Among the central themes of corporate media’s Jan. 6 anniversary extravaganza is a focus on the right’s alleged shift since the riot. Recalling the initial wave of Republican condemnations and resignations, a recent Politico article contends, “It appeared, at least for a moment, that Trump could become persona non grata in national politics.”
“Yet over the course of the past year, Trump’s grip on the party hasn’t diminished,” says Politico. “Instead, in critical ways, it remains firm.”
That’s all accurate. Trump took some well-deserved lumps from Republicans for entertaining wild conspiracies about the election. When the president is falsely telling people he’s being robbed of a landslide victory, as Trump did the morning of Jan. 6, people who believe him are going to be more inclined to riot. The GOP’s agreement on that point was near universal, which did dramatically dent Trump’s political capital.
Where the analyses in Politico and elsewhere fail is in understanding why Trump got much of that political capital back. This is not remotely surprising given that corporate media is largely responsible for it.
Only hypocrisy and cynicism, in the eyes of the media, explain why elected Republicans who condemned the riot aren’t echoing the establishment’s obsessive hyperbole about it and haven’t shunned Trump for good. This is a very telling argument.
In the year since Jan. 6, Republicans have remained fundamentally united in their condemnation of the riot. You’d be hard-pressed to find a mainstream conservative willing to endorse or excuse it. Democrats and journalists (to the limited extent those categories are different) have promulgated wild exaggerations and lies, ignored legitimate concerns about the FBI’s involvement, and taken concrete steps to expand the surveillance state.
This doesn’t excuse any falsehoods certain individuals on the right have made about Jan. 6, but the difference is one of scale. The left used Jan. 6 to engage in institutional efforts of remarkable consequence, from revisionism to partisan witch hunts to heightened surveillance.
The socialist left is slightly more clear-eyed about this than corporate media’s parade of neoliberal hacks. As a Jacobin article explained, “What we’ve gotten instead is the one thing — the only thing — that the Washington establishment and, depressingly, many rank-and-file liberals clearly still believe the country is capable of doing: ramping up the national security state.”
In response to the Capitol riot, the Capitol police have become a national, un-FOIABLE anti-terrorism squad, the FBI has doubled the number of its domestic counterterror agents (and consequently, its domestic terrorism caseload), an explosion of anti-protest laws, and there’s talk of more security state expansion to come. All this, even though none of it would have prevented either the breach of the Capitol (which happened despite copious foreknowledge of what was going to happen among authorities) or the GOP’s attempts to prevent the certification of the election in Congress.
Try and find a clearer example of modern liberalism’s haplessness and inability to respond to structural crises, or its anti-populist strain in action. All the underlying issues that led to January 6 have been left to keep festering, and low-level, rank-and-file Capitol rioters who were accused of little more than trespassing in a government building have been severely dealt with (it would be no good, after all, if failing to punish them ended up inspiring a mass protest that wasn’t centered on bullshit, like universal health care, poverty, or climate change).
Pundits with big audiences on cable networks and social media have explicitly, absurdly claimed Jan. 6 was worse than Sept. 11. Journalists and elected officials lie constantly about what happened on major platforms, from Congress to CNN. They’ve done nothing to address concrete problems identified by investigators that led to the riot. They’ve locked people up unjustly. They’ve used the riot to lump political opponents under the umbrella of domestic extremism and justify weighted surveillance, transferring more power to our corrupt intelligence agencies. They’ve censored accurate information. They’ve ignored evidence of our own government’s involvement.
And now they wonder why Republicans spend more time addressing all of that than treating the riot like Sept. 11. (I was there reporting on the riot. It was not Manhattan in 2001.) They wonder why Republicans warmed back up to Donald Trump, who is actually willing to attack the institutional corruption of the left without hesitation.
The problems with Trump, in the eyes of Republican lawmakers and voters, pale in comparison to the problems with our entire establishment. But that argument, which you’ll hear in bars and churches and PTA meetings outside the Beltway, is exactly what the establishment refuses to understand.