If there are going to be consequences for a shift to violent fascism that has seen a president organize an attempted coup, his party’s top political leaders mobilize to help him, “Proud Boys” in body armor showing up to school board meetings, demands to hunt down, remove, and burn the same genres of books that Nazis formed great piles of, and the disintegration of “news” into a self-indulgent and valueless netherworld in which demanding the nullification of a United States election or promoting absolute lies meant to propagandize the public into ignoring their eyes and ears is still not enough to prod decency-based contempt from wealthy hosts paid to wallow vapidly through it all, it will have to overtop a gerrymandering effort that all but assures the lawmakers who treat elections with the most contempt will control who can vote for them, how much effort it will take, and what happens if the voters do something their political strategists promised wouldn’t happen.
In practice, what this means is that unless Democrats can somehow convince the national press that fomenting an actual damn coup is not within the bounds of what a political party and its actors are allowed to do, the party has no more than 12 months remaining to uncover all remaining details of how Mark Meadows, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and a majority of seated House Republicans convinced large swaths of the Republican base that the election Trump lost was “stolen,” and so inherently corrupt that it should have been erased and replaced with whatever new government lawmakers decided on.
That’s all the time that Congress has, and its all the time the decrepit Department of Justice has. If Republicans retake the House next November, they will declare that the Jan. 6 insurrection shall not be further examined because it is a “witch hunt.” They will declare Bannon, Meadows, and all the others hiding the details of how and why the crowd was gathered to be American heroes, and form new committees instead premised on the notion that Hunter Biden or Hillary Clinton are the far greater dangers.
The whole premise of House Republican action from Jan. 6 until now has been to delay, delay, delay, attempting to run out the clock before any printed conclusions are reached on the link between false propaganda the party itself invented and dispensed and the resulting deaths at the hands of pro-Trump rioters who believed them. Why this is important to Republican leaders is a bit mysterious; conservative punditry, the Sunday shows, and most other sources of “news” have already validated the dissemination of false propaganda for the purposes of overturning an election to be Not Actionable. You will still be allowed on television. You will still be interviewed, allowed to present to your voters thoughts on “migrant caravans,” or gas prices, or masks, with the understanding that fomenting insurrection for your own gain is just one piece of what you have to offer in the discourse.
House Republicans have spent the past 18 months attempting to block a probe that will almost certainly prove no more than we already know: Donald Trump and (more importantly) his myriad Republican allies promoted false information in an attempt to portray an election loss as the product of enemy action. Donald Trump and his Republican allies beat that drum relentlessly, week after week, inventing fantastical reasons why their base should not abide by the election results but should instead demand that each Republican-held state in which voters chose his opponent nullify their vote totals and declare Trump to be the winner. Trump and his top allies took criminal actions meant to goad and intimidate elections officials into doing just that. And when the courts rejected the party’s lies and few in the election’s infrastructure were willing to turn traitor for the sake of an incompetent blowhard and his own vice president reluctant to be the figurehead around which the rest of the seditious plot could be assembled, Donald Trump and his allies put out a public call looking for bodies willing to disrupt a joint session of Congress rather than allow it to seat the party’s opponent.
Every historic accounting of the Jan. 6 insurrection will conclude that it was the result of an intentional propaganda campaign bent on discrediting America’s elections, and that the crowd was assembled that day in a genuine, if ill-designed, attempt to nullify one. Every historic accounting will note that it was accomplished with the willing assistance of the majority of Republican lawmakers.
But if the news channels do not care, voters cannot be expected to, and the news channels emphatically do not care. The biggest news story of the new millennium is not one that the enforced vapidity of politics-as-sports analysis can take on, because such discussions hinge on being featureless and consequence-free. Panel discussions are the news equivalent of a sitcom: You are allowed to bleat and bluster for however much time the network has allocated, but above all there must be no new revelations or consequences that might carry over into next week’s show.
What should we do with these well-dressed figures that introduce bills and by-the-way attempted to overthrow our democracy using the same fraud-based techniques synonymous with authoritarian control? Should we hang them from the studio lights? Should we … stop calling them? But we shook their hands. And the opposition, it should be pointed out, is equally radical in its demands to return to the tax rates in effect when each of us began our careers.
