trump - have been banished.
At the same time, we also have the complete surrender of about a third of our electorate to lies and conspiracy theories. And these stories are usually apocalyptic struggles with evil - which, of course, tremendously raises the stakes of politics. Who can compromise with evil, after all?
As I've written elsewhere, truth is hard, and we shouldn't pretend that it isn't. But at least with regard to elections, we had systems we would submit to - primarily election officials and the courts - to referee these contests. Now those commonly accepted standards are gone. Election officials across the country are being questioned, undermined, and stripped of their duties by Republican legislatures. And famously, Donald Trump couldn’t win around 60 lawsuits related to the election - even ones presided over by judges he appointed.
Many Republicans will now only accept elections if Donald Trump tells them to do so. No other truth matters. (How cynical it all is, as well. Note how no Republicans are disputing the election results in Virginia.)
We have a complete breakdown of shared truth. We only have tribal truth. And one side, the Republicans, is in the grips of a cult of personality that has proved, starting on January 6th, that it will resort to and either justify or ignore violence used to achieve its ends.
So how do we walk back from this? What can be done? The stark fact is that I don't have any solid idea. And that's the scariest part of all.
Reflecting further on the January 6th attack, when have we previously been at one another's throats like this?
The Revolutionary War and the Civil War, primarily, I believe. Certainly the labor unrest of the 19th century and the Civil Right era are candidates, too, but obviously war involving armies is of a different scale, altogether. (And for these purposes, I’m ignoring foreign wars and the US conquest of the Native American population.)
Focusing on those two wars, what was at stake in each of those? In each it was a single, real, monumental issue - independence and slavery, respectively.
What's the real, monumental issue now? There doesn’t appear to be one. It seems like it's just a mashup of real and manufactured grievances, all hyped up to 11 (and abetted by a media environment that profits from outrage).
Some liberals will settle on racism as the defining issue of the era, others on plutocracy. Some conservatives will also settle on racism, while others will have some hodgepodge of socialismcommunismMarxism.
These are not clear-cut lines. And hopefully that keeps all of this from going too far.