A line in the sand

A lot of words ran through my head Wednesday as hooligans breached the Capitol: Sedition and insurrection among them. A few I won’t repeat. I’ve become quite fond of “putsch,” it has a certain fitting Germanic flair.

But I’ve held off putting into words my reaction to the events of that day. Far more of a hothead in my youth, I’ve learned over the years to wait and let cooler heads prevail, even when that head might be my own. 

Looking back now, with the benefit of time, I realize my primary reactions are anger and sadness. 

The sadness, that was personal — an attack on my home. Not the “people’s house,” words many in the media have bandied about. My home.

Of all the places I have lived, I have three where I have spent a significant portion of my life. One is my birthplace — southeastern Pennsylvania. Another is the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and surrounding area. In between, for two years of college and several more in the early 2000s, it was the District of Columbia. While I may not be able to lay a claim as strong as those who were born and raised there, it’s still home to me.

It often comes as a surprise to some that the District even has residents. I’ve heard all sorts of things in my time. People who live there remain residents of their home states. They are residents of Virginia or Maryland. The always hilarious idea that D.C. residents live tax-free — officials put that idea to rest the first time they send you a tax form longer than a 1040. Or simply that no one lives there at all, it’s just government buildings.

In reality, D.C. is a vibrant community. A multicultural delight of restaurants, arts and music, entertainment and sports. It is largely walkable with-wide open boulevards and park-like traffic circles. Typically, residents can even live their lives free of the carpetbaggers who descend on them every four to eight years.

One of the things you learn is to avoid the disruptions marches and protests bring. We understand the government is a mess, we have a front-row seat, and nothing is more American than protesting. Your right to free speech. To raise your voice if you aren’t heard. We’re good with all that, so long as you stand on the correct side of the escalator, don’t make us late and you demonstrate peacefully.

But whether on the streets of Portland or the nation’s capital, when you abandon peaceful protest for violence, you cross a line. When you incite people to commit violence, you have become a terrorist. Causing damage to property, livelihoods, injuring or taking lives is unacceptable, and needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

Those on the right labeled many of the protestors who turned violent this summer “looters and rioters.” Well, what we saw Wednesday was looting and rioting in the guise of patriotism. We are a nation of laws — that can’t be ignored and then reapplied when convenient.

That’s my anger. For far too long we have allowed vocal, extreme minorities of the population on all sides to dominate the conversation. This time, a group of self-proclaimed “patriots,” whipped up into a frenzy by people who should have known better or just didn’t care, took it upon themselves to try to upend the Constitution based on claims of a widespread election fraud they haven’t been able to back up. 

You couldn’t call it unexpected. Trump had lost the popular vote in 2016 against a far more controversial candidate than Joe Biden. He spent the last four years alienating many who took the risk on an untried, morally corrupt personality. And despite a trove of evidence, Trump and his supporters seem unable to comprehend that as much as they love him, it was possible that just as many — or more — despised him enough and were fed up enough, to turn out and vote for his opponent. Even Joe Biden.

Rather than trying to appeal beyond his base, highlight the accomplishments of his four years in office, and build a solid voting block, Mr. Trump and his surrogates instead began selling fraud theories to anyone who would listen months before the election. He was so intent to disrupt mail-in balloting, he sabotaged the postal service to a point that Christmas gifts are still sitting in warehouses and bills are being delivered late.

In the wake of the election, to back up their claims, Team Trump promised bombshells. It delivered whimpers. Hearsay, “witnesses” — liars who folded like a deck of cards — and crackpot theories rife with slander. 

Of the 62 election lawsuits Team Trump brought, 61 were failures. Many of those decisions came from Trump-appointed judges, all the way up to the Supreme Court, where despite three fresh Trump appointees and 6-3 conservative majority, Team Trump was 0-2. And it wasn’t even a close-run thing.

Put simply, there is no “there” there. It would have been a helluva lot easier to find frauds by looking in the mirror.

Rejected by the courts, Team Trump took to trying to overturn the results of the election by any means possible, Constitution be damned. No surprise, Trump has never had much use for the Constitution, but sadly, he was aided and abetted by a number of members of Congress. If not for a vice president who took his oath seriously and a Democratic majority in the House, this affair may have ended quite differently. 

We shouldn’t be shocked by the shortcomings of our politicians. Pandering is a survival instinct. Those with presidential aspirations — however far-fetched — want to position themselves as the heir apparent. 

Those who have no such desires rue the devil’s bargain they made in 2016, when, fearful they had no one to counter the Clinton express after Jeb Bush’s faceplant, they suddenly found themselves gifted with a candidate who could deliver untapped voters. No matter he was the antithesis of the values the party had espoused for a quarter of a century. 

Morals may once have mattered and character used to count, but the smell of those judicial appointments was too much to refuse, and a good many evangelicals and conservatives abdicated the high ground. Until last week, they almost got away with it.

Only now, at the end, do some of them seem to understand the true nature of that bargain. They are aligned with the likes of the “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt-clad revolutionaries, Proud Boys, neo-nazis, whack-a-doo pedophile conspiracy theorists, people who can’t pass a rope without tying it into a noose and those who get their instructions beamed into their tin foil hats direct from the moronosphere.

Cooler heads must prevail. While the activist fringes seemingly have nothing better to do than be preached at by their preferred partisan echo chambers on a nightly basis, it falls to the rest of us to maintain some semblance of civilized order. The ones who actually paid attention in class. The ones they dismiss as establishment or elitist for bothering to think rather than react to primal urges. 

There was a popular cartoon a few years back that popped back into my mind this week. It featured a patriotic looking fellow in a tricorne hat holding a small elephant and donkey by the tail. Supposedly, he was delivering the country back to “the people.” It got a few things wrong.

This isn’t about parties, they are bit players in this affair. This new breed loves to refer to the establishment as RINOS — Republicans in name only. But make no mistake, the Republicans in name only are this new breed. They are only dedicated to a party so long as it suits their needs, and certainly not its professed principles. I see little on the far left that convinces me their fringes see it any differently. The parties are tools — a means to an end. 

The revolutionists, insurrectionists, so-called “patriots” and fringe elements on the extremes that want to burn it all down are the ones looking for the ass kicking. The good news is, we wear the boots. When someone has the audacity to appoint themselves a “patriot” or defender of “the people,” ask them who they mean. Ten will get you twenty it ain’t you.

This time the Constitution held, and we should be rightly impressed by the strength of that document. But what about next time? Imagine a similar situation in which both the legislative and the executive branches were in the hands of one party? Who do we trust to protect its integrity? “A republic, if you can keep it,” Ben Franklin is supposed to have said. A republic is a fragile thing, isn’t it?

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley recently pointed out that our military is unique in that it doesn’t take an oath to a king, queen, tyrant, dictator, individual, tribe or religion, but to the Constitution. We don’t anoint our leaders, we elect them. Their powers are not handed to them by divine right. They are fellow citizens — our equals — entrusted to lead us for a limited time and fully accountable to the Constitution and eligible to be fired.

Lines are being drawn in the sand, and the extremists assume we’re all too distracted or brow-beaten to do anything. We can no longer afford to be silent or remain on the sidelines. 

I know where I stand, do you?