We hear it from pundits and politicians of all stripes, even from many that we admire. The variations go like this:
“We are better than this.”
“America is better than this.”
“What you are seeing in Washington, D.C. isn’t America.”
“America deserves a government as good as its people.”
Such phrases are usually presented as some sort of self-evident truism, even though they are in fact unsubstantiated assertion. All those pundits and politicians want to believe that the violent mob storming the United States Capitol under the direction of the President represents a microscopic sliver of the population and does not reflect our inherent nature as a people or represent the sentiment of a significant percentage of our population.
As the days have gone by since January 6, the facts have gotten far worse. We have seen stunning new video
that shows that the violence in the U.S. Capitol
building was far more sinister, premeditated, and
intense than initially thought.
The belligerent MAGA-hatted crowd that loitered in front of the Capitol actually cloaked the murderous rage, the trained military maneuvers, the weapons, the violent destruction of property, the physical injury and death, and the overt death threats being made inside to the individuals of both parties who represent the immediate chain of command in our government.
Perhaps we wanted to believe that the mob inside the Capitol was some sort of crazed fringe element that had temporarily emerged from the darkest, hidden corners of society. We have now learned that the foot soldiers of Trump's insurrection included the CEO of a Chicago-based data analytics company, a State Senator from Pennsylvania, off-duty police and firemen, and current and former members of the U.S. military. In other words, people you might chat with at your kid's soccer game.
The extent to which this carnage was actually a planned
military strike intended to take down the elected government of the United States
of America is now coming into focus. We see video of protesters who possess detailed knowledge of the precise lay out of the Capitol. In the days immediately preceding the violence, some of the insurrectionists may have been given tours of the Capitol -- currently prohibited under COVID protocols -- by persons working inside the Capitol.
It is now clear that the
President of the United States summoned his vigilante army to Washington, repeated the wildly incendiary charge that is the central rationale for the rioters -- that the election had been "stolen" - and then issued his marching orders. He then retreated to the safety of the White
House, where he reportedly watched the spectacle unfolding at the
Capitol, apparently puzzled why no one else in the executive branch was as delighted
as he was by his rebellion. Those who attempt to defend the President by saying that he had not intended to start a riot have a hard time explaining why, for four hours on Wednesday afternoon, he made no effort whatsoever to stop it.
Still, however, as hideous as January 6 was, what happened in the House of Representatives the following Wednesday, January 13, managed to rival the ugliness of the prior week, though in a very different way.
Because on that Wednesday, 197 Republicans in the House of Representatives
– many, the same people who had stoked the violence a week earlier by endorsing Trump's utterly baseless assertion that the election was "stolen" – stood by and refused to condemn a
President who incited a violent mob to storm the U.S. Capitol. While this was in
fact the most bipartisan impeachment in history -- ten Republicans voted with
the Democrats to impeach the President -- an astonishing 197 Republicans in the
House refused to impeach Trump for essentially leading an attempted coup against the
government of the United States of America and then making absolutely no effort to stop it as it raged out of control.
To restate: those Republicans, elected to represent 197 of America's 438 Congressional Districts did not agree that a President inciting an attack on the government and then doing nothing to stop it constituted an impeachable offense.
That's a pretty big chunk of America to be standing up and saying, "Attempted coup? Fine by me."
Representatives of 197 out of 438 Congressional districts took this position. And yet we hear assertions that "this is not America?"
Today, let's take a step back and broadly examine the notion that January 6 "was not America," and then we will assess the specific outrage of 197 Republicans who appear to feel more loyalty to Donald Trump than to the Constitution they are sworn to protect.
For starters, let's point out that the radical polarization of the United States government does not start in Washington.
For years, citizens have been electing Senators and Representatives who offer as their primary credential a ferocious political doctrine and a rabid refusal to compromise. Gridlock is not a byproduct, it is the objective. Unfortunately, America actually does have a government that is “as good as its people.”
