I love political journalism, but I always struggle to know exactly what to write in really big historic moments.
For me, personally, the emotional see-saw from watching Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock win Tuesday night to watching a violent mob storm the US Capitol on Wednesday afternoon has been severe.
My mother somewhat randomly knew Andrew Goodman when she was a little kid, and the classic Civil Rights Act alliance between Black and Jewish activists is part of the lore I was raised with. I care about the balance of power in the Senate and the technical details of legislating. But just on a level of symbolism, to me witnessing Ossoff and Warnock campaigning together in the South was a thing to behold — and then they won.
But Wednesday, America’s chickens were coming home to roost.
We know the culpability of Donald Trump.
We know the cynicism of Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.
We know the official who, anonymously, after the election asked The Washington Post “What’s the downside for humoring him?”
Well we know the downside. Terror. Chaos. Injuries.
We also know that while the attempted putsch and continuance in power of Donald Trump will not work, on a tactical level the insurrection did succeed. The mob was able to force members of congress out of their chambers and disrupt the orderly process of government.
This was the National Guard in June:
Apparently on Trump’s orders, they were not on hand today until it was too late. And the US Capitol Police, though present and bravely doing their duty, were not out in sufficient force or with sufficient equipment or rules of engagement to deter or prevent the attack. An attack that, at the end of the day, was mounted by an awfully small group of people who had arrived from outside into a metropolitan area where their political viewpoint is a tiny minority.
Were these insurrectionary tactics to be tried in a place like Augusta, Maine would they be more successful?
This is why there needs to be a vigorous effort to use the extensive available photography to identity as many mob members as possible, arrest them, try them, and punish them. If this goes down in the books as a fun day at the zoo for the people involved, we will see more of it. Especially because given what we know of the partisan makeup of American police forces, the odds will always be that mobs of this sort tend to get kinder treatment than leftwing mobs.
But speaking of which, I do hope that liberals will take the opportunity to reassess their view of the looting and vandalism of this spring and summer.
Very few people on the left actually believed that those riots were useful or politically constructive. But it was considered bad manners in many quarters to actually say this, and there was even a move afoot in some quarters to stigmatize language like “riot” and “looting” and insist that we refer to it instead as merely “unrest.” But that stuff was bad. People got hurt. Budgets were drained. Property was destroyed. And lawlessness tends to beget more lawlessness.
None of that is to excuse the actions we saw today and certainly not to excuse the people at the very highest levels of government who actively encouraged it. But we can all do better in the future.
I do, however, remain convinced that the greatest threat to American democracy does not come from mob violence in the streets but from the structure of our very institutions themselves. There is an excellent chance that if Democrats win the national popular vote by 3 percentage points in 2024 rather than the 4.5 percentage points they got in 2020 that the result will be a GOP trifecta.
That to me is not an acceptable situation.
I understand that Joe Manchin and other red state democrats don’t want to eliminate the filibuster and I understand why. And yet, the best chance this country has to preserve the rule of law and basic freedom in the longer run is to come much closer to making our democratic ideals a reality. Gerrymandering in the House and the state legislatures and the disproportionality of the United States Senate are massive violations of the concepts of legal and political equality that are embedded in our founding documents but have rarely if ever been made real in practice. If they were remedied and we had a system where everyone’s vote counted equally, it’s not as if Republicans would never win. But they would need to try to win on a level playing field, by appealing to a majority of voters. Until that’s the case, we’ll continue to have a party led by the kinds of people who took the kinds of actions that led to today’s catastrophe.
I hope the moderates will reconsider their thinking, and do what has to be done to enact a strong new Voting Rights Act, anti-gerrymandering rules, and the admission of new states.
And I hope that progressives will recognize the overwhelming importance of securing those wins, and be willing to make whatever concessions to the moderates are necessary to make them comfortable with taking those steps. It’s progressives more than anyone else who’ve recognized the danger of the moment we’re in today and have been in for years. But part of recognizing the danger is prioritizing victory. Some issues just aren’t winners, especially given the slanted nature of America’s political geography. And to win — fair and square and without mob violence — is critically important right now. More so than making edgy or self-indulgent statements.
Note that while nobody likes to be told they need to compromise, basically everyone was really excited when Warnock and Ossoff won last night. Neither of them are ideological purists or factional leaders. But they won. They made Mitch McConnell minority leader. They ensured there’d be some accountability for the months of irresponsibility that exploded in the Capitol today. It’s worth recalling that emotion. Winning elections is good. And ultimately winning elections is the only way forward.