Enough

Joe Holley is a writer here in Texas with a background in newspapers and magazines right up to his own books.  He writes the feature column Native Texan in the Houston Chronicle about Texas places and people and history, and today he started off referring to “The Captured,” a history of frontier Texas telling the story of Anglo children captured by Indians in the late 19th century.  He uses it to touch on the harshness of life on the Texas frontier in those days, facing not only the Natives but the constant threat of disease, and outlaws, you name it.  And yet, Holley says,

…it’s only today’s Texas, our Texas, that experiences mass shootings in a suburban high school, in churches, a Walmart, an Army base, the streets of Midland-Odessa, a Luby’s Cafeteria and a small-town elementary school. Our frontier forebears, whatever their own travails, would have been aghast, unbelieving.

I’m wondering, why aren’t all of us today just as aghast and unbelieving?  Sure, with each new horror we mumble some hopefully appropriate words to express shock and disbelief, but are we really so surprised?  I mean, it just keeps happening, over and over again; can we really still be shocked, and really feel the emptiness in the pits of our stomachs that we ought to feel when innocent children are massacred with weapons meant for war on the battlefield?  This time, in Uvalde, it was fourth graders…nine and ten year olds; it was six-and-seven-year olds in Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. ten years ago.  The Washington Post chose the almost arbitrary starting point of the Columbine shootings in 1999 and calculates that more than 311,000 American children, at 331 schools, have been exposed to gun violence at school in those years.  All the students in that time, right up through today’s college graduates, have normalized the grotesque concept of the active shooter drill as just a part of life.

Why would a person take a gun to a school and open fire at…some kids, ones they often don’t even know?  Why did I take a magnifying glass to school in the fourth grade and focus sunlight to burn holes in a classmate’s sweater I found hanging on a fence at recess?  Same response to both questions: who knows?  Short of finding that answer, we should be doing something to try to reduce the chances of our schools become killing grounds, and of our own children and those of our friends and neighbors becoming one of those small images in a large collection of class photos that identify the dead.

Holley recalls the 1937 natural gas explosion that killed some 300 students and teachers in New London, Texas, and that the Texas Legislature and then Congress responded to that by requiring the “odorization” of natural gas so future leaks could be detected before they became catastrophes.  What can we, through our elected representatives, do now to make a meaningful change in the normal course of business that will better protect our children’s lives when they simply go to school?

Among the common sense suggestions I’ve read since last week – and not that it hasn’t been suggested before – is that we stop letting children buy these guns legally.  Our laws prohibit those under age 21 from buying alcoholic beverages; why not guns, too?  Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who’s been working on gun restriction legislation since he represented Newtown in the House of Representatives, argues that “most of these killers tend to be 18, 19 years old.” and PolitiFact has rated that claim as Mostly True: “That’s largely accurate when looking at school shootings alone, according to a Washington Post database of school shootings since 1999. The database did include shootings that did not result in a death, and the share of teenagers committing mass shootings overall is smaller.”

Also judged to be Mostly True is the assertion last week by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, that “90% of Americans, regardless of political party, want universal background checks.”  PolitiFact finds that “For years, polls have shown a majority of Americans support gun background checks for all buyers. Some polls show overall support in the ballpark of 90%. Support is lower among Republicans (emphasis added), but polls still indicate majority backing” for a review designed to make sure that guns are not being sold to people who are not permitted under law to possess guns, people who have been “convicted of a serious crime or committed to a mental institution.”

No right guaranteed under the United States Constitution is absolute.  The law recognizes, even when some Americans don’t or won’t, that rights come with some limitations.  Even your right to life is not absolute, not if you are convicted of committing a crime for which the approved punishment is the loss of your life.  Your right to be free of government censorship of your expression of your thoughts and feelings doesn’t mean your speech can endanger the health and safety of others with impunity.  And none of us has an unrestricted right to gun ownership.

Please, let’s get creative.  Adding mercaptan to AR-15s won’t stop school shootings, but expanding background checks and limiting gun ownership by minors will help.  We’ve got to find something else that will make a difference.  We can’t just accept that this is the way things have to be, and there’s nothing we can do.  I don’t want to settle for the situation Holley found himself in as he finished up his phone call with the Uvalde County Judge, Bill Mitchell:

When it came time to hang up, I tried to tell him how sorry I was. My voice broke. So did his. Perhaps for both of us, the faces of those little kids swam into view.

