The first images of the siege of the Capital highlighted the freaks. It was hard to not laugh at the guy who gives a friendly smile and a wave at the photographer as he cheerfully walks by with Pelosi’s podium over his shoulder. A good number of those people in the mob were certainly fringe characters with some obvious signs of drug and alcohol abuse. It was tempting to write them off as a bunch of putz’s who got lucky and got into the Capital; they were too few, too disorganized, too stupid to be a concern.
But as subsequent videos and images showed, the outside crowds was bigger than those who made inside the doors of the Capital. The crowd was also more violent and dangerous than we originally understood; the Viking guy was a massive distraction. There were reports that the crowd chanted, “hang Pence.” If they got their hands on an actual Congressperson, things would have not gone down well.
Yes, there were a number of people in that crowd who are pathetic losers, who need mental health support. Part of me can’t imagine how any rational person could support Donald Trump; anyone who actually got in a truck and drove down to Washington, DC for last week’s rally must be on the far end of insanity. But the size of that crowd means I can’t simply write off their actions as a meth delusion.
Back when I started blogging, there was a lot of talk about echo chambers — cable TV and Internet have created too many sources of information, where people can self-isolate with like-minded people. Today, those chambers have multiplied. Those information bubbles enabled people to totally believe that election results were fraudulent, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In recent years, those subcultures, ensconced in their chambers of falsehood, rallied behind these Tinfoil Leaders, like Trump, rather than mainstream Republican politicians and media. They shared information with random dudes on Twitter with handles like “Trump’s Loyal Patriot,” rather than reporters from CNN, the New York Times, and even Fox News.
What are we going to do about this? This weekend, social media sources shutdown Trump and are sending warnings to thousands of random twitter folks who retweet reports about election fraud. Apple shutdown a social media service, Parler, which these rioters used and has reported connections to Russia. When I flipped on Fox News this weekend, the news anchor was more concerned about Parler than a mob, who wanted to hang Pence. Do we need to shutdown Fox News, too?
Part of me isn’t thrilled about cutting off these forms of communication, because I do want to know what the freaks are thinking. It worries me that they are finding other ways to communicate, and they’ll surprise us with some other nonsense soon. But I think we have a clear cut case for the “crying fire in a crowded theater” exception to the First Amendment. If we don’t shutdown this movement immediately, there is a danger than they’ll plan something worse.
The other way of cutting them down is to checkmate their king. Republican leaders can pressure Trump to resign or to invoke the 25th Amendment. Congress can impeach and convict him. They can discredit and marginalize assholes, like Ted Cruz, who have enabled him over the years.
There are pros and cons to all those moves. An impeachment process will distract the nation from a much needed COVID response. With a finite amount of time, Congress won’t have time to get money to folks who need it desperately. It’s not clear that any of those punishments will matter much to the president. He is most likely in conversations right now with Russian oligarch and far right wingers with deep pockets to set up an alternative media source. One advantage of going through an impeachment process is that it will make it impossible for Trump to hold elected office in the future.
I used to believe that Trump’s supporters were simply confused, economically marginalized, or drug addled, and that simple logic, better economic options, and medical care would bring them around. I no longer believe that. Those people are unreachable. If Mitt Romney and Mike Pence can’t corral those people, then we have serious problems.
We have seen the limits of populism. We need to push back.
That picture of General Sherman is from The Photographic History of the Civil War. According to wikipedia, towards the end of the Civil War, General Sherman’s forces “followed a scorched earth policy, destroying military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property, disrupting the Confederacy’s economy and transportation networks. The operation broke the back of the Confederacy and helped lead to its eventual surrender.”
Worth thinking about.