Lie of the year

No hemming and hawing.  No ifs, ands or buts.  No maybes, or what-ifs, or allegedlies or it’s-been-reporteds.  None are needed, because there is no question of the facts of what happened: we all saw it with our own eyes, as plain as day.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, supporters of President Donald J. Trump breached the U.S. Capitol, turning the seat of American democracy into the scene of an unforgettable crime.

That’s PolitiFact’s lead on its 2021 Lie of the Year story, in which it lays out—as plainly as I’ve seen—the facts of what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and refutes the lies that Donald Trump and his worshippers have been telling about it.  On this anniversary of the worst attack on our government and our way of life in any of our lifetimes, take a few minutes to be reminded of what happened then, and what the people behind that attack have been doing ever since, as they continue to try to steal our democracy right out from under us.

You can read the full story at the link above, or right here:

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, supporters of President Donald J. Trump breached the U.S. Capitol, turning the seat of American democracy into the scene of an unforgettable crime.

Inside, lawmakers had been preparing to count the Electoral College votes that would bring Trump’s presidency to a close. Outside, the rioters erected a hanging gallows. They waved “Trump 2020,” “Blue Lives Matter” and Confederate flags. Some were armed.

After marching down Pennsylvania Avenue at Trump’s urging, the rioters had overwhelmed police surrounding the Capitol. They pushed past them, stripped them of their weapons, dragged them to the ground, sprayed them with chemical irritants, beat them, bludgeoned them, or tased them.

Through clouds of smoke, they broke down barricades. They scaled the walls. They shattered windows. Congressional staff took cover in offices and closets, piling furniture against doors as the crowd snaked through the building’s historic hallways. The rioters forced their way into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. They entered the Senate chamber. They reached the dais, where Vice President Mike Pence had sat moments earlier.

Network and cable TV, plus internet sites, broadcast it all live for hours.

Around the nation, people called friends and family as the attack unfolded right before their eyes, expressing a mix of disbelief, horror and fascination:

“Can you believe this?”

Members of Congress, evacuated from their chambers with gas masks in tow, could hardly believe it themselves.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., called into CNN as the attack was happening. “I have not seen anything like this since I deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008,” he said. “I mean, this is America. And this is what’s happening right now. The president needs to call it off. Call it off. It’s over. The election is over.”

On the phone with Fox News that afternoon, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., condemned the attack as “un-American” and “unacceptable.”

“I have been in this Capitol for more than 10 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” McCarthy said.

As the insurrectionists forced their way into the building, they chanted, “Fight for Trump!” and “Hang Mike Pence!”

Pence, as vice president, had the constitutional responsibility of overseeing the typically quiet certification of state election results by Congress. Although Trump urged Pence to reject results from the battleground states that gave Joe Biden his victory, Pence said he would not intervene, enraging the pro-Trump crowd.

As the chaos unfolded, Trump’s media supporters — who would later downplay and deny what happened in various ways — grew concerned and tried to get messages to the president.

Fox News personalities went through his chief of staff Mark Meadows. ​​”Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Laura Ingraham of Fox News wrote. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.” Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade sent similar messages to Meadows.

McCarthy, the Republican House leader, was able to reach the president directly to ask him to put a stop to what was going on. McCarthy would later evade questions about the call, but other House members said Trump told him, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

Around 4 p.m., Trump finally asked his supporters to go home. “This was a fraudulent election. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home, we love you. You’re very special.”

By the night’s end, democracy was still standing. But the manipulation of the narrative was already underway.

In the days that followed, Trump, some of the loudest and most influential members of the Republican Party and vocal partisan media personalities offered a deluge of justifications, excuses and conspiracy theories to reframe the events of Jan. 6 as no big deal.

  • They said Jan. 6 was instigated by undercover left-wing activists who were part of antifa. That was proved false.

  • They said the rioters hadn’t used force and one Republican congressman likened the events to “a normal tourist visit.” Video proved that wrong.

  • They claimed the attack on the Capitol had nothing to do with race, even though white supremacists and far-right militia groups were among the most active participants, and many rioters wore racist t-shirts.

  • They suggested the whole affair was staged by the government, a false flag operation. Others suggested it was entirely a peaceful protest. All of that was wrong.

  • They said that the rioters were political prisoners and shouldn’t face serious charges. A host of federal judges and courts have held otherwise.

The political shapeshifting was striking. McCarthy at first said that “the president bears responsibility” for the riot. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “failed insurrection,” said that “the mob was fed lies,” and argued that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day.”

But soon they tolerated bizarre claims from lawmakers in their ranks, such as that those arrested for rioting were treated worse than prisoners at Gitmo and that federal agents may have been instigators.

The two Republican leaders disparaged bipartisan efforts to investigate Jan. 6. “There is no new fact about that day that we need the Democrats’ extraneous ‘commission’ to uncover,” McConnell said in a statement.

Even Pence, whose life was in danger, downplayed the unprecedented attack as just “one day in January.”

PolitiFact had many options to choose from for our Lie of the Year: claims that the 2020 election was stolen, claims that the COVID vaccine didn’t work, and this one, lies about the Capitol insurrection.