We were two men of a certain age. We’ve seen much over the years. Words failed us.

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.”

The winter of my discontent has spilled over into the spring

You’d have thought that two months would have been plenty of time.  Time for Americans to take a calming breath, relax a bit, and let the radicalization of thought and action spurred by “the former guy” just naturally subside.  Time for passions to cool.  Time for the recognition of fact versus fiction.

Nope.

Four years of cognitive dissonance generated by the primary source of fake news in our lives reached its crescendo in early January when thousands of people claiming to hold an unwavering belief in law and order ignored the provable facts and attacked the seat of government of the country they swore they loved.  Hundreds of law enforcement officers were injured by the “patriots” who took the law into their own hands that day and tried to overturn the results of a free and fair election because they didn’t like the result.

The man impeached for inspiring that assault has left office, but the “the crazy” is still in the house.  He wasn’t the cause, it turns out; just a catalyst.

I daresay we all know at least a few of these people.  The stone cold racists.  The Christian Nationalists trying to make the United States a “Christian nation” even though the Constitution prohibits that.  The self-styled “conservatives” for whom anything can be said if it annoys their political opponents and inspires their own supporters, with adherence to actual accuracy or consistency with their own past statements not required.

They took advantage of having a mainstream leader—it don’t get any mainstreamer than the White House—who was willing to support their radical beliefs to force a massive change in the course of American society.  For four years, it was working.  They didn’t count on Dear Leader being so thoroughly self-absorbed and delusional that he refused to lead the country against the ravages of a global pandemic, a failure which generated enough antagonism that it inspired the record voter turnout that caused his defeat.

MAGA nation has always been there; it came out of the shadows in 2016, and it’s not done.

For those with no self-esteem and no affinity for truth, the blatant and self-serving lying is still going strong.  (Recent examples here and here.)  The flow of ludicrous conspiracy theories and disinformation is unrestrained—such as Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, “an all-access purveyor of misinformation on serious issues such as the pandemic and the legitimacy of American democracy, as well as invoking the etymology of Greenland as a way to downplay the effects of climate change.”  The absence of any need for intellectual consistency has never been more apparent: a lawyer who is being sued for defamation by a voting machine company she trashed for weeks is defending herself by claiming that “no reasonable person” would have believed the things she claimed in an actual legal filing were actually true!

Many Republicans across the country acknowledge that they have a problem: there are too many Americans who have not drunk the kool-aid and are not voting for Republicans. So they are taking action to make it harder for those people to vote at all.

More than 250 bills have been introduced in 43 states that would change how Americans vote, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice, which backs expanded voting access. That includes measures that would limit mail voting, cut hours that polling places are open and impose restrictions that Democrats argue amount to the greatest assault on voting rights since Jim Crow.

First across the finish line is the great state of Georgia.  In the state where a Republican secretary of state effectively told a sitting president soliciting his cooperation in voting fraud to shove it, the Republican legislature passed and the Republican governor signed an “overhaul of state elections that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and gives the legislature greater control over how elections are run.”

Among other things, the law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.

Democrats and voting rights groups say the law will disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. It is part of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced in states around the nation after former President Trump stoked false claims that fraud led to his 2020 election defeat.

The effort in Georgia and elsewhere—including my state of Texas, sad to say—are marketed as laws designed to provide greater ballot security and give voters reassurance about the integrity of election outcomes.  This presupposes your belief in the old GOP chestnut that elections now are not secure and that the outcomes are not legitimate.  Which, of course, is untrue—look at the literally dozens of lawsuits pursued across the country by Republicans trying to change the outcome of the presidential race last year, which could not prove voter fraud sufficient to have changed any results.  No one can reasonably argue that there is no election fraud, ever, anywhere, but there has never been evidence of the kind of massive voter fraud—ever, anywhere—that Republicans falsely assert as reason to make voting harder.  Even to the extent, in Georgia, of making it illegal to give a bottle of water to anyone waiting in line to vote.

Republicans who recognize actual truth understand this: their party controls the legislatures in 30 of the 50 states, and thus the redistricting process in those states, which goes a long way to perpetuate their electoral strength in legislative and congressional elections despite their national weakness.  (Democrats redistrict to their own benefit, of course, but they don’t have as many opportunities.)  In the 2020 election for president, 84.1 million Americans voted for someone other than the Republican incumbent, and another 80.8 million Americans didn’t vote at all, so nearly 70% of Americans who are eligible to vote turned thumbs down at another four years of Republican control of the White House.  In an election where more Americans voted than ever voted before, less than one-third of Americans voted Republican at the top of the ballot.  If Republicans want to hold on to power, they know they had better use their majorities while they still have them.

