On the events that led to the current moment
Weir: Can you go right up to the edge without falling over? Yesterday’s mob violence in the Capitol suggests that the answer is a resounding no.
Well before Trump’s election, the Republican party set the stage for yesterday’s violence. Dog whistle racial politics and anti-government rhetoric have been central to the Republican brand since the 1960s. But after the first Black president was elected, the Republican base went further, now questioning the very legitimacy of government. Tea Party activists claimed for themselves the mantle of true “patriotism.” In power, the Republican Congress, led by Mitch McConnell, used its power to block President Obama at every turn, feeding cynicism about government and fueling hatred of Washington.
Throughout the Trump presidency, Republicans have stood by their leader as he whipped up racial fears, made lying a core governance strategy, and failed to address the biggest public health emergency in a century. For weeks, Republican leaders indulged his claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Even after the mob attack, a significant number of Republican House members and prominent Senators continued to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election.
The Republican party faces a reckoning. But it is not only with the events of the past few days. It is a reckoning with the strategies they have relied upon for half a century.
Kinzer: For more than a century, the United States has fomented instability and rebellion around the world. At this moment we are doing all we can to push Iranians, Venezuelans, Chinese, Russians, Cubans and others to overthrow their governments. It should not be surprising, therefore, that people in the United States assimilate the idea that using force against governments one dislikes is not only acceptable, but 100 percent American. A country cannot enjoy long-term peace at home if it relentlessly promotes upheaval elsewhere. The best that could emerge from this episode would be a commitment by the United States to rebuild our tattered democracy instead of trying to export our model to the rest of the world.
Collins: The interesting thing about last week is that it showed us that, at the core, we still have a racism problem. First, we know if those rioters had darker skin, this would never have happened. We see what happens when people with darker skin look to even hold peaceful protests, let alone violently or aggressively enter government facilities. Second, we saw racism in some of the symbols that were brandished throughout the raids — including the largest confederate flag that I have ever seen in my life.
Yes, we have an economic situation we have to figure out. Yes, we have a major public health issue in the pandemic. Yes, we have to figure out how to restore America’s stature in the world. But until we can move white supremacy and issues of racial discontent to the side and move forward as a collective, we’re going to continue to see events like last week happen.
Arreguín-Toft: There are several factors that help explain this forever-indelible blot on our national honor and reputation, but most of what we witnessed was the cumulative impact of a foreign-directed assault on our republic.
Many have heard that the Russian Federation interfered in the 2016 presidential election. But what you may not know is that Russia’s interference in 2016 was only the latest chapter in a decades-long (and still ongoing) effort to alter the international balance of power in Russia’s favor through disinformation.
This effort, known broadly as “active measures” in Russia, was implemented by the KGB (now FSB). Eighty-five percent of that agency’s work was directed toward the use of disinformation to disorient and disable democracies, in particular the U.S. The method starts with identifying pre-existing cleavages in the target society, and then using disinformation to intensify those cleavages, ultimately leading to a situation where facts themselves are impossible to agree on. An early success was the idea that the U.S. developed the AIDS virus to kill Black and LGBTQ Americans. More recently, it was “pizzagate.”
But the FSB at its best couldn’t have had the impact of causing roughly half of Americans believe the other half was either vile or ignorant without help. And Russia got that help from Google, Facebook and Fox News, all of whose business models systematically trade truth for advertising revenue.
So, bottom line: What we saw on the Capitol steps was Russia winning a war against which the U.S. was too internally divided to mount an effective defense.
Blyth: One of the most telling events of yesterday was the statement by the National Association of Manufacturers, one of the largest and most influential producer groups in the US, calling the events at the Capitol ‘sedition,’ and clearly stating that “Anyone indulging conspiracy theories to raise campaign dollars is complicit.”
Yesterday’s events may have brought this to the surface, but businesses’ long relationship with the GOP as the go-to party for getting what you want — deregulation, tax cuts, environmental rollback — has been under pressure for a while. It’s not that the GOP has suddenly embraced regulation. Rather, by tacking ever more to the evidence-free conspiratorial fringe, the GOP has ceased to be a reliable partner for business.
Consider first Trump’s trade war with China, which by the start of last year had cost U.S. business nearly $50 billion. Then think of his crusade against digital companies, which constitute, thanks to the pandemic, around 20% of the S&P. Now add Trump’s refusal to accept the election result and the complete breakdown in fact-based policymaking that has been a hallmark of the administration, and suddenly, the billions of dollars that corporations have thrown at right-wing think tanks and projects that have aided and abetted the GOP’s slow slide to the fringe suddenly seems a less-than-brilliant investment. As Charles Koch, a key funder of the GOP fringe for years, recently admitted, “Boy, did we screw up.”
So there is a certain sense of irony in the NAM statement. After all, if it wasn’t for business organizations funding fake news on climate change, welfare reform, race relations and taxes for the past three decades, yesterday would not have happened. As they say, you get what you pay for.