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The unlearned lessons of Jan. 6, 2021

A year ago last week, Americans were appalled by the sight of a violent mob storming Capitol Hill on the day that the Electoral College votes from the 2020 election were counted.

The events of Jan. 6, 2021, were a disgrace. As I wrote then, “there can be no rationalizing or excusing what happened.” Any effort to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power between the political parties by extra-legal means is unacceptable. Those who took part in this shameful episode deserve to be punished for breaking the law.

But it is painfully obvious that few lessons have been learned from it or the events that preceded it.
They could have provided the nation with an object lesson about the consequences of a bifurcated political culture. All too many Americans have come to see people with opposing views as enemies who cannot be credited with good motives.

Yet, rather than seek to step back from the brink, both