The people of Kentucky, for example, repeatedly elect a Senator whose avowed legislative objective was to ensure that the man who had been duly elected to be President in 2008 would be thwarted at every turn with the goal of making him a “one term President.”
We now read that that Senator -- Mitch McConnell -- “has concluded that President Trump committed impeachable
offenses.” The Times did not disclose what “impeachable offense” McConnell
thinks Trump committed, but the bet has to be that it was causing the loss of the two Georgia
Senate seats that stripped McConnell of his Senate leadership. McConnell is now
weighing one more political calculation: whether to cajole other Senators to vote to convict Trump, thereby eliminating the chance that Trump could run again in 2024 and reducing his influence. But as ever with McConnell, there is no principle involved in the thought process... it is all political calculation. How can I personally benefit from this American carnage? What's the best path to get my Senate Majority Leader job back?
Stop blaming Washington for polarization, America. We elect polarization, and then re-elect it, and then we primary it if it is not polarized enough.
Next: let’s stop expressing shock, surprise, and outrage at the violence witnessed in an out-of-control mob that chanted “hang Mike Pence” -- which was in fact a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the expressed wishes of the President of the United States.
Violence is “not who we are?” Really? Violence is one of America’s biggest and most vibrant growth industries. We have more guns than citizens. We watch six-year-old children being ripped to shreds by the bullets of catastrophically broken people who can easily procure military-grade assault rifles. And we do nothing about it. Not one thing. That is who we are.
We say "America is better than that" in spite of the fact that the richest country on earth has miserably failed to effectively battle a lethal and highly contagious virus, in considerable measure because Republican government officials have turned the wearing of a mask into a statement of political identity. Yes, millions of Republicans believe that freedom is measured by the right to exhale potentially lethal toxins directly into the faces of fellow citizens. Give them credit for ideological consistency: public assembly without masks is merely the “open carry” of deadly microbes. That is who we are.
There are those who believe that America “is better than this” because they think the actions of a few thousand people carrying Trump banners, wearing anti-Semitic t-shirts, and asking where they can find Nancy Pelosi don’t represent “America.”
Newsweek newsflash, people. A Newsweek poll found that 45% of Republicans supported the actions of the mob that stormed the Capital. Show me your fact to support the claim that “America is better than this,” because Newsweek just produced the number that says “America is this.”
Yes, roughly half of Republicans seem to feel that armed insurrection is justified no doubt because some 70% of them believe an utterly baseless, deceitful, unproven claim that this election was somehow rigged or fraudulent. Somehow, these people do not process the reality that Donald Trump had 60 different opportunities in court to prove his allegations, and was rejected by both Democratic and Republican judges -- some of whom were appointed by Donald Trump -- in virtually every single instance. Denial of reality is who we are.
Was the election even close? No. But do a great many Americans loyally support Donald Trump? You bet.
"This is not America,” huh? 74,000,000 Americans voted for Donald Trump, even as he railed before the election that it was rigged. 74,000,000 voted for a man who separated children from their parents and left them locked in cages. 74,000,000 voted for a man who used our tax dollars to extort a foreign leader into digging up dirt on a political rival. 74,000,000 voted for a man who refused to condemn the violent actions of white supremacists. 74,000,000 people voted for a man who tried to tell us that a deadly global pandemic was no big deal, that it would “magically disappear” by April.
74,000,000 of our friends and neighbors voted for a man who thundered at peaceful Black Lives Matter marchers while campaigning on a platform of – oh, unspeakable irony – “law and order.”
74,000,000 Americans is a pretty hefty chunk of "who we are."
Many of the people who think America is “better than this” are communicating that opinion on tax-payer subsidized communications platforms that have figured out that profits can be maximized when truth is minimized. Once upon a time, we rewarded the news programs that were perceived to be the most objective, neutral, and accurate with the highest viewer ratings. Then, the broadcaster’s economic incentive for increased profit was in precise alignment with the society’s goal of an informed, educated citizenry.
Now, Fox News just flings crap so that viewers can vigorously stimulate the erogenous zone of their own political biases. Yes, we have outsourced the education of a huge percentage of our citizens to irresponsible conduits like Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN, and yet we wonder why America isn’t “better than this.”