We picked these lies for two reasons. First, the attack was historically important; a federal judge called it “the most significant assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812.” While some members of Congress lodged protests when the Electoral College count was close, as in 2000, or when individual states had close margins, like Ohio in 2004, never before had Americans overtaken the Capitol to hold up electoral proceedings and threaten lawmakers. In fact, “the peaceful transfer of power” has long been a hallmark phrase in describing, with pride, the American experience.

Second, the events of Jan. 6 were widely broadcast on that day and many days afterward, allowing the public to see for itself exactly what happened. The body of evidence includes direct video documentation and many eyewitness accounts. So efforts to downplay and deny what happened are an attempt to brazenly recast reality itself.

“It’s meant to sow doubt and make us unable to react in the ways we need to react to what is actually a threat to democracy,” said Kate Starbird, an associate professor and expert in misinformation at the University of Washington.

Lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its significance is the 2021 Lie of the Year.

Change the evidence: Jan. 6 was a peaceful “tourist visit” 

Soon after Jan. 6, people trying to dismiss the day’s importance plucked out isolated images to portray the throng as peaceful people simply walking through the Capitol.

Lou Dobbs, a former Fox Business Network host, dismissed the idea that it was a “full-on riot with armed looters going through the building.” Dobbs said on that very day it wasn’t what he saw.

“As I watched, at least, on a number of occasions, looking at the Statuary Hall, the protesters who had invaded the Capitol were walking between the rope lines. It was really a remarkable scene.”

Months later, U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., focused on the same images.

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures,” Clyde said during a May committee hearing. “If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

Clyde’s words belied his own actions that day. A Roll Call photographer shared an image of Clyde helping barricade the House chamber door as rioters disrupted Congress. PolitiFact rated his statement about a “normal tourist visit” as Pants on Fire.

Trump said the protesters were downright affectionate.

“It was zero threat, right from the start, it was zero threat,” Trump told Ingraham in March. “Look, they went in, they shouldn’t have done it. Some of them went in, and they are hugging and kissing the police and the guards.”

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell didn’t think so. Gonell told Congress he thought he was going to die as he sought to protect the Capitol. Gonell said officers were “punched, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants, and even blinded with eye-damaging lasers by a violent mob” and at one point he felt himself losing oxygen as he was crushed by the rioters.

“I’m still recovering from those ‘hugs and kisses’ that day that (Trump) claimed that so many rioters, terrorists, were assaulting us that day,” Gonell said. “If that was hugs and kisses, then we should all go to his house and do the same thing to him. To me, it’s insulting. It’s demoralizing.”

The rioters caused $1.5 million in property damages. They smashed glass windows and door panels, broke furniture, ruined artwork and ripped historic lanterns from the ground. They stole a laptop in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, documents from the Senate chamber, escape hoods from police officers’ bags and a Capitol Police vest. Some rioters snatched up items from officials’ offices as if they wanted souvenirs — including a bottle of wine and a Fox News football.

A federal judge ridiculed Clyde’s characterization during a defendant’s sentencing hearing in June.

“I’m especially troubled by the accounts of some members of Congress that Jan. 6 was just a day of tourists walking through the Capitol,” said U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Reagan appointee. “I don’t know what planet these people are on.”

Excuse it: It wasn’t that big a deal

Despite evidence showing that dozens of rioters were armed with real and makeshift weapons as they tried to overturn the election, claims that Jan. 6 was “not an insurrection” hardened into a popular talking point.

On her show in February, Ingraham said that the events of Jan. 6 paled in comparison with history’s other insurrections. In June, Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo said that calling Jan. 6 an armed insurrection is one of the nation’s “biggest lies.”

Those hosts and others zeroed in on the people who wore costumes into the Capitol.

“Come on, guys. Buffalo head guy was poised to take over the U.S. government?” Ingraham said in July, referring to Jacob Anthony Chansley, the so-called “QAnon Shaman” who wore a horned fur cap. “Are you kidding me?”

Some commentators insisted that because no person has been charged with insurrection, the riot couldn’t be considered one. They objected to fatality counts from the riot, noting that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick’s death the day after fighting with rioters was determined to be from natural causes after suffering two strokes.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson repeatedly denied that Jan. 6 had anything to do with race, falsely claiming that white supremacists bore no responsibility for what happened.

“You know what that was, and you also know what it wasn’t,” Carlson said in January on his Fox News program. “It was not an act of racism. It was not an insurrection.”

Several people with known ties to white supremacist groups were involved, including people now facing conspiracy charges. Symbols of white supremacy and anti-Semitism were prominently on display: a hanging gallows; Confederate flags; racist “Pepe the frog” imagery; a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt.

Carlson, Bartiromo and others also described a supposed lack of firearms among the rioters. Radio host Buck Sexton wrote in July that “the most ominous weapon that any of the Jan. 6 organizers seemed to have was QAnon Shaman’s spear, with flag attached.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., minimized the attack by arguing in February that it couldn’t be considered an armed insurrection. We rated that Pants on Fire! 

Court documents make clear that many of the people who breached the Capitol that day were armed. As the assault on the Capitol unfolded, Ryan Nichols, a former Marine who carried a crowbar with him, stood on the ledge of a broken Capitol window. “If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon!” he shouted into a bullhorn.

