And while I’m on the subject of a Third World country…
Everyone should acknowledge the truth of Chazal’s statement (Avot 3:2) that we should always “pray for the welfare of the government; but for fear of government men would eat each other alive.” It certainly seems that way. When government is perceived as illegitimate and fear of authority dissipates, there is no limit to what mayhem even decent, and certainly indecent, people can perpetrate.
It needs to be underscored that the assault on the Capitol was wrong, despicable, deplorable, and beyond the pale of a civilized society. It does typify what is common in Third World countries. To the extent that President Trump was responsible, he deserves criticism. It doesn’t undo the good that he accomplished in his four years as president, but the leader is responsible for what happens on his watch and especially an assault on the seat of American democracy.
It was inexcusable, which is not to say it was unprecedented. Let’s get real. Democracy is not in danger.
In January 1952, thousands of Israelis surrounded the Knesset to protest the impending negotiations about reparations from Germany. Egged on by an irate Menachem Begin, who urged his supporters to sacrifice their lives along with him, the Knesset chamber filled with tear gas. Lawmakers had to be evacuated. There was pandemonium in the streets. Numerous arrests were made. Democracy in Israel was assumed to be tottering on the brink of collapse. Begin was eventually banned from the Knesset for three months. The talks with Germany began. There are persistent rumors (OK, I can verify it personally) that democracy in Israel survived.
American democracy will not be aborted by several hundred protesters who briefly occupied the Capitol, and once there, had no plan to actually do anything. It was less a revolution than an empty, pointless, but deadly gesture.
In 1932, tens of thousands of outraged veterans descended on the Capitol and squatted on the grounds. This was the Bonus Army, impoverished former soldiers protesting that their pensions in government bonds would not be payable until 1945. In the nadir of the Depression, they needed the money now. They, too, were deemed a grave threat to democracy, although too decorous to actually enter the Capitol building. Following orders, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur directed his soldiers to fire live ammunition at the Bonus Army in order to clear the Capitol. They did. Two veterans were killed, and although democracy endured, this violent act probably cost MacArthur a chance at the presidency. His second-in- command, Dwight Eisenhower, fared better.
We should spare ourselves the apocalyptic talk, most (but not all) of which is politically motivated.
The justified condemnations of yesterday’s protest stand in stark contrast to the tolerance, even celebration by many of yesterday’s critics, of the riots, protests, and looting that swept through American cities this past spring and summer and lasted months. Those riots found enormous support especially among those who detest President Trump. It is a curious stance.
Consistency – intellectual and moral – demands that the black supremacist (BLM) riots of the summer of 2020 warrant the same passionate criticism of the Trump supporter riots of 2021. That it didn’t bears some analysis, and sheds light on the real threats to democracy in America.
Many rabbis and Jewish organizations, livid over the assault on the Capitol, were quite sympathetic, even supportive and some quite enthusiastic about the summer’s devastation in urban America. They saw no real problem, and even downplayed and ignored, the targeted attacks on Jewish businesses and synagogues (in Los Angeles, for example) and were very indulgent of the assaults, the homicides, the looting of hundreds of stores, the arson against homes and workplaces, and the chaos that ensued. They even excused the non-wearing of masks and the nonexistence of social distancing at these riots, holding that racial justice is more important than even protecting life from the ravages of Coronavirus. Some even opined that riots and protests were not contagious because…well, because they are just not.
In essence, these leaders, media personalities, activists and politicians all reasoned that political violence for a worthy cause is commendable if the grievance is construed as legitimate. And now they are shocked when another group asserts the same rights. If the black supremacists, Antifa and their allies were permitted to vent when aggrieved by some perceived violation of their rights, it should not be surprising when whites, supremacists and others, also seek to vent when they are aggrieved by some perceived violation of their rights.
What democracy might not survive is a persistent double standard in society. Few of the black supremacist rioters and Antifa looters were arrested, and of those who were, slightly more than none are being prosecuted. Theirs was a just grievance, apparently. But when millions of Americans have probable cause that there was significant fraud in the recent election, the elites determine that such a grievance is not legitimate. That position will clearly not persuade the offended.