But these days, Fox isn’t even the worst media enterprise: in the name of the sacred First Amendment, Facebook refuses to take responsibility for regulating their own platform, thereby allowing it to become a sewer in which deceitful and misleading information wears the camo of being streamed next to grandma’s cookie recipes. Facebook’s alleged reverence for the First Amendment is charming but disingenuous: the real issue is that regulating content on Facebook would require the company to hire an army of monitors, fact checkers, and lawyers, and that could actually cut into Facebook’s annual net income of 18 billion dollars.
Yes, Twitter shut down Donald Trump’s feed. Good work, Twitter. You only allowed Donald Trump to broadcast deceit on an hourly basis to 80,000,000 people for four years, enabling him to spew a Gatling Gun of deceit to an audience four times the size of Walter Cronkite's on his best day.
Please tell me again, politicians, pundits, and placaters, why you have concluded that “America is better than” what happened in Washington, D.C. on January 6?
Is it because you are thinking about a front line medical worker who continues to show up every day, still without adequate P.P.E. (let alone a vaccination), as body bags pile up in an Los Angeles County morgue? Is it because you know a young teacher who is living with enormous daily risk so that our children's educational trajectory is not permanently degraded because of an extended interruption? Is it because you know someone who has been cooped up in a lonely apartment and decided to make their involuntary COVID-19 incarceration meaningful by writing hundreds of post cards urging people in Georgia to vote?
Yes, we all know heroes, and thank heaven there are lots of them.
And if the point to be made is that such heroes are “better than this,” then, sure, I’m with you all the way.
But don’t conflate or equate American heroes with “America.”
Perhaps one reason why people believe America is “better than this” is because we did indeed rise up and throw Donald Trump out at the ballot box.
If that’s the comfort you take, you need to examine the mathematical logic. Yes, Joe Biden was able to defeat a sickening, amoral, shameless, and sinister man who belongs in the company of the worst authoritarian dictators in human history. Biden defeated Trump, winning 51.4% of the popular vote to Donald Trump’s 46.9%. That’s a margin of 4.5%.
So have at it, pundits, politicians, and placaters: feel free to tell the world that “America is actually 4.5 percentage points better than what happened in Washington, D.C. on January 6.”
At least you’ve got a mathematical basis for that assertion.
Be my guest, shining city on the shill, tell all the world that you really are 4.5 percentage points better than what they all witnessed on their televisions in Vienna, Buenos Aires, and Jakarta. At least that way no one can add one more big lie to our list of national humiliations.
America is not “better than” what we witnessed in Washington on January 6. No, a big swath of "America" was actually sending their, ah, "informal representatives" to Washington, and people have a hard time accepting that fact.
And then, on Wednesday, January 13, a big swath of America let their "official" Representatives weigh in, and what those lawmakers did is equal in its shame.
On Wednesday, 197 members of the United States House of Representatives opposed the second impeachment of Donald Trump.
Though it was excruciatingly painful, I devoted Wednesday afternoon to listening to each of them as they attempted to justify their decision.
Many hid behind rationales rooted in procedure, as if the stunning video clips and their own personal experience of being sheltered in place from a violent mob was insufficient evidence on which to make a judgment.
Many tried to build absurdly false equivalences between Democratic lawmakers who had expressed support for Black Lives Matter protests and the role that the President played in the January 6 mayhem.
Others tried to portray the Democratic bid for impeachment as just so much partisan game playing.
Many took the position that impeaching the President with so few days left was pointless, as if Trump did not have enough time left to do anything crazy. Hey, Republicans: I am pretty sure that the President of the United States can order the nuclear destruction of the planet in the time I normally wait to speak to a live representative from my cable company.
Perhaps most despicably, several of these Republicans had the astonishing chutzpah to decry the call for impeachment as a divisive act when the nation needs "healing." These would be the same people who just the prior week had peddled plutonium-grade deceit about the November elections in an effort to subvert the official tally of the Electoral College vote, and I don't recall the topic of "healing" coming up then.
