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Try Distancing Yourself From This

As right-wing militants sack the Capitol, Trump’s collaborators try to dodge the blame

Wow. Just, wow.

You think you’ve seen it all, but then a stunning coalition of alternate-reality right-wing militants — from QAnon believers to COVID deniers, Proud Boys to neo-Confederates, gun fetishists to Facebook-poisoned Boomers — wreaks havoc in the Capitol. After weeks and weeks of promising to do just that, egged on by President Donald J. Trump. Who woulda thunk?!?!

Only everyone with at least two neurons still flickering in their melted brains. A category which, apparently, excludes a large chunk of GOP “leadership.” I use scare quotes because their strategy since November is to placate a demographic that wants nothing less than dictatorship.

Now, could these wet lumps of old cheese have done anything to prevent the violence and revolt that has come to their own doorstep? Like, say, publicly accept that Joe Biden won the 2020 election? Or at least not attempt to discredit this result for as long as humanly possible? Or simply tamp down the insurrectionary rhetoric until a peaceful transition of power had been achieved?

Those choices might have made a slight difference, but the abdication of such duties tells us that they already knew the MAGA mob was beyond their control. Republicans with ambitions of continued or higher office didn’t dare contradict the god-king Trump and risk alienating that base. Instead, they flattered the conspiracy theorists and floated the concept of an illegitimate Biden administration that would have to be countered by the force of patriots.

The scramble to distance themselves from the explosive movement now is absurd; for days we have seen the zealots traveling to Washington, D.C., and making it perfectly clear that theirs was not to be a docile demonstration. In online forums, they have long spoken of sacrificing their lives to the cause in a confrontation of historic scale. The time to speak against the fascists was months and years ago. If you constantly urge your constituents to arm themselves, if you defend and even valorize the white nationalists who have committed terrorism on domestic soil and if you persuade them the very existence of a rival political party is an apocalyptic threat, in due course they will perform the bloody task you have set out for them — a seizure of the state.

And yet… and yet. The sniveling ghouls who got us here are acting as if they can prevail upon the better angels of the rioters they emboldened. Their desperate Twitter pleas for calm and civility — the “law and order” that conservatives have always claimed to value amid their corruption and incitements to brutality — are far-too-late acknowledgements that the GOP establishment was delegitimizing the system for the purposes of media theater. Trump and his loyalists, meanwhile, have forever taken the literal approach: Burn it all down, for real.

The mistake, not a new one by any stretch, is to assume you can harness the momentum of the demagogue without helping him realize his great design, in this case the collapse of federal government. Biden is full of shit when he says “the scenes at the U.S. Capitol do not represent the true America.” We are seeing, rather, the toxic id of the nation throwing a wild tantrum.

Whenever the Republican members of Congress emerge from their secure locations, shaken by this brush with the furious, nihilistic rage they kept feeding or excusing as Trump tightened his grip on their futures, they will once more denounce the attack on American values, the intolerable subversion of the ruling class. Give it another day, though, and I’ll bet they start beating the war drums again. More than any policy or moral principle, this lust for carnage is their platform — so long as they aren’t the targets of it. The vulnerable and dispossessed, the sick and struggling and marginalized citizens they’re supposed to represent, all those groups may be crushed for their gain, otherized and oppressed for the comfort of reactionary white voters.

Only by directly menacing the elites can far-right fanatics cross a line that provokes the disapproval we’ve seen from the cowardly likes of Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham today. Popular resentment is a formidable weapon, but it is not precise, and at this point, Trump himself has waning influence over it. All he can really do is watch it on TV.

His allies in Washington, too, are somewhat paralyzed, without the means to defuse the bomb they helped him plant. Whatever they say going forward — short of profound apologies and resignation letters — is sure to be a pathetic whitewash of their complicity. Never take it for less than an insult. We saw what they were working toward, and they cannot hope to sell their surprise at the climax. A change of heart means nothing when your every word is hollow.