Lies, Patriotism, and Consequences

Policy

Trump loyalists gather at the U.S. Capitol on the fateful day of January 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg / Reuters)

There have always been coat-and-tie Marxists, who would never get their hands dirty — who would never smash heads themselves — but who encourage it in others, to one degree or another. Obviously, there are such characters on the right, too.

I know of a man — an eminent scientist — who said that, after 9/11, there was really nothing to do: because all 19 of the perpetrators were dead. Those 19, and only those 19, were responsible for the atrocities.

Daniel Hannan has written a column with a stark heading: “Donald Trump is guilty of treason: political violence in a democracy is never justifiable.” And the subheading: “This was not some unforeseeable reaction by a few hotheads — it was the logical culmination of what Trump had been pushing for.”

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Every line of Dan’s column is to be absorbed, as far as I’m concerned, but I especially appreciate his quotation of Lincoln: “Must I shoot a simple soldier boy who deserts, but not touch a hair on the head of the wily agitator who induced him?”

• John Kelly, one of Donald Trump’s former chiefs of staff, said last Thursday, “What happened on Capitol Hill yesterday is a direct result of his poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the fraud.”

Another of Trump’s former chiefs of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said, “People took him literally. I never thought I’d see that.”

Unbelievable.

David Frum has written an important essay called “The Conservative Cult of Victimhood.” “The words did not mean anything to the cynics who spoke them,” he writes, “and so they found it difficult to imagine that the words might mean anything to those who heard them.”

Yes.

• In a post on Friday, I wrote of patriotism. The Capitol Hill insurrectionists called themselves “patriots,” and so did their supporters who did not themselves riot and terrorize. The Trump ralliers in general called, and call, themselves “patriots.”

Repeatedly, Trump speaks of “the 75 million great patriots who voted for me.” Are we sure that all 75 million are “great patriots”? How about Americans who voted for another candidate? Any patriots among them? Or are the Trump voters the only patriots in the country?

In the run-up to January 6, Charlie Kirk, the young Republican leader, tweeted, “The historic event will likely be one of the largest and most consequential in American history. The team at @TrumpStudents & Turning Point Action are honored to help make this happen, sending 80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president.”

I hope that, in years to come, the term “patriots” can be rescued from its abusers.

Over the weekend, I noticed the Twitter bio of a prominent person on the right. She has “Patriot” in there. It occurred to me: Genuine patriots (as I see them) seldom call themselves “patriots.” They don’t advertise themselves as “patriots.” They just are.

If you have to call yourself a “patriot,” over and over — thumping your chest — maybe you’re not so much?

Increasingly, I am wary of people who wear American-flag lapel pins, and, even worse, crosses. I would rather they simply acted patriotic or Christian.

• Some of the insurrectionists and rioters carried American flags — which was outrageous. Others carried Trump flags and Confederate flags — which was fitting.

Incidentally, have we ever had flags with presidents’ names on them before? The country is lousy with Trump flags. I believe this is a new phenomenon.

• Many on the right say that Antifa committed the violence on Capitol Hill, not Trump loyalists. This is sad, among other things. Have you seen the videos of the mayhem? If Antifa impersonated a Trump mob, they should win some kind of Oscar. They got everything right: the look, the talk, the paraphernalia — the vibe.

A few years ago, our David French was being deluged with abuse and threats by Trump “super-fans.” (It has never stopped.) A reader kept telling me, “It can’t be Trump supporters, it must be liberals, pretending to be Trump supporters, in order to make Trump supporters look bad.”

There is a great, great willingness to believe.

• Lauren Boebert is one of the GOP’s new QAnon congressmen. On January 6, Boebert tweeted, “Today is 1776.” In truth, a lot closer to 1861.

• Some people have asked me, “How has the Trump era changed you?” For one thing, it has made me a lot more conservative — not in the Fox-and-talk sense, but in an older, Burkean one. Most of the radicalism in me has been snuffed out.

One of the GOP’s new congressmen, Madison Cawthorn, said, “I want a new generation of Americans to be radicals.”

Well, to hell with that.

You like “disruption”? You like “norm-breaking”? We saw a lot of disruption and norm-breaking last week. Often, norms exist for a reason. And if you choose to “disrupt” — you better be sure you are wise and just.