So must the Democrats in Congress.  The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting action in the Senate, is an effort to negate the Republican attempts to make voting more difficult: it would expand voting rights, and limit gerrymandering, and take precedence in these areas over any laws passed in the states.  We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Republicans and conservatives seem intent on amusing us with their crying and whining.  The party that used to be all about personal responsibility can’t shut up about being the victims of cancel culture when they get caught doing the very things for which they criticize others.

Diagnosing Baby Donald

Franklin Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression eager to try out potential remedies for the economic crisis, so he set an arbitrary mark of the first 100 days in office as a goal for measuring progress.  Ever since, journalists looking for a ready-made story have used the excuse of a new president’s first 100 days to issue a report card on his or her progress in enacting campaign promises into law.  This week President Bannon and his team started off downplaying the significance of the silly benchmark, calling it “an artificial barrier” and a “ridiculous standard” that’s “not very meaningful.”  And then spent the rest of the week in “a flurry of action on health care, taxes and the border wall to show just how much he has done in the first 100 days—amplified by a White House program of first-100-days briefings, first-100-days receptions, a first-100-days website and a first-100-days rally.”

“As with so much else, [Donald] Trump is a study in inconsistency,” said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. “One minute he says his 100 days have been the best of any president, and the next minute he decries the idea of measuring a president by the 100 days.”

What do others say?  While some think this president has done some good things, I haven’t found anyone outside of the White House who would completely agree with the administration’s estimate of its own effectiveness.

The president stated flatly to an audience in Kenosha that “No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days;” PolitiFact responds: “Trump has had some achievements in office, but at the very least, they are much less numerous and far-reaching than those of Roosevelt, the standard against whom all presidents are measured. In more recent years, other presidents, including Obama, have accomplished more in their first 100 days than Trump has, historians say. We rate the claim False.”

Vox.com is willing to give the new president credit for his success—at making money for himself, his family, and his businesses while “serving” the American people.

“Trump isn’t failing. He and his family appear to be making money hand over fist. It’s a spectacle the likes of which we’ve never seen in the United States, and while it may end in disaster for the Trumps someday, for now it shows no real sign of failure,” reports Vox, reminding the reader that Trump is still able to personally access profits from his businesses and that his actions as president are actually leading to government expenditures that go straight into his own pocket; for example:

Like many previous presidents, he golfs. And like all presidents who golf, when he hits the green, he is accompanied by Secret Service agents. The agents use golf carts to get around the courses. And to get their hands on the golf carts, they need to rent them from the golf courses at which the president plays. All of this is fundamentally normal — except for the fact that Trump golfs at courses he owns. So when the Secret Service spends $35,000 on Mar-a-Lago golf cart rentals, it’s not just a normal security expense — Trump is personally profiting from his own protection.

Grading a president on how many of his policies have been enacted into law puts his 100-days rating at the mercy of the Congress which must pass those bills.  Although his ability to work with the legislative branch, rather than to try to dictate to it, is a valuable guide to a president’s effectiveness, maybe that isn’t the most straightforward way to tell if he’s doing a good job.

And let’s not indulge the argument here that all of the things Trump said that he wanted to do are bad things; William Saletan argues in Slate that the better way to judge is to consider if he’s done what he said he would do:

You can be sick of low wages and lost jobs, disgusted with the Clintons, angry about Obamacare, and wary of open borders without being a monster. My argument to you isn’t that Trump is bad because he addresses these concerns. My argument is that he addresses them badly. If you want better jobs, better health care, better border security, a stronger America, less corruption, and less debt, Trump is taking you in the wrong direction. And he’ll keep making things worse until you stop him.

Saletan finds that in Trump’s first 100 days  he has failed in his promises to fight for the working man, to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better, to strengthen our borders, to reduce the national debt (he’s increased it!), to drain the swamp, or to honor the military.

What we’ve learned in Trump’s first 100 days, in short, is that he’s bad at the job. Maybe last fall you decided to give him a chance. Or maybe you felt you had to choose between two bad candidates, and you could only stop one of them. So you voted against Hillary, and you got this instead.

