He Who Shall Not Be Named might be aggressively driving over greens and taking endless mulligans in South Florida, but the rage-addicts he unleashed on the Capitol are unfortunately NOT confined to a relative handful of bellowing horned pelt-wearers, crime-selfie enthusiasts and would-be lynch mob participants. We’re stuck not only with at least some of the coup-fomenters in Congress but also tens of millions of people who sympathize with the insurrectionists. How do we solve that problem?
Since November 2016, it’s been an article of faith with me that people who traffic in wingnut lies should be confronted. Prior to that, I mostly deflected arguments with wingnut family members by reminding them we had a “no politics” rule at the holiday table. But after that, I started calling them out on their bullshit.
It went about as well as you’d expect. I’m at varying levels of estrangement with some relatives, and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which they think I’m using as an excuse to avoid them. (Confession: they have a point, probably.)
But to shift from family drama to the broader implications of toxic politics, the coup attempt in DC earlier this month signals the possibility of a full-blown insurgency. That it was centered on a ludicrous orange carbuncle who seems to be rapidly fading from relevance shouldn’t blind us to the lesson that millions of our fellow citizens are okay with domestic terrorism as a political tool.
So maybe it’s time to consider other solutions for reconciliation, interpersonally and on a national scale? An article in The Atlantic by Anne Applebaum explores how people in other countries that found themselves coexisting with a violent insurgency coped:
Here’s another idea: Drop the argument and change the subject. That’s the counterintuitive advice you will hear from people who have studied Northern Ireland before the 1998 peace deal, or Liberia, or South Africa, or Timor-Leste—countries where political opponents have seen each other as not just wrong, but evil; countries where people are genuinely frightened when the other side takes power; countries where not all arguments can be solved and not all differences can be bridged. In the years before and after the peace settlement in Northern Ireland, for example, many “peacebuilding” projects did not try to make Catholics and Protestants hold civilized debates about politics, or talk about politics at all. Instead, they built community centers, put up Christmas lights, and organized job training for young people.
If you think that sounds like policymaking to let the passive insurrectionists off the hook after they supported an unforgiveable break with our social and political compact, Applebaum feels you:
I recognize that this is not what everyone wants to hear. Even as I write this, I can hear many readers of this article uttering a collective snort of annoyance. Quite a few, I imagine, feel that, having won the election, they don’t want to pay for a bunch of happy-clappy vaccine volunteers, or new roads in rural America, or mental-health services and life counseling for the MAGA-infected—let them learn to live with us. I can well imagine that, like the Colombians who hate the reintegration of FARC, many will resent every penny of public money, every ounce of political time, that is spent on the seditious minority. Some might even prefer an American version of de-Baathification: track down every last Capitol-riot sympathizer and shame them on social media, preferably with enough rigor that they lose their jobs.
I know how they feel, because I often feel that way too. But then I remember: It won’t work. We’ll wake up the next morning, and they’ll still be there.
She’s not wrong. But I’m still convinced that dropping the argument and changing the subject creates a permission structure in which people who’ve lost touch with facts, reason and reality itself can act out violently or at least tacitly support those who do.
In his inauguration speech, Biden called for unity and said it was the only way forward, but he also explicitly called out the dangerous nature of lies. And don’t lies have to be called out for the truth to prevail? I’m just thinking out loud here, but that concept seems at odds with the approach Applebaum outlines.
As Steve M. said, the real silent majority is the 81 million who elected Biden and Harris without a single fucking boat parade. We’re strong, but I’m not sure we have the combined might to drag the 74 million-member screeching and aggrieved minority down the road to redemption without confronting the lies, and that means NOT dropping the argument and NOT changing the subject.
Maybe January 6 will fade. Maybe a competent administration will get the pandemic under control, revive the economy and see that prosperity and justice are more equitably shared. Maybe that success will beat back the forces of demagoguery and inspire greater civic participation so that the will of the actual majority is more frequently carried out. That is my hope.
Anyhoo, open thread.