The rioters brandished bats, crutches, flagpoles, skateboards, hockey sticks, knives, zip ties, chemical sprays, a fire extinguisher and other makeshift weapons, court documents show. They stole and wielded police batons and riot shields. Several had guns on them or stashed nearby.

At least 190 people had been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding police officers, including over 60 who were charged with using a weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer, the Justice Department said in October. More than 65 people have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.

The Coup D’etat Project at the University of Illinois’ Cline Center for Advanced Social Research determined shortly after the attack that the storming of the Capitol qualified as an attempted coup.

Several of the weapons charges were filed against members of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other far-right militia groups who wore combat gear and used military-style tactics in the crowd.

Michael Fanone, 40, was one of roughly 140 law enforcement officers injured while defending the Capitol on Jan. 6. Testifying on Capitol Hill in July alongside other officers, he described getting dragged into the crowd, stripped of his badge, beaten, tased and threatened with chants to “kill him with his own gun.” He said he fell unconscious, suffered a heart attack, and was later diagnosed with a concussion, a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

His testimony did little to chasten the media’s Jan. 6 deniers.

As Fanone spoke, conservative commentator Julie Kelly tweeted that he was a “crisis actor.” Newsmax host Greg Kelly speculated that protesters may have mistaken Fanone as affiliated with antifa, a loosely organized coalition of left-wing anti-fascist activists that has counter-protested and clashed with white supremacists in recent years.

On Fox News, Ingraham mocked Fanone with a sarcastic award for “best performance in an action role.”

Throw everything at the wall: Jan. 6 conspiracy theories

Many of the same right-wing voices who went to great lengths to excuse or minimize the attack also teetered between wild conspiracy theories that sought to entirely rewrite what happened.

They suggested that the violence was the work of antifa, a familiar right-wing specter. And when that was proven false, a number of them, led most conspicuously by Carlson, blamed the FBI.

There was no documented trace of antifa at the Capitol, nor was there ever compelling evidence that the FBI or any other government agency instigated the attack. Eleven months later, with more than 700 people facing charges related to the day’s events, there still isn’t.

But talk about antifa and a “false flag” began to take off on anonymous online forums a little after noon EST on Jan. 6, according to PolitiFact’s day-after analysis.

Shortly after the rioters forced their way past Capitol barricades, posts in pro-Trump Facebook groups were already claiming that antifa was behind what was happening. The idea spread on Twitter and Parler, a social media platform popular with conservatives, then to right-wing radio and TV. Several lawmakers endorsed it.

“I believe that this was agitators strategically placed inside of this group — you can call them antifa, you can call them people paid by the Democratic machine — but to make the Trump campaign, the Trump movement, look bad, and to make this look like it was a violent outrage,” said Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., as he phoned into Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk’s radio show a little after 3 p.m.

“This has all the hallmarks of Antifa provocation,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tweeted at 5:04 p.m. He had posted a photo of the pro-Trump crowd at the rally hours before. 

Between 5 and 6 p.m., antifa was mentioned nearly 156,000 times across social media, broadcast and traditional media, and online outlets, according to an analysis from Zignal Labs Inc., a media intelligence firm.

The rumor was part of multiple reports on Newsmax, local news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, and websites like the Gateway Pundit. By evening, it was mentioned on the House floor and each of Fox News’ three biggest primetime programs — including the shows hosted by Ingraham and Hannity, both of whom sent texts on Jan. 6 urging Meadows to tell Trump to call off the rioters.

Blaming antifa for domestic unrest is a well-worn talking point, said Starbird, the misinformation expert, so people were “already primed to believe that things are being caused by antifa.”

But the pro-Trump rioters made clear they didn’t want give up the credit. They proudly touted their attack, live-streaming themselves from the Capitol, posing for pictures with statues, interviewing with nearby reporters and boasting about their escapades on social media.

“It was not Antifa at the Capitol,” one rioter tweeted. “It was freedom loving Patriots who were DESPERATE to fight for the final hope of our Republic.”

The evidence didn’t seem to matter. Within months, another conspiracy theory developed, claiming that Jan. 6 was an inside job — a false flag operation orchestrated by the FBI.

This one took off thanks to a little-known, right-leaning website called Revolver News, run by Darren Beattie, a former Trump White House speechwriter who was fired in 2018 after appearing on a panel with a white nationalist.

The website’s unproven theory focused on charging documents and the fact that the FBI had used informants and undercover operatives to foil an extremist plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

A cursory look showed the theory was rife with holes, inaccuracies and circumstantial speculation. PolitiFact rated the claim that federal agents directly incited people as False.

But the next day after the Revolver News article appeared, Carlson told his millions of viewers that “the FBI was organizing the riots of Jan. 6.” Beattie came on as a guest.

InfoWars founder Alex Jones said later that he had provided feedback to Revolver News on the article, and that he had helped get it into Carlson’s hands.

Carlson followed up with op-eds and segments promoting the FBI false flag theory. Daily Wire host Candace Owens tweeted that it was “common sense.” House Reps. Marjorie Taylor  Greene, R-Ga., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. tweeted out clips of Carlson’s interview with Beattie.

