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Jan. 6 And The Curse Of Whataboutism

Joe Biden speaking at lecturn

The importance of learning nothing and forgetting nothing.


A year on, there are numerous valid and important questions about what happened on Jan. 6 and why. There are questions to be asked about the decisions that led directly to what was a peaceful political protest turning into a violent riot. The language used by its popularizers as an attempted coup — insurrection, threat to democracy, seconds from losing the country, etc. — are all meant to elide this point.

Time’s Molly Ball says it here: without a massive breakdown in policing and security, this would be a day no one remembered.

So the questions that present themselves are: why were Capitol Police so unprepared for a rally that made crystal clear its intentions to go to the Hill? Why did multiple requests and offers of additional support go rebuffed? Why do so many of the agitators, some of them armed, remain free and at large instead of under arrest? Why were so many individuals allowed into the building without being stopped? And — and this one bothers me most of all — what can the possible excuse be, in the most surveilled area in the most surveilled American city, for not knowing who the attempted pipe bomber is after all this time?

A commission that was interested in the answers to these questions could be valuable, even worthwhile, in a way that nearly every after-action commission is not. But the unconstitutional January 6th Commission, which exists primarily as a way to channel Liz Cheney’s score-settling and Nancy Pelosi’s thin reed of 2022 hopes, is not interested in any of this. They’re not even interested in ensuring the implementation of the Inspector General’s report on Capitol Police failures, which they are still ignoring.

The “flash reports” authored by the IG’s office over the past year detail suggestions for security enhancements from their review into the failures that led to a crowd of pro-Trump protestors overruning police and storming Capitol grounds. In the eighth and final report, the office revealed that out of the 104 recommendations only 30 have been fully implemented by the Capitol Police department. 

Why is that? Well, it’s because they aren’t actually interested in preventing another violent riot at the Capitol or talking about policing or decision-making or even security. The whole point of the commission is to be used as a cudgel against all Republicans and turn them into an actual terroristic threat to the future of the country. And because they were hoping, somehow, to find a way to go directly after Donald Trump (impeach him again!) and a bunch of his friends and supporters who matter more to them than random protesters from middle America. Unhappily for them, they’ve basically been left with harassing Seb Gorka for his texts. At least they have the power to get CNN to set up for American Idol in Statuary Hall. And don’t worry about their safety, no American citizens are allowed in the Capitol because, you know, COVID.

This is unsurprising from the partisan left. Of course, there has also been a ridiculous trend on the part of some commentators to go along with the idea that Jan. 6 is immune to whataboutism — that it stands alone as an assault on American values, government buildings, and representative government. It requires such egregious mental leaps of logic that it ignores all that came before such a date, and the very evident trendlines that led the nation to this point. For them, Jan. 6 exists in amber, created out of thin air, as opposed to being the predictable result of ever-increasing tendencies toward justified violence to achieve righteous ends, as permitted and even lauded by our media and our elites for years.

A year ago, I wrote this about the consequences of the Capitol assault — it ended up being one of the last pieces Rush Limbaugh read on air:

The first is a comment from an apolitical friend who wandered into the room where the roiling crowd was on the screen in the early afternoon yesterday: “Is that Black Lives Matter?” No, it’s not — but also, it is. An apolitical viewer of the summer of 2020 would learn one distinct lesson: If you want to be heard, if you want to be listened to, you need to go into the streets, make a ruckus, set things on fire, and tear down icons of America. This disrespect will be welcomed, hailed, and supported if your cause is just and your motives are righteous.

Just about everyone who showed up on Capitol Hill yesterday believed that about why they were there. The only difference between the horned man standing in the Senate chair or the smiling man hauling the speaker’s podium out the door and the fellow who attempted to tear down Andrew Jackson’s statue or the criminal who set fire to St. John’s Church is a matter of jersey color.