At this point my only suggestion is for Democrats to begin treating the press with the same contempt that Republicans have made a core part of their personas. It is the only thing proven to work, at least. The press is currently allying with pro-sedition figures who lied to the public in an attempt to nullify the results of an election. Those lies directly led to multiple deaths; there is no argument to the contrary. The claims that the election was “stolen” were both invented, purely as propaganda move, and resulted a crowd storming the Capitol and attacking police officers, and Congress, as consequence.
The network hosts and heads now ignoring these murders to glad-hand the coup’s allies are not engaged in “journalism.” They are working, on purpose, to normalize the toppling of government as only one of numerous potential paths America might soon take.
There’s nothing more inherently partisan than brushing off an actual seditious coup attempt as valid political speech. You can rest assured that if there was any militant leftist group capable of such an attack, entirely new network shows would be launched dedicated specifically to hunting down its enablers. The insurrection is being whitewashed because the political press, an entity distinct from journalism, wishes to keep fascist insurrection and anti-fascist opposition on equal, “balanced” footing. True journalism calls out corruption and lambastes propaganda and the figures that use it to undermine democracy.
What you see on television and slathered on op-ed pages is frequently the precise opposite. Not only are the propagandists given special access to mislead the public, they are thanked afterwards for doing so. Not reproached. Not condemned. Thanked, and invited back.
If insurrection is not sufficient to end Trumpism in the halls of power, elections will not be sufficient to extract those that allied themselves with it. So long as “immigrant caravans” are considered equal dangers to “fomented an attack on a joint session of Congress, one that resulted in deaths, and continues to disseminate the same falsehoods today,” the actual partisan vote totals hardly matter. The press will give the public no reason to believe they should not vote however they voted in the last five elections, or the last 10; the risk that a future election might be erased outright, after the repeated vows of far-right politicians that they will take such actions if the vote totals make it necessary, will be ignored as of less consequence than the supply chain failures that represent the fk around, find out edges of modern business practices and, especially, an undercurrent of disapprobation that too many Americans have been getting far too uppity about what sort of jobs they will take and what sort of treatment they will stand, and maybe it is time for another arch-right father figure to mete out the necessary punishments.
I would say that sneering contempt is what is next required. Those that echoed Trump, Rudy, Meadows, Bannon and others to lay the groundwork for a coup should be treated with the absolute loathing that such acts deserve. The House needs to begin doling out such punishments, or at least taking relentless action to make sure each Republican is on the record, dozens of times, in blocking them. Democratic lawmakers need to make the case for voting protections in far starker terms, identifying the nameable enemies of free and fair elections and condemning their acts not merely as partisan gamesmanship but as a war on voting itself. Voters do not know that the insurrection is continuing, as the party purges “disloyal” election officials, new Republican-written state laws grant new powers to challenge and overturn vote totals, and Republican demands that the propaganda campaign that led rioters to believe they were acting as patriots go unprobed. But it is continuing. All those things are premised on allowing a future Republican Trump to succeed in nullifying a future election that does not go the party’s way—by removing the specific obstacles, whether they be people, laws, or potential consequences, that thwarted the Republican attempt a year ago.
Treating those that goaded insurrection with the contempt that democracy’s traitors deserve will inflame the fascist base, to be sure. It will only serve as further proof, to them, that their proudly sociopathic “way of life” is under assault from the hated elites who foist laws and science and book-learning on them.
But expressing relentless and open contempt for those that attempted to nullify a United States election by spreading hoaxes meant to justify its erasure will force “should lying to the public as means to topple government be treated as just another political tool” into a bit more public debate than the current, absolutely insufferably vapid political class is currently willing to abide. The only way Americans can freely decide whether elections should be considered sacrosanct or purely advisory is if they know the question is being asked. Very few voters, in either party, are aware of how just how much effort the faces on television went to in order to goad a frothing base into outright insurrection. Nobody on CNN will tell them. None of the shameless, pointedly absurd “panel discussions” will point a finger at those who spread lies leading to violence inside the Capitol and say You, in your actions, have betrayed the people. You are the worst of America, and we will not help you do your damage.
Those that attacked police and went hunting for politicians are now pictured on law enforcement flyers. The political figures whose lies convinced the crowd to do it, though? Why are the “news” networks thrusting them in front of cameras and allowing them, or even prodding them, to repeat their lies?