In a House floor speech, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, cited the Revolver News article and said he saw Carlson’s segment on it. “This is like Putin kind of activity,” said Gohmert.

Months later, Carlson featured Beattie as a star player in “Patriot Purge,” a three-episode series about Jan. 6 that pushed the FBI and antifa conspiracy theories further.

According to Carlson’s documentary, the FBI had a dystopian end goal. The show warned, falsely, that Jan. 6 was not only a false flag, but a pretext to justify a “purge” of Trump voters — a “new war on terror” that would turn the national security apparatus inward and strip millions of their rights.

The show turned the Jan. 6 perpetrators into victims. They weren’t attacking democracy; they were victims of the deep state. The tactic allowed Trump supporters to “fight the sort of cognitive dissonance of who you think your side is, and what you think you’re about,” Starbird said.

Dismiss it: Further investigation isn’t necessary

The loudest deniers of what happened on Jan. 6 weren’t shouting into a void. As Carlson and others pushed their false narratives about antifa and the FBI, Republican lawmakers responded to the attack with another form of downplay: silence.

Months after the siege, even those who initially condemned the attack decided that the day was no longer worth talking about. Americans had learned enough about what happened, they said. There would be no need to probe further. Outrage was unnecessary. It was time to move on.

McCarthy and McConnell, both outspoken in the wake of the attack, corralled their members to shoot down a bipartisan bill that would have formed an independent commission in the mold of the body that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I think we have a pretty good idea what happened (on Jan. 6); I was here,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in late May. “And this is unlike the 9/11 Commission in that respect.”

“The Jan. 6 commission would have ultimately been one party investigating the other,” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said in June.

The bill was sponsored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Ranking Member John Katko, R-N.Y. McConnell said it was slanted because the chair, appointed by the Democrats, would have hired the staff. McCarthy called it “duplicative.”

The bill passed the House in May with support from 35 Republicans, who defied McCarthy’s recommendation to vote against it. The 175 Republicans who opposed the commission included some who had at first spoken out against the rioters, including Gallagher, the Wisconsin representative who told Trump to “call it off” on CNN. About a week later, the Senate’s Republicans killed the bill.

“It isn’t designed to produce a serious inquiry,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted. “It’s designed to be used as (a) partisan political weapon.”

When the House responded with a measure to form its own select committee, all but two Republicans in the House voted against it. Few stood up to defend their vote during a floor debate. More than two dozen skipped the debate entirely, opting instead to spend the day with Trump at the border.

“We need to spend our time finding solutions and helping Americans, not creating partisan commissions to do work that has already been done competently by the U.S. Senate and by law enforcement,” said Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., on the House floor.

The committee that ultimately formed includes just two Republicans, both outliers in their own party. McCarthy withdrew all five of his recommendations after Pelosi rejected two of them.

“We will run our own investigation,” McCarthy vowed in July.

But he never did.

“There’s nothing I have that can add to that day,” McCarthy told a local TV station during an interview in September. Pressed about his own phone call with Trump on Jan. 6, he added: “I have nothing to hide, but I have nothing to add.”

It was a stunning about-face for Republicans who have otherwise said they support the police and law-and-order measures.

Despite the claims of partisanship, the goal of the Jan. 6 rioters was to stop a legitimate election process by force, noted Tom Nichols, a former Republican who writes about democracy and politics.

“I have never seen a situation where elected officials’ lives were in danger, and they downplayed what happened,” Nichols said. “Those protesters did not differentiate between Republicans and Democrats — they were going to hang Mike Pence.”

What lies about Jan. 6 tells us about American democracy

Nearly a year later, there is zero evidence to say that Jan. 6 was an antifa operation, a tourist visit, a false flag, or an uneventful day to forget.

The falsehoods were not without isolated criticism on the right. Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera criticized the “outrageous and uncorroborated” claims in Carlson’s documentary series. The two co-founders of The Dispatch, both Fox News contributors for years, resigned in November from the network over the series. Chris Wallace, the network’s premier journalist, recently left the network; NPR reported that Wallace had expressed concerns to network leadership about the Carlson documentary.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who rejected Trump’s false election fraud claims and voted to impeach him over what happened on Jan. 6, is one of two Republicans to serve on the House select committee, and used her standing to blast the “false flag” conspiracy theory.

“It’s un-American to be spreading those kinds of lies, and they are lies,” Cheney said.

But the repetition of the Jan. 6 falsehoods demonstrates that a political movement can coalesce around obvious lies — and that, despite the facts, it can be difficult to stand against.

“This is our new world — denial of what your eyes are actually seeing,” said Laura Thornton, director and senior fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“The effort to rewrite history in the service of political power goals is not unheard of in America or anywhere else,” said Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist who has studied the Tea Party and anti-Trump resistance. “What is brazen is the history they want to rewrite includes pictures of what actually happened.”

“Because Jan. 6 was not successful, now they have to rewrite history and in some cases they were doing that in 24 hours, saying you didn’t see what you saw,” added Phillipe Copeland, clinical assistant professor at Boston University School of Social Work.

So far, the consequences for what happened before, during and after Jan. 6 have been limited to rioters like the “QAnon Shaman” who were charged or sentenced for storming the Capitol.