Yet, the black supremacists and the white supremacists are mirror images of each other (the common denominator is that both dislike Jews). Blacks and others who feel targeted by the police and recklessly attacked were offended, and took to the streets, occupying large areas of Seattle, Portland and other cities. Washington DC, for all the hand-wringing and pieties heard yesterday, has been a war zone for months. Americans who feel that the government has taken away their freedoms, businesses, jobs, ability to earn a living, closed its schools to their children and saw their champion, President Trump harassed, harangued, and victimized by phony charges since before he took office and now defeated by fraud (so they say), are also offended.
Once political violence is legitimized at one end of the spectrum, the genie is out of the bottle. Let’s face it – political violence often works. Occupy Wall Street was a favorite cause of President Obama. The summer’s riots changed the election dynamic, was perceived as weakening Donald Trump, and encouraged and (to an extent) funded by Democrats and other left wingers. (Recall, for one example, Amy Klobuchar raising money to bail out rioters.) Arab terror weakened Israel sufficiently that it provoked the disastrous Oslo Accords. Of course, too much violence fails; thus the 2002 war in Israel against the terror infrastructure. Riots in the wrong place at the wrong time (like the Capitol riots) dishearten and disgust even those supportive of the cause. Besides being wrong and criminal, they are also counterproductive. The double standard, though, “violence for thee but not for me,” must surely grate on the protesters.
It is reasonable and proper to denounce political violence as a tool for everyone, and to prosecute anyone who engages in it. Anyone. Period. That should be obvious and those who properly wish to condemn yesterday’s riots while giving a pass to previous riots are misguided and pursuing an agenda. Too many people are afraid to accept this simple reality, and even now hide behind the contention that the Capitol riots are somehow different (because of venue?) and should not be compared to other political violence. That is wrong and short-sighted.
The more serious problem evinced by all these riots is the utter disconnect in America between the common people and the ruling class. It is felt both by the black supremacists (media darlings) and many white Americans (media villains). That will not be easy to heal. The polarization in society is that profound and the mutual contempt of both sides for each other stunning. Each side points to the extremists in the other side and denies the existence of their own. There is no Democrat presently in a leadership position who has the slightest interest in outreach, another Obama legacy. The latest, frivolous impeachment talk, with Trump’s term ending in less than two weeks, demonstrates that what they seek is blood, not harmony. The “threat” to American democracy of the Capitol crimes will grow in the retelling, from riots to insurrection to a coup attempt, and all for a disgraceful scene whose purpose and objectives remain murky. Did the rioters really think Congress would stop tallying the electoral votes? Hard to believe.
What should Trump have done? I doubt that he even suspected that any of his supporters would invade the Capitol. He should have addressed the nation, as follows: “I feel cheated, robbed of an election that I won by all metrics. But no legal recourse has succeeded. I don’t concede but accept the conclusion and will leave office on January 20.” It would be a different world had he said this yesterday, instead of the speech that he gave, which was a terrible miscalculation.
He is best off not attending the inauguration. It would be a gigantic distraction. Neither President Adams did, so did they loathe their successors (Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, respectively). And he completely destroyed his quixotic quest for another term in 2024, and just as well.
What is the way forward? It is not simple. The world has yet to realize the extent of the damage to individuals, families and society of the social media platforms that bring out the worst in people and are addictive. It encourages spontaneous outbursts instead of sagacious deliberations. That has to change.
Fighting for a lost cause is futile and vain; the only lost cause that was ever worth fighting was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The challenge to the Electoral College vote was such a lost cause not worth fighting, even if the primary request for a bi-partisan commission on election integrity is prudent. Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell were wonderful – statesmanlike and forceful – and putting country over party loyalty. Americans could use more of that, less demonizing of the other side, and an end to the political zero sum game that the parties have played for decades.
One indication will be whether yesterday’s appalling acts are seen as aberrations that reflect poorly on the participants and no one else, or are used as a club with which to pound all Republicans for the foreseeable future. I suspect I know the answer to that question.