You don’t have to stand for it. Call your senators and your member of Congress. Demand better health care and a fairer tax system. Go to their town halls. Tell them to oppose Trump when he doesn’t do what’s right for the country. If they don’t listen to you, organize and vote them out next year. Trump’s first 100 days have been bad. We don’t need another four years like them.

(Even Trump is surprised at how he’s done so far: “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”)

There’s little reason for us to believe things are going to get better, or normal-er, more like what we’ve been used to with every previous president, all on their own.  Not when you consider that the erratic, impulsive, self-promoting behavior we’ve all been witness to is at such a degree that a group of mental health professionals has felt the need to ignore a portion of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics to issue a warning about the president’s mental health and to offer suggestions for how we all deal with the fallout.

Let us stipulate that it is not known for a fact that Trump has any kind of psychiatric diagnosis. Let us also stipulate that, to many observers, the most powerful man in the world displays many of the definitional traits of one disorder in particular: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, characterized by behavior that is impulsive, dramatic and erratic. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with NPD “come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious,” require “constant admiration” and belittle people they “perceive as inferior.” This grandiose, bullying shell hides profound insecurity, so “anything that may be perceived as criticism” can provoke “rage or contempt.”

Baby Donald is a child of privilege who’s always been able to buy whatever he wanted, whether a new toy or a new person in his orbit (or a new wife) or a way out of trouble.  He’s been surrounded by yes-men-and-women who rely on him for their livelihoods, so he has precious little experience of having to deal with a differing opinion.  When he opens his mouth his instinct is to educate the listener about his own extraordinary self, and to state as incontrovertible that which he wishes in that moment to be true, without regard for whether the statement is consistent with previous ones or with any known facts.

In reality, it’s not just Congress or world leaders or White House staffers who are in Trump’s orbit and at the whim of his personality traits. We all are. [New Jersey therapist and author] Wendy Behary says that when dealing with such a person, the best defense is to read deeply about psychopathology. Ultimately, she says, understanding the dynamics of personality disorders will help make what seems unpredictable predictable. The more people know, the less they will wonder, “How could he do that?” and come to understand, “How could he not?”

First the good news, then the better news, then the bad news

The good news is this: Congress has reached a budget deal.  Yes, the U.S. Congress.  And not when facing a deadline.  America’s guests have done a thing that is rare in this day—their jobs.  Here are the details; I’m most enthused at the idea that enough members showed enough maturity and leadership to actually work out some agreement, one which means we and the world can go two years without having to fret about a government shutdown.

Now to the better news, which I would actually classify as a Christmas miracle if I were given to assuming that God takes sides in American politics (or sports): the mainstream Republican Party is showing signs of finally standing up to the conservative extremists.  Speaker of the House John Boehner was the first to publicly, honestly, express his exasperation with the tea partyish crowd that has pushed the GOP so far to the edge of American politics that they have to stand on each other’s shoulders a mile high in order to see the center.  He reportedly got even more “honest” in private:

“They are not fighting for conservative principles,” Mr. Boehner told rank-and-file House Republicans during a private meeting on Wednesday as he seethed and questioned the motives of the groups for piling on against the plan before it was even made public.

“They are not fighting for conservative policy,” he continued, according to accounts of those present. “They are fighting to expand their lists, raise more money and grow their organizations, and they are using you to do it. It’s ridiculous.”

The conservatives of course defended themselves, which is perfectly fine; I hope the center and the far right keep this back-and-forth going ad infinitum (we’re already well past ad nauseum).  For however long they fight with each other—and these things don’t last as long as you might wish them to—it keeps them from concentrating their fire outside the circle; maybe that keeps the extremists from winning more elections and coming into real power to remake America in their own frightening image.

One more politics thing: did you see who was cited by PolitiFact for the Lie of the Year?  Yep, our president.  Selected by a reader poll from among ten finalists, “If you like your health plan, you can keep it” was chosen by 59%, the winner going away and embarassingly ahead of popular favorites like “Congress is exempt from the healthcare law” (Ted Cruz), “No U.S.-trained doctors will accept Obamacare” (Ann Coulter) and “Muslims are exempt from Obamacare” (chain email).  President Obama’s catchy little reassurance actually worked its way up over the years from “half true” to “pants on fire” and now Lie of the Year.  Congratulations, Mr. President, for finding a way to help the self-defeating conservatives survive the circular firing squad.