Political leaders and pundits, on the other hand, are going about business as usual. Trump, acquitted in the Senate for a second time, may run again in 2024. McCarthy is angling to take back the speakership. Carlson remains one of the most-watched cable news hosts on TV.

Meanwhile, Cheney was cast out of the mainstream of the Republican Party when the House removed her in May from her leadership position after her impeachment vote. Similar moves against Republicans who criticized Trump have taken place across the country.

It’s a sign that elections could remain a contested space for years to come, as Republican grievances about the outcome of the 2020 election fuel the rewriting of election laws around the country. And it’s a sign that Jan. 6 downplay and denial could be hardening into yet another litmus test for Republicans. Primaries in 2022 are shaping up to be contests where pro-Trump loyalists challenge anyone who dissents.

“We are in an extremely dangerous place,” said Thornton. “An attack on your Capitol where people are threatening to murder the vice president is bad enough, but when you have a political party — one of two in our country — that are downplaying or diverting or misrepresenting, it’s extremely upsetting. I don’t know how we come back from that.”

Teleholiday Journal: Eyes on the prize

More American deaths than were suffered in the Vietnam War—less than a month ago, that was the comparison meant to shock us into the reality of the depth and breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic.  But it didn’t.  It was too little too late: for the tens and tens of thousands of the sick and the dead, and the millions and millions of Americans who got the message when they lost their jobs, because a significant portion of American businesses had to shut their doors as part of the effort to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease.  Since this started, U.S. unemployment has moved from a level that was arguably full employment across the country to now 14.7% actively looking for work—”Employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality”—just in a matter of two months!

Today, the day we honor the more than one million of our fellow Americans who lost their lives in military service in the defense of our country, we are told we are days from seeing the COVID-19 death toll in our country pass 100,000.   Worst death toll in the world; also the most total cases in the world, with new ones still added every day.

Americans are not particularly known for being overly patient.  It’s kind of part of the ethos that when we want something, we go get it.  Or make it.  Sometimes we take it.  But we don’t like being told we can’t do something we want to do.  Our initial cooperation with directions from federal, state and local area governments to stay home and keep our distance from one another, as our best defense to fight a virus for which we had no medical weapon, had a positive impact, lessening the out of control spread of the virus.  It also caused the economic crisis.  And we are tired of that.  Understandably so.

America, and Americans, have a well-deserved reputation, for generations now, for generosity toward others in the face of natural disaster or economic crisis.  The orders to stay home, and to shut down businesses, were a call to us all to help us all: if we can keep from spreading the virus, it will die out when it has no one new to infect.  The urge to put an end to the hardships of social distancing and self-isolation, and to the self-inflicted damage to shuttered businesses and their laid-off employees, is a strong and an understandable one.

How then do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between the recognized generosity and civic-mindedness of the American people, faced with the sacrifice needed to defeat this generational challenge to our society, and the blindered selfishness of those few who are demonstrating against the restrictions because…because what, actually?  Because they are tired of it?  Because they don’t want to be told what to do?  Because they have long guns and Confederate flags laying around, and a desire to intimidate others that is going unfulfilled?

Or maybe it’s because they’ve fallen for a subversive attack:

Carnegie Mellon University researchers analyzed over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and related issues since January and found that roughly half the accounts — including 62% of the 1,000 most influential retweeters — appeared to be bots, they said in a report published this week.

That’s a far higher level of bot activity than usual, even when it comes to contentious events — the level of bot involvement in discussions about things like US elections or natural disasters is typically 10% to 20%.

The researchers identified bots using artificial-intelligence systems that analyze accounts’ frequency of tweets, number of followers, and apparent location.

There is an interesting paradox about many of these demonstrators that is also found among others of the conservative right these days, including President Trump.  Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put this way:

From time to time when hearing a new complaint from the president, it has occurred to me to wonder, why is he bitching about unfair treatment again?  Has he lived his life to this point in a world where he has received, and has dispensed, only fair treatment?  In any case, there has always been what seems to me to be an inordinate amount of whining coming from Trumpworld, totally at odds with it being the source of so much winning that we can’t stand it.

Yesterday Trump tweeted that the number of new cases of the disease and the number of deaths are all down; in all fairness, not so much:

While total new cases nationally have begun declining, hospitalizations outside New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have increased slightly in recent days, as Mr. Trump’s own former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, pointed out.

Altogether, cases are falling in 14 states and Washington, D.C., but holding steady in 28 states and Guam while rising in eight states plus Puerto Rico, according to a New York Times database. The American Public Health Association said the 100,000 milestone was a time to reinforce efforts to curb the virus, not abandon them.

“This is both a tragedy and a call to action,” it said in a statement. “Infection rates are slowing overall in the U.S., but with 1.6 million cases across the nation in the past four months, the outbreak is far from over. New hot spots are showing up daily, and rates remain steady in at least 25 states.”

And even that grim total barely begins to scratch the surface of the pain and suffering endured by a country under siege by the worst public health crisis combined with the worst economic crisis in decades.