• Over the years, some Trump advocates have said that anti-Trump conservatives object to Trump merely on stylistic grounds. Allegedly, we don’t like his Queens accent, or the way he sips his tea or whatever. We think he ought to stick his pinkie out or something.

(I’ve always said that the Queens accent is one of the things I like about Trump. I liked the way he pronounced the name of his second wife, Marla: “Mawla.”)

Evidently, Trump watched the riot unfold on Capitol Hill with great interest. Here is one morsel from an article by Olivia Nuzzi, of New York magazine:

[An] adviser told me that Trump expressed disgust on aesthetic grounds over how “low class” his supporters looked. “He doesn’t like low-class things,” the adviser said. . . .

On Twitter, our Ramesh Ponnuru commented, “For those of us who have been told for 5 years that our objections to Trump are aesthetic and snobbish, this is too perfect.”

• Trump likes to use the term “human scum.” Here he is in October 2019:

The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats. Watch out for them, they are human scum!

Scum, like beauty, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder.

• Trump has been barred from Twitter, at least for now. I think of something that Roger Scruton wrote in 2017:

This extraordinary person, whose thoughts seem shaped by their very nature to the 140 characters of a tweet, makes no distinction between the true and the false and assumes that no one else makes such a distinction either.

• In the last few days, there has been an avalanche of anti-Trump pieces by conservatives. I can’t help wishing they had been dribbled out, so to speak, over four or five years.

• I have been thinking of Susan Sontag. In 1982, she kicked up a huge fuss on the left by saying, among other things, this:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

In the same spirit, I ask: Who delivered more truth about Trump and Trumpism? The “NeverTrump” “hysterics” or mainstream, organized conservatism?

• When the Soviet archives opened up, Robert Conquest revised and expanded his 1968 book, The Great Terror. His friend Kingsley Amis suggested a title for the new version: “I Told You So, You F***ing Fools.”

• I am grateful for writers such as Mona Charen, Jonah Goldberg, and David French. They stood in there when it mattered a lot, and they endured torrents of abuse. They made the rest of us feel less alone.

That is one gift a writer (of any stripe) can give: to make a reader feel less alone. Trumpers have such writers, progressives have such writers — we all do.

I have known Bill Kristol since the mid-’90s, when I worked for him. I had admired him even before that, when he was a pup in the Reagan administration. He is his own man, come hell or high water. If I were president — LOL — I’d hang the Medal of Freedom around Bill’s neck.

(For a post I’ve just written on the subject — Medals of Freedom — go here.)

• Last week, our Kevin D. Williamson wrote,

“This isn’t who we are as Americans,” the president-elect insisted. Yes, old men are entitled to their delusions, but the rest of us are not obliged to share them. Biden could not be any more wrong: This is exactly who we are as Americans.

We must not normalize Donald Trump!” A hundred thousand variations on that sentence have been published in the past four years. It is a stupid sentence. Donald Trump does not require normalization. He is as normal as diabetes, as all-American as shooting up your high school.

In October, I had an Impromptus column headed “A remark for the ages, &c.” The opening item read like this:

As Game 5 of the NBA Finals ticked to a close, Danny Green, of the Los Angeles Lakers, had a winning shot — but missed it. After the game, he and his fiancée received death threats.

Commenting on this during Game 6, Mark Jackson said, “We’re better than that, as a people.” His fellow commentator, Jeff Van Gundy, said, “I’m not sure we’re better than that.”

Have you ever heard such a cold-eyed remark? On television? It is one for the ages, I think.

I also think of Bill Parcells, the legendary NFL coach: “You are what your record says you are.”

• On January 6, Trump commented on the insurrectionist violence at the U.S. Capitol. The president tweeted, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.”

I believe that those words deserve to live in infamy.

• Like you, probably, I believe in consequences. In fact, that was one of the attractions of conservatism, for me: The conservatives of that time believed in consequences — for wrongdoing, in particular. “Personal responsibility” was a byword. That seems a million years ago.

In a months-long campaign of lies, Donald Trump and his allies whipped up an insurrectionist mob, which interrupted our democratic process and shed blood. For the sake of political hygiene, for the sake of national honor — and to deter would-be authoritarians in the future — there must be consequences.

Will there be? I doubt it, and I hope I’m wrong.

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