Very few days I remember exactly what I was doing when a certain thing happened. I remember what I was doing when I heard on 9/11 that an airplane had flown into the first of the two towers. The days and weeks that followed stand out more clearly in my mind than many others, indelibly etched there by those shocking, traumatic events.
Add today’s attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters to that short list.
Before everything blew up, I was having not my greatest work day — I already cried once — but eventually managed to get on track and start accomplishing some real work. Then one of my coworkers sent me a message saying that protesters had started attacking the Capitol. I turned on NPR.
The rest of the afternoon I mostly spent staring blankly at my desk or unseeingly at my monitors, listening.
I listened to President-elect Biden’s address and felt sad: He called us an honorable people, decent people, people of integrity. I felt sad because he’s right, and the — I’m going to go with insurrectionists, since protester doesn’t accurately capture the behavior exhibited — the insurrectionists attacking the Capitol absolutely saw themselves as honorable people defending democracy. They honestly, truly believe the lies, amplified by Trump and self-serving Republican politicians who want support from Trump’s base, that the election was stolen through the greatest election fraud scheme ever propagated. They honestly, truly believe that they’re putting the good of the country first, rescuing us (whoever us is — people like themselves, I think) from some kind of socialist/liberal/Jewish/non-white/choose-your-bogeyman plot to steal the election and replace the duly elected president (Trump) with a malleable puppet (Biden).
The problem with Biden’s speech was that he assumed we all believed the same facts, and that the insurrectionists were doing this out of malice. I don’t think malice was involved. I think they live in a completely parallel world where Democrat equals Communist (aside: I find it so odd that Communism is a bad guy again. Hello? All Communist countries have failed. Nobody here wants that.) and where Trump equals savior. Let’s not even get into QAnon, deeper conspiracy theories, or Democrats being Satanists who sacrifice and eat babies (!). In this parallel world, it’s possible for officials from seven or more states, possibly in collusion with voting machine manufacturers, to somehow skew the election by millions of votes. These insurrectionists wholeheartedly believe a lie about how the world is. The problem is that belief does not equal truth.
From the outside, they look crazy, maybe evil, maybe dishonorable. But from the inside, their behavior makes complete sense. It reminds me of my grandma who had schizophrenia. Her standing in the corner talking to herself looked pretty nuts. But when asked what she was doing, she said, “Oh, I was having a nice phone call with George,” my grandpa who had died a few years previously. From her perspective, what she did made complete sense. It was just based on a premise of fantasy, and that’s why it seemed crazy to those of us in the real world.
That’s what’s happening with these insurrectionists (I notice that The Atlantic has an article to that effect). They’re basing all their decisions and actions on a fantasy. Starting from there, it all makes sense. I keep thinking, “What would I do if I believed all these lies?” And I conclude that I, too, might be willing to take drastic action.
Then I listened to Trump’s one-minute video. In it, he did eventually — after hours of silence — ask the insurrectionists to stop. But he started off by again sharing the stolen election conspiracy theory, said he loved the insurrectionists and that they were “special people” — and, as a side note, please go home. It was a short video and still altogether too long. Even for 60 seconds, Trump couldn’t avoid spreading conspiracy theories and supporting people who were actively attempting to overturn our democracy. I felt sickened.
If Biden’s speech rested on the hopeful fallacy of belief in a shared narrative, Trump’s video rested on the sandy foundation of utter lies, self-serving narcissism, and disregard for democracy. What a contrast. I don’t know what will happen to Trump for spreading conspiracy theories and inciting violence — probably nothing — but I know January 20 can’t come soon enough for me.
The last thing I’ll say for now, since it’s getting late: Some Republicans “don’t know where this is coming from.” Yet from the moment my coworker said that Trump supporters were storming the Capitol, I was both surprised and unsurprised. This behavior is simply everything they’ve birthed, fostered, and nurtured, all grown up into a huge, terrifying, democracy-killing monster. Lies have consequences. Insurrection is one consequence.
Those cynical, power-hungry politicians jumping on the stolen election bandwagon who say “it won’t hurt to support this; Biden has won and will be president on January 20 regardless of what we do,” have forgotten that there’s more to life than politics. Real people hear them spreading those baseless conspiracy theories and believe they’re true. And this is what we get: Exactly what we deserve.
I can only hope that somehow even the most cynical Republicans, those most willing to sell their souls for a shot at the White House in 2024, have experienced a strong enough dose of reality to wake up to the hazard of this road they’re traveling. We as a nation need to agree on what is real, a foundation of truth, so we can start down Biden’s path of bipartisan reconciliation together. Oh, I hope it’s possible. I hope.