I know that in some ways this crisis feels like it’s over, or at least has turned the corner.  That probably is due at least in part to seeing restaurants and bars begin to re-open in states where governors are saying enough is enough, let’s get back to business.  I think that feeling comes mostly from us wanting it to be true.  But it’s not true, and it’s up to us to do our part.  All of us.

It matters

Today the U.S. House of Representatives impeached the president of the United States.  Even though the chances are vanishingly small that the United States Senate will remove this president from office over these two articles of impeachment, that matters.

Read the Mueller Report.  Read the House Intelligence Committee report.  Read the House Judiciary Committee report.  Read the summaries of any of those documents.  Or just think about all the incredible stories of the goings on of the president ever since Donald Trump was sworn into office.  There is more than enough evidence for a clear-eyed observer to conclude that Trump has committed impeachable offenses…so many, and so blatantly, in fact, that to not impeach him would have been the grossest example of the House ignoring its responsibility to perform checks and balances of the Executive Branch.  Any president who had done what this one has done would deserve to be impeached, too, to be shamed and held up to the ridicule of history, and have the Senate vote to remove him or her from office for the good of the country.

But wait: the place is swarming with Republicans who say there is no proof that Trump did anything illegal, or even improper, or impeachable at all.  Many of them are actually screaming it, and then insisting Trump is the best president ever—not just better than Obama or Clinton or Bush (either one) but better than Washington or any of those other dudes.  It’s fascinating.

I get it that party loyalty is important, if you’re a member of a party, and I get that there are more members of Congress than I would like to admit who actually love what Trump is doing and won’t do anything to get in his way.  That includes so many who were seemingly appalled by Candidate Trump, who saw him as a threat to the country; now they have his back without question.

Why in the world are all these people so servile to Trump?  Why in the hell don’t these men and women, who in most other circumstances behave as though they are the highest expression of God’s own creation, act the part of members of Congress and assert their authority as a co-equal branch of the government?  They may be loyal to a president of their own party, or to the president of our country, but they don’t work for him and they aren’t there to do his bidding.  They may agree with the president’s policies and support his goals, but they have a responsibility to their constituents, and the Constitution, and to the rest of us, too, to be a restraint against a president who oversteps his bounds.  They have taken the art of deluding themselves to the zenith, and achieved a new nadir when it comes to supporting their party at any cost.  Hard to understand how they don’t see that their own reputations and honor and place in history are at risk, each and every one of them.

As troubling as it is…as confusing as it is…to see so many apparently intelligent and well-educated people publicly forsake the evidence of their own senses to support a president who has so clearly demonstrated his utter contempt for the rule of law and the oversight role of the Congress in American government, it’s even worse to see those among them who are abdicating their own part in this government, apparently without a fight.

The Constitution gives the House the responsibility to impeach a president or other government official, and the Senate the role of jury in a trial of the president presided over by the chief justice of the United States.  So how, in the name of all that’s right and moral and legal and American, can the man who leads the majority in the U.S. Senate say he will work with the White House counsel to arrange the details of the trial?  And do it like it’s no big deal?!  We know that the chances of the Senate convicting Trump are microscopic, but what are we supposed to think now about the fairness of this proceeding, or the honesty with which the senators will consider the evidence, when the jury foreman announced in advance that his team will work hand-in-hand with the defense lawyers?

If anything, Mitch McConnell should be coordinating trial details with the Democratic leader in the Senate.  On Monday came the news that Charles Schumer wrote to McConnell proposing a framework for the trial, including the names of a handful of witnesses who never testified to the House investigators, people he would like to hear from in the Senate trial.  McConnell dismissed the idea; he even said there would be no witnesses.  We can, and should, speculate about the reason for that stance; I think he’s worried that his members might not be able to countenance their support of Trump if they heard what Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton would say under oath.

Or is McConnell kidding himself when he thinks he’s going to be in charge? In Slate, Bruce Ackerman argues that the Senate can’t bar any witness, that it’s up to the House and the president—the prosecution and the defense—to decide those things.  And most importantly, that it will be the presiding judge—Chief Justice John Roberts—who will run the court.

Once John Roberts replaces Vice President Mike Pence as the Senate’s presiding officer, McConnell’s attempt to change the rules would generate a constitutional crisis. As I have noted, the rules explicitly give Roberts, and nobody else, the power to “direct all forms of the proceedings.” If McConnell tried to seize control, Roberts could refuse to allow the Senate to vote on his initiative, especially if McConnell proposed rule changes that were inconsistent with Roberts’ pledge “to do impartial justice.”

(snip)

The chief justice is a serious jurist, dedicated to sustaining the Supreme Court’s central position in our system of checks and balances. His impartial conduct of the trial is especially crucial in the aftermath of the blatant partisanship displayed by McConnell and the Senate during the confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh. With this episode vividly in the public mind, it is imperative for Roberts to demonstrate, by his actions, that he takes the Constitution seriously and is not merely serving as a pawn in McConnell’s scheme to guarantee an acquittal.

If the majority leader did make an effort to change the rules midstream, this would serve as Roberts’ moment of truth: Will he demonstrate to the tens of millions of viewers that he is determined to put the Constitution above bitter partisan conflict?

