• February 27, 2021

True American Tragedy of Impeachment: We’ve All Lost Our Minds

 True American Tragedy of Impeachment: We’ve All Lost Our Minds

Glass on the historic door leading onto the House floor of the Capitol remains broken after the January 6 riot. Photo by Matt Laslo

History unfolded in the US Capitol this week, as it always does, though the impeachment trial of an American president is surely more historic than the average history that usually emanates out of the nation’s Capitol. 

Sadly, as is common in Washington these days, this week’s proceedings barely registered with much of America. And depending on your persuasion, it was either justice incarnate — an attempt to right the wrongs perpetrated on former Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, all lawmakers, really, and the staffers and brave officers who risked it all to protect our democracy and the press corps, etc. 

It’s 2021, so one person’s memorable moment is a national disgrace to countless millions of others. To those tens of millions of Americans the impeachment trial itself — just like the first one for Mr. Trump, so the argument goes — has been a gross, unconstitutional abuse of power by Democratic leaders now that they’re the seemingly all-powerful force controlling Washington (for at least the next two years). 

Welcome to this new America — or should I say to these two Americas? We’re all now personally empowered — through apps, subscriptions and screens — to never even hear, let alone listen or believe, any one from another tribe. Thus most of us don’t, and most of us stopped hearing the other long ago. 

The more we’ve cordoned ourselves off from those who think and vote differently than we do, the easier it’s become to pretend the other tribe is filled with sinister, power hungry people who hate America — that they’re the enemy. 

That wasn’t just on display in the violence that engulfed those of us who work in the Capitol, it’s also been clear since the first barricade was torn down, the first (of what eventually became 138) officer was assaulted, the first antique window was shattered, and the first rioter and officer needlessly died. 

As rows and rows and rows of maskless (and antifa is known to wear all black while also covering their often felonious-faces) Trump supporters were in the middle of making their own history at the Capitol, the rumors were already fanning far and wide deflecting any blame directed at the tribe. The still popular fable is that these thousands and thousands of people who descended on the Capitol wearing Trump gear — proudly carrying out what they took as Trump’s own words, hence they read Trump’s tweets and chanted his desires as they rioted in the Capitol’s hallowed halls as reporters and lawmakers alike hid and prepared to defend themselves — were all actually just antifa foot soldiers. 

Half of Republicans, according to the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, now believe the Capitol was raided by antifa on Jan. 6. Which is odd because the vast majority of the more than 250 people the FBI’s arrested so far (they say they’re still looking for or investigating more than 100 other suspects) are proud Trump supporters. That includes the five latest members of the Proud Boys — a group Canada now lists as a terrorist organization — who were arrested just yesterday, and two members of Boogaloo Bois, a group Trump’s own former attorney general, William Barr, labeled domestic extremists because they advocate for a new American civil war. 

Other marauders don’t seem to have ties to extremist groups, even as many others do, though they still joined in the melee, like stealing Speaker Pelosi’s laptop or a book on Senate procedure from an actual senator after chugging a stolen bottle of wine. And they aren’t shy about their devotion to Trump.  

“He’s winning the election when I go to sleep and then I wake up and, somehow, he’s magically losing now?” New Hampshire resident Jason Riddle told NBC10 Boston of why he came to Washington on the 6th

Riddle is a veteran and says he joined in the mayhem because he saw others break in and he wanted to see for himself — to be a part of history as it unfolded.

Still, he also decries the other Trump supporters who attacked officers, broke windows, and destroyed property, even as others hunted for lawmakers and journalists, some of whom they assaulted

“Those psychopaths going around breaking things and hurting people can rot in hell,” Riddle continued in his NBC Boston interview.  

Why is it so hard for tens of millions of his fellow Trumplicans to believe him? He was a witness. And he served this nation in the military. He’s offering his testimony to his own party about who he says are“psychopaths” that he not only doesn’t want to be associated with. He also doesn’t want his Republican Party to be associated with those elements of Trump’s base who he sincerely seems to want to “rot in hell” for eternity. 

You wouldn’t know voices like that were in the riot if you tuned in to most conservative media outlets since the unprecedented siege of the nation’s first branch of government. Conservatives media outlets pivoted away from what was until recently an incomprehensible attack on the heart of American freedom almost as soon as the National Guard regained control of the Capitol. 

Even with a historic Senate trial underway, last night during prime time, Fox News just mostly dunked on early reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) endangered some of his elderly citizens lives and then lied about it to the federal government. After dunking on Cuomo, hosts would then turn most all their rhetorical rounds towards the disgusting allegations against John Weaver of the Lincoln Project — a “rabid anti-Trump cabal,” Sean Hannity dubbed the group of anti-Trump Republicans last evening. 

But when your currency is fiery rhetoric, there’s always someone who will go a step further, even in Hannity’s case, as was on display when Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce joined the segment.  

“Those psychopaths going around breaking things

and hurting people can rot in hell”

Jason Riddle

“This could explain, Sean, the frenzy of the establishment of these kinds of Republicans that were out of their mind trying to stop Trump for unknown reasons, this perhaps explains it,” Bruce told Hannity. “Trump would be the one who wouldn’t put up with this, and we’re seeing the same thing with Cuomo and the death rates in the nursing homes, this bizarre obsession.”

