I am watching bits of the hearing of the Select Committee on January Sixth—I’m not entirely sure I think the House is handling this in the best way right now, but somehow I keep getting all teary-eyed about the whole thing.
Among the problems is that the putsch attempt was simultaneously a terrifying assault on America that did quite a bit of real harm and nearly did much more, and also a pathetic handful of deluded losers who were never any threat to the country at large. It’s clearly very important to know what precisely happened, and to make clear to all of us what happened, so that there isn’t any significant force to ‘alternate facts’ about the events of the day. It’s also a good idea to know what procedurally worked and what did not, so that the Capital and other seats of government and the people who work in them are prepared against future putschists. The truth is that if it weren’t for some good luck, some good thinking, and an incredible amount of restraint by the law enforcement officers on the spot, there would have been a whole lot of dead people that day, most of them on the side of the putsch.
At the same time, there was never any possibility that the day would end with the putsch in charge and the elected federal legislature out of power. There was never any possibility that the election would be thrown out and the votes of the electors rejected. As much damage as the putschists did, and as much more as they were likely to do, none of it was any kind of threat to the ultimate transfer of power to the new President, or to the country as a whole. We’ve seen how successful coups work; we know what a leader needs for a successful autogolpe. This crew ain’t it. They were, and are, a weak and tiny fringe. They’re not entirely powerless, but the power they have is to disrupt and damage, not destroy, and certainly not to build.
This is, I have to say, the same feeling I had after a different group of pathetic losers destroyed the World Trade Center—it was a terrifying assault on America that did real harm, but it was never a threat to the country as a whole. I was worried (and stayed worried) that portraying them and their supporters in Al Qaeda and elsewhere as some sort of existential threat, as a hugely powerful force that was on the verge of destroying the entire American government, made them actually attractive to a wider range of people who disliked us but generally acquiesced to our hegemony. I don’t know if that happened, or if a different narrative would have had any different result, but I’ve never been convinced that our reaction was the better one. Similarly, I feel as if we are running the risk of making the putschists attractive to a wider range of people vulnerable to fascist appeal, by suggesting, as I’ve seen done, that ‘next time’ such an attempt might ‘succeed’. My instinct is to portray the putschists as they actually are: deluded dopes, so far outside the mainstream of ordinary Conservatism (to say nothing of the country at large) that they couldn’t even understand that the Party leaders were going to obey the law, so pathetically useless that they couldn’t even delay the acclimation of Joe Biden as President by a single day, and so contemptible that even their leaders who brought them together couldn’t be bothered to march with them or back them up.
All of this, of course, is my fussing over how my Party should attempt to control a narrative that is already well beyond them. And which they (and we) are specifically ill-placed to control anyway—anyone who believes that the election was not counted properly through the intervention of Democrats and RINOs, or that the Deep State conspired with legislators to thwart the President’s agenda, is not going to be persuaded by any framing of any kind coming from me or my Party. Even if they should happen to learn about that framing in the first place, which there’s no reason to believe they would.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,