Given Roberts’ repeated efforts to sustain the court’s legitimacy in the past, there is every reason to expect him to stand his ground and refuse to allow McConnell’s motion to be considered on the floor. If McConnell continued to defy Roberts and insisted that his colleagues back him up, it seems highly unlikely that his fellow Republicans would provide him with the bare majority needed to provide appropriate window dressing for his attempted constitutional coup.

This week began with news that 750 historians believe Trump should be impeached, and that a Fox News poll found half the country thinks Trump should be impeached.  This poll also finds Trump would lose the popular vote in November to Biden, or Warren, or Sanders, or Buttigieg, or even Bloomberg.  But for me, the best part of that story was seeing the Fox & Friends contingent so thoroughly gobsmacked to have to learn that their own network’s poll had such bad news for their guy…it revealed at least a little of the subconscious understanding on their part that their company’s preferred role is pimping Trump rather than doing journalism.  Another interesting consideration was raised by Charles P. Pierce, who makes the case that the Republican Party is the only organization—anywhere—that has a chance to save the republic.

What if, I think to myself, what if the Republicans have a plan: what if they’ve lulled Trump in with their obsequiousness and shameless praise—the kind of stuff that Trump so clearly loves and encourages—and when it comes right down to a vote, what if they surprise the crap out of all of us and vote to remove him from office?  Can we rely on a sudden tsunami of personal conscience, or love of country, or just plain old fear for how they will be remembered by history, to save the day?  Maybe they will see just one too many examples of Trump’s childish temperament, like his unhinged letter to Nancy Pelosi yesterday, and decide they’ve had enough.

They could just finally get fed up with the president’s obstruction of justice, and obstruction of Congress.  Of them.  No other president I can think of has ever so publicly dissed Congress, and thumbed his nose at the law, as has this one.  (On this point, Trump may accurately claim to be the best in history.)  Congress has a right to ask for, and receive, cooperation from the Executive Branch in its investigations.  Though there are exceptions for withholding some information—executive privilege—the people who get Congressional subpoenas have a duty to honor them.  Maybe they refuse to answer questions when they get there, but they have a duty to answer the call of the Congress.  In ordering the people in his administration not to do so, Trump effectively said to Congress: uh, f*** you losers, make me if you can.  And yet, most of the Republican members of Congress still stand up for him, rather than stand up to him.  Go figure.

Anyhow, the House vote to impeach Trump is important.  It matters that we have members of Congress who are standing up to the bully, reminding him and us that abiding by the rules and laws and traditions of this country is expected.  The oath those members took was to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and they should be faithful to that promise.  And if Trump is not removed by the Senate, there are still options.  One is that the House could delay sending the impeachment to the Senate until senators agree to conduct a fair trial: this would keep McConnell from fixing the outcome of the trial while the House keeps the focus on Trump’s bad deeds, which could keep pressure on Republicans to abandon Trump as the Republicans of 1974 finally abandoned Richard Nixon.

Another option is pouring everything into defeating Trump at the polls in 2020.  This week a group of Republicans announced the Lincoln Project dedicated to defeating “Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.”  The organizers wrote about their effort in the New York Times, and didn’t sugarcoat the fact that Trump is not the only name they are targeting for defeat:

Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics. As Americans, we must stem the damage he and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character.

That’s why we are announcing the Lincoln Project, an effort to highlight our country’s story and values, and its people’s sacrifices and obligations. This effort transcends partisanship and is dedicated to nothing less than preservation of the principles that so many have fought for, on battlefields far from home and within their own communities.

This effort asks all Americans of all places, creeds and ways of life to join in the seminal task of our generation: restoring to this nation leadership and governance that respects the rule of law, recognizes the dignity of all people and defends the Constitution and American values at home and abroad.

(snip)

…national Republicans have done far worse than simply march along to Mr. Trump’s beat. Their defense of him is imbued with an ugliness, a meanness and a willingness to attack and slander those who have shed blood for our country, who have dedicated their lives and careers to its defense and its security, and whose job is to preserve the nation’s status as a beacon of hope.

Congressional Republicans have embraced and copied Mr. Trump’s cruelty and defended and even adopted his corruption. Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced it with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.

(snip)

Mr. Trump and his fellow travelers daily undermine the proposition we as a people have a responsibility and an obligation to continually bend the arc of history toward justice. They mock our belief in America as something more meaningful than lines on a map.

(snip)

We look to [Abraham] Lincoln as our guide and inspiration. He understood the necessity of not just saving the Union, but also of knitting the nation back together spiritually as well as politically. But those wounds can be bound up only once the threat has been defeated. So, too, will our country have to knit itself back together after the scourge of Trumpism has been overcome.

A seemingly well organized effort, with some serious money already committed: Republicans out to convince other Republicans to fight Trump and those of their own party who enable him.  They expect that will mean Republican losses in the next election, but believe that to be preferable to another four years of Trumpism.  The polls indicate that most Americans agree, if not most Republicans.

"I have a dream"

This was my post in August 2013 on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, including a YouTube clip of the entire speech; I repost it to honor the holiday is his memory and to remind us of his call to a virtuous future…I think some of us could use the reminder about now.

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took the podium at the Lincoln Memorial and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; it is still one of the most profound and moving speeches in the history of American rhetoric, on top of what it meant to the civil rights movement.  King did not dream that his children would one day be able to watch the speech on their desktop computer or smartphone, but they can, and so can we.