But 197 members of Congress who swore an oath to protect our Constitution decided that a President who directed a mob to charge the U.S. Capitol, “show strength,” and “take our country back” had not committed an impeachable offense.
No, America… we are not “better than that.” A healthy percentage of our “leaders” – we’ll start with the 197 we counted Wednesday -- are cowards, hypocrites, and terrified weaklings, more beholden to a man they fear than the country they claim to love and the oath they most assuredly swore.
That is who we are.
Barack Obama – in my opinion, the greatest president in my lifetime – is one of those people who is inclined to say things like “America is better than this.” God bless his optimism and generosity of spirit.
In his final speech as president – four years ago this week – Obama said this:
”So that's what we mean when we say America is exceptional — not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow. Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It's always been contentious. Sometimes it's been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”
Yes, for every two steps forward, it feels we take one step back.
Two Obama terms forward, and one Trump term back.
The problem, however, is that we now know that one four-year term of disgrace, destruction, and depravity can more than offset decades of decency, idealism, honesty, and integrity. Just ask the people who look at us today with disbelief, sorrow, and pity from distant, fully intact capitol buildings in nations that – for all their flaws and challenges – are not victim to the violence and degradation of their Constitutions that they now witness in the United States of America.
The war against fact, reality, science, integrity, and sense of the common good that has been waged by Fox News, Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Facebook, and the Republican Party has taken an enormous toll on the intellectual and moral caliber of the average American citizen. Today, as many Americans are weak-minded, slavishly selfish, ignorant, and too lazy to check facts as there are people with the intellect, inclination, and discernment to separate fact from fiction.
If we are to once again find the “long sweep of America” that has “been defined by forward motion,” let’s at least start the journey by being honest.
Let’s stare at the events of January 6 and admit the truth. America is not better than this.
On January 13, 2021, the day that Donald Trump was impeached for the second time, the White House released a “Statement from the President” about reports anticipating possible widespread violence in the days ahead. It read:
“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.”
“It is not what America stands for.” This, from the man whose brand is now defined by violence, lawbreaking, and vandalism.
We have made the first step in our rehabilitation: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in on January 20. Democrats control the Senate and the House. We are in a position to make rapid strides to undo the horrific damage wrought by Donald Trump.
And, yes, Donald Trump has now been voted out of office after a single term in which he became the only President in our history to be impeached twice. This surely marks him -- by far -- as the worst President in the history of the United States.
But the work of completely excising the Trump cancer is not done. It will be extremely important that Trump is convicted by the Senate.
A conviction by the Senate will severely undercut Trump's inevitable refrain that this impeachment was another "partisan witch hunt." It will take the votes of 17 Republican Senators to convict Trump. A conviction, if secured, would be an emphatic bipartisan smack down... not something Trump can attempt to dismiss as partisan.
A conviction by the Senate would be followed by a simple majority vote that could forbid Trump from ever holding elective office again. This would be a powerful blow to Trump's influence in the Republican Party. With no threat that he will run again in 2024, the Republican field is suddenly wide open for a raft of new candidates to duel for the nomination. Trump's influence in that battle will recede as ascendant leaders gain in visibility and stature. And I so look forward to the internecine meltdown that will occur when the more traditional centrist Republicans battle for the nomination against the Cruz/Hawley wingnuts who will proudly carry the bloody Trump banner forward.
One can only hope that in a Republican Party that Trump has ripped in half, there will be the opportunity for centrists Republicans to work with Biden to break gridlock with bipartisan legislation, enabling our democracy to begin to function once again.
With Biden and Harris in place, and a convicted and permanently diminished Trump fading from influence, we can begin our path back.
But let's all be honest about where we are as we begin the journey.
America, today, is no better than the mob that stormed the Capitol, the 45% of the Republican Party that endorsed their actions, and the 197 Republican Congressmen who felt that Trump's insurrection is not an impeachable offense.
That is who we are.
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