Polar Nation: Thoughts on Jan. 6
The walk along the National Mall was tense after the new president was sworn in. Angry folk on the losing end yelled at the president’s supporters, questioned the validity of November’s outcome and compared the winner to Hitler.
A leader of one of the protest groups wearing weird hats told me she believed her group’s antics and strident rhetoric might make the president’s voters wonder if they were on the right side.
It was Jan. 20, 2017 and progressives were enraged – skeptical also – that Donald Trump had won the White House. More than 200 individuals were arrested and charged with felony rioting.
But then, pundits were more likely to praise the anti-Trumpers for their interest in public affairs than their childish “resistance.” A missing talking point: “left-wing extremism.”
Yes, there is a big difference. Anti-Trump protesters didn’t storm the Capitol in a vain attempt to intimidate Congress into changing the election, as Trump believers did. (Yes, it was too late. That happened on Jan. 6.)
President Biden calls for unity in America
Joe Biden sworn in as 46th President of the United States (SendToNews)
Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
By Debra J. Saunders Las Vegas Review-Journal
January 20, 2021 - 6:12 am
Updated January 20, 2021 - 2:36 pm
WASHINGTON — “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” President Joe Biden told the American people moments after he took the oath of office and became the 46th president of the United States. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”
Up until Jan. 6, 2021, I considered protesters on the left – Antifa, Black Lives Matters and Black Mask anarchists – to be the real threat to public safety.
They were the zealots who felt a right to destroy innocent people’s livelihoods, occupy freeways and spit on police.
In 2009, when the Department of Justice put out a report on “right-wing extremism,” I objected to federal officials’ branding conservative activists, not progressives, as the big threat. I wrote about it here.
As I re-read the report this week through the stark light of Jan. 6, I see what the authors got right and what they got wrong.
Coming out as President Barack Obama became the first African American president, the 2009 paper warned that anger at the outcome of an election in 2008 could radicalize some Americans. That happened with President Joe Biden’s victory.
The report also warned that military veterans, rural residents and unemployed Americans beleaguered by economic woes could be drawn to conspiracy theories and domestic terrorism.
Right: NPR reported that nearly one in five of those arrested for the Jan.6 insurrection had served or were serving in the military, but other traits they cited weren’t there in 2021.
Not quite: MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin produced a podcast about Rosanne Boyland, a Georgia woman who died in the Capitol riots. Boyland was chronically unemployed, obese and newly radicalized by the QAnon conspiracy theorists. She fit big media’s most cherished stereotype for the Trump base.
(BTW, I highly recommend listening to this podcast, American Radical. It is both sympathetic and clear-eyed.)
It turns out, Boyland was the exception to what you see in a new report on Jan. 6’s bad actors from the Chicago Project on Security and Threats.
University of Chicago professor Robert Pape told “Face the Nation,” more than half of arrested Jan. 6 participants were business owners or professionals; only 7 percent were unemployed, not the usual unemployment rate for right wing extremists of 25 percent or more.
Rural? No way. Pape said the vast majority did not hail from a rural red bubble; they were conservatives surrounded by liberals in places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Houston, and Dallas.
Pape did see the Great Replacement theory – that the Democratic party deliberately has adopted immigration policies to replace white voters – as a key driver to radicalization. These are not my people.
But sometimes you have to own that people with whom you generally agree have gone astray.
Trump egged his base on with the lie that he really had won the election. It worked because modern Americans want to be victims. It sounds better than being losers, and it gives the angry an excuse to vent. Pape estimated that 25 million Americans believe Trump won and it would be justifiable to use force to restore his presidency.
One might expect that after last year’s debacle, more Americans would cycle away from the Trump lie, but they’re still there and they’re waiting like kindling anticipates a match, according to Pape.
Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to bring the country together. Since he took the oath of office, alas, he’s been siding with the far left, not the middle. He’s done trying to appeal to Republicans and trying to strong-arm his party’s moderates. I miss the Biden who said this on Jan. 20, 2021:
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”
Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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