The whole thing is remarkable, including the peek you get at what a slice of America looked like in the early 1960s; go to the 12:00 mark to catch the dreams, and then on through to the end for the ad-libbed “let freedom ring”s and the promise of ultimate freedom which still stir my emotions.

“…let freedom ring.  And when this happens…and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Out of the coverage leading up to this week’s anniversary I’ve pulled a couple of gems: from Brian Naylor at NPR, a look at the little segregated southern town that was Washington, D.C. 50 years ago; and from Robert G. Kaiser in The Washington Post, a reporter’s remembrance of the event he covered 50 years earlier, with a quite remarkable admission—that the local paper blew it when it all but overlooked King’s speech in its coverage of the march!

Attention American citizens, time for another quick reality check

Only the people who are employed in America’s political-industrial complex can afford to keep up with all this stuff day to day to day, but some of it you just can’t avoid knowing about.  The Republican candidate for president is:

–seemingly sabotaging one of his own alleged rhetorical strong points–that he will hire “the best people” to take care of America’s problems–with almost every personnel move he makes:

Trump’s campaign has been a roiling, noxious, dysfunctional mess from the start, characterized by public feuds, subject to sudden leadership changes and unable to fulfill key functions (like actually having a campaign apparatus in key states). And Trump’s personnel selections have been both instructive and disastrous.

–finding yet another new way to demonstrate his ignorance of American ideals:..

…more concerning than Trump’s usual lack of specificity was his declaration that “We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people.”

(snip)

what, exactly, are “our values”? I’m betting you and I have some differences of opinion when it comes to what we value. But the good news is, the Founders accounted for that with the First Amendment, allowing for all kinds of different beliefs. Whatever Trump values, citizenship — much less entry into the country — does not require you agree with it.

What citizenship does require, in addition to service, is that immigrants “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” So, if by “our values,” Trump means our laws and Constitution, we’ve already got that covered, Donald. You can take the day off.

But of course, that’s not all Trump means.

contributing to the long-simmering “confusion” of much of the American voting public:

Trump, who says he doesn’t read much at all, is both a product of the epidemic of ignorance and a main producer of it. He can litter the campaign trail with hundreds of easily debunked falsehoods because conservative media has spent more than two decades tearing down the idea of objective fact.

If Trump supporters knew that illegal immigration peaked in 2007, or that violent crime has been on a steady downward spiral nationwide for more than 20 years, they would scoff when Trump says Mexican rapists are surging across the border and crime is out of control.

If more than 16 percent of Americans could locate Ukraine on a map, it would have been a Really Big Deal when Trump said that Russia was not going to invade it — two years after they had, in fact, invaded it.

If basic civics was still taught, and required, for high school graduation, Trump could not claim that judges “sign bills.”

The dumbing down of this democracy has been gradual, and then — this year — all at once.

–and causing a freak-out in the conservative media that wouldn’t have been believed just a year ago:

throughout the election season, it has appeared that Republicans have fielded more attacks from their supposed friends on the right than their political opponents on the left. It’s an incidental twist, considering how Republicans helped foster the growth of the conservative news media in order to avoid the skewering of mainstream journalists.

Instead, it appears their plan of using friendly pundits to tap directly into the vein of red-blooded Americans sympathetic to their political views has backfired. That has boosted the candidacy of Donald Trump

And all of that was just last week!

Nevertheless, each day I read that there are still plenty of people who supported Trump in the primaries and are still behind their man, no matter anything on that list up there or the fact that he seems to be backing off some of the strong rhetoric–and outrageous positions and promises–that (presumably) won him their support in the first place.  In fact, it’s becoming more clear that those people aren’t much interested in the details of what he’s had to say during the campaign so far:

Boz says illegal immigration is a problem, but when it comes to policy, he trusts Trump to figure that out. “Whatever he wants to do, I’ll back him. That’s all I can say. It’s tough,” Boz says.

Inside, Judy Callahan, 69, says she’s preparing to retire from her job as a hospice cook — and devote her free time to volunteering for the Trump campaign. Wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, Callahan says she has supported the real estate developer from the beginning.

“I just love him — I love every second of him,” she says.

Callahan says she opposes amnesty and wants Trump to be “strong” on immigration, but it doesn’t bother her that his policy positions can sometimes seem unclear.

“I listen to half of what Trump says,” Callahan explains. “And then I move on because you have to get people’s attention.”

The Onion has been able to describe this new reality most effectively:

“Do you really think you’re going to come up with some new criticism of his policies or his preparedness that will finally make us reconsider our votes?” Gallagher continued. “Please, you should all just save yourself the effort.”

The loyal Trump supporters said their message was directed at everyone who has actively sought to convince them that voting for the real estate mogul is against their own interests, a group that includes current and former members of Congress, members of past Republican administrations, America’s NATO allies, human rights advocates, the pope, and many veterans, as well as their own families, friends, and coworkers. The candidate’s backers added that, considering how they have already gone along with everything he has said and done in the 2016 election cycle, those trying to communicate Trump’s shortcomings to them should “quit wasting their breath.”