The second is that blaming this on Donald Trump isn’t just too simplistic, it’s whistling past the graveyard of our norms. Of course, he egged on his crowd to go up to the Capitol and be loud and irritating. But he didn’t tell them to break down doors and crash the gates, and he didn’t need to. Blaming this on Trump assumes this type of attitude will go away when Trump himself does. That’s way too easy — it’s wishful thinking. The iconoclasm of the right is a real development, and it is here to stay. You’ll wish for the old man in the tricorn hat waving a Cato Constitution when you see the new right blasting statues with graffiti…

The obvious result of yesterday’s conflagration will be a feeble attempt at a purge by the Mitt Romneys, Liz Cheneys, and Adam Kinzingers (ha!) of the GOP. This will fail because their constituency is not just outnumbered, it is utterly dominated by the populist iconoclasts. A party of the right that rejects the mob of people who spent their hard-earned, working-class money to drive to Washington, D.C., and wave a flag as deplorables will never win, or deserve to, any more than a party of the left could reject naming something Black Lives Matter plaza.

What will happen next is obvious: A total crushing, anti-free speech effort that treats Trump-supporting groups like Branch Davidians. An effort to restore the fundamentally unserious neocons as the voice of reason in the room. A hardening of the bounds of the People’s House to keep people away from politicians. A use of any levers of government power — including audits, regulation, and lawfare — to harass conservatives now categorized as seditionists and terrorists by the incoming president who falsely claims to want to unite the country. And above all, a doubling down on all the policies and efforts put in place to crush exactly the type of people who showed up at the Capitol yesterday in a foolish, desperate attempt to make themselves heard.

The January 6th Commission will solve nothing. The speeches today will only embolden more iconoclasm as valid partisanship. Kamala Harris has already compared Jan. 6 to 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor today, which no one honest actually thinks. The CNN townhall tonight should be amazing. But as John Davidson writes: The storming of the U.S. Capitol should have been a wake-up call against tolerating political violence. Instead, it’s become cheap propaganda:

The Washington Post came out with a poll recently showing 34 percent of Americans now believe that violence against the government can be justified under certain circumstances, a sharp increase from earlier polls that asked the same question.

It should be 100 percent. Americans schooled in the Declaration of Independence should know about the right of revolution: that a free people have the right — a duty, even — to revolt against a tyrannical regime and establish a new political order, waging a war of revolution if need be. Under conditions of tyranny, of course violence against the government is justified. But that’s probably not what those 34 percent meant.

Short of revolution, political violence in a free society should be absolutely forbidden. When it arises, it should be crushed by overwhelming force. That’s what should have happened on Jan. 6, and also what should have happened in cities across the country in the months leading up to it…

Everything, in fact, that has happened since Jan. 6 is in some ways worse than what happened that day — not for the families who lost loved ones, of course, but for the nation at large. What should have been an object lesson and a cautionary tale about what happens when you turn a blind eye to political violence and civil unrest — eventually it becomes endemic and the other side uses it, too — was instead turned into a cudgel.

Instead of admitting that their tacit support for the BLM riots might have opened the door for the Capitol riot, Democrats and the media decided to lump all Republicans in with the Jan. 6 rioters. They are now conflating rather mundane GOP-led state election reforms with the so-called “insurrection,” as if duly elected lawmakers making laws are no different than mobs storming past police barriers.

This isn’t just an absurd argument, it’s also deleterious for the country because it trivializes what happened. If every Republican is an “insurrectionist” because of Jan. 6, as Democrats and the media claim, then Jan. 6 must not have been a big deal. We need not be overly concerned about it or learn any lessons from it.

The lessons remain unlearned. The latest polls indicate more Democrats denied Trump won in 2016 than Republicans today deny that Biden won in 2020. If you care about the country, that might look like a disturbing trend encompassing the whole country, not just the rubes.

But if you’re a mindless partisan, that’s just some inconvenient whataboutism you don’t even have the challenge of dismissing so long as you’re only on CNN. Which reminds me, it’s time for the absolutely sincere candle-light vigil organized by the Antifa activist behind disruptive protests at Bush and Trump’s inaugurations and more recently targeting a Senator’s wife.

It’s a good thing that good old Joe Biden, Mr. Civility and Normalcy, is back in charge.