What did she say? Words strung together by other words, and allegations that have nothing to do with each other — that is, unless your tribal lenses no longer are capable of distinguishing truth from fiction. Then one allegedly horrible scandal is the same as a completely different allegedly horrible scandal, because the scandal in Foxland is Democrats.

That’s right, Democrats are the Alpha and the Omega of scandals in conservative circles. That’s how “AOC” is now synonymous with “Joe Biden” to some 74 million Americans, even if the two come from opposite sides of a diverse party and who maintain utterly different agendas, styles and even bases of support within said party. 

With impeachment in the air, host Laura Ingraham devoted her opening monologue and first interview to the trial. Well, not exactly to the trial — the formal procedure where evidence is presented and a case is made — rather, she just unleashed the tu quoque, or the appeal to hypocrisy, fallacy on unsuspecting viewers. It’s basically summed up as: Two wrongs make a right. Hear it for yourself. 

“Democrats have, once again, undermined their own efforts. Did any Democrats show remorse for the violent inauguration protests they fomented with their language?” Ingraham asked herself. “And what about the Democrats who openly supported and encouraged Black Lives Matter? Are they sorry for all the destruction and the fallout from all of that?” 

The host then welcomed Trump’s last former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to pound the point home.

“This president, throughout the summer continued to…stand on the side of law enforcement, as he does tonight,” the former North Carolina congressman told Ingraham. 

That was a curious item for Meadows to go out of his way to hammer home. Earlier in the evening, The New York Times dropped a deep dive into all the carnage US Capitol Police and DC Metropolitan Police endured at the hands of the mob who attended Trump’s rally on Jan. 6 before savagely ransacking the Capitol and attacking and injuring more than 138 officers.  

“One officer lost the tip of his right index finger. Others were smashed in the head with baseball bats, flag poles and pipes. Another lost consciousness after rioters used a metal barrier to push her into stairs as they tried to reach the Capitol steps during the assault on Jan. 6,” Michael S. Schmidt and Luke Broadwater reported for the Times. “She tried to regroup, but blacked out while making an arrest hours later. Doctors determined she had a concussion.” 

Why wasn’t Meadows praising — and why hasn’t Trump praised — those officers for sacrificing their very lives and actual limbs? They don’t seem to be able to see those officers any longer: Those officers — like us reporters, Hill employees, staffers and lawmakers themselves — are now all forgotten, because our stories are just that to millions — mere tainted or skewed tales (even if we all have videos and evidence backing up our claims). Why even discuss the potential of culpability — even regret or sorrow — when you don’t have to and can just talk about the sins so evident in your opponents? 

The answer is simple: You don’t. That’s no longer the Washington way. 

On the other side of the great information divide sits Democrats who are also wrestling with what to believe in the aftermath of the attack: reality or distortions? As Phillip Bump of the Washington Post pointed out this week, a full 90% of Democrats believe Trump personally urged the mob to sack the Capitol. 

“That’s not accurate, either,” Bump writes, “but there is more evidence that Trump prompted the violence at the Capitol than that antifa did. This, after all, is the focal point of the impeachment trial that is underway in the Senate.” 

We’ve all been guilty — or are guilty now — of falling into this trap of accepting talking points, insinuations and/or myths as articles of faith. Sometimes we just assume the worst possible — and often only the worst — from political opponents merely in our minds. Other times we stick our proverbial feet in our electronic mouths and share a misleading, or simply unverified article, on social media or we retweet a baseless claim because it feels possible. 

We’re better, or should be better, than giving in to a mere warm and fuzzy feeling. We’d all feel more at home and less on edge in America, if we merely closed our mouths and sat on our fingers more while we patiently await facts — those tangible ideas that can be verified, and also disproven, through studies, research documents and interviews — and actual evidence to come to light. 

It likely seems quaint, but there’s power in patience — because there’s necessarily wisdom amassed during the wait, even if that means you forfeit being first. Because as you wait you should also be reading, studying, exploring, questioning and just listening. 

You may not trust me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t listen to you. 

Maybe it’s born out of selfishness, but you have a lot to teach me, and I truly want to learn from you — hell, from anyone.

I always tell my MA and BA students: If you want to be a smart conservative, read smart liberals. Same for smart liberals: you need to understand smart conservatives. 

Iron sharpens iron. Sadly, in today’s America(s) we seem to have run out of iron. That’s why tensions are perpetually high and why many experts fear that we’re on the verge of witnessing those passions boil over again, because everyone keeps talking to themselves or merely listening to their own tribe; even though we all just need to learn to dialogue, or even truly and honestly debate, one another again. 

If we don’t, history will surely pass us all by, because there will be no more US. 

Matt Laslo

Based in Washington, Matt Laslo is a veteran political and music reporter. Since 2006, he’s been a contributor with VICE News, VICE News Tonight HBO, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, The Atlantic, NPR, etc. He’s taught journalism at Boston University (MA) and The University of Maryland (BA). And he teaches political communications at The Johns Hopkins University MA in Government and Public Policy program. He can be found on most all social media platforms as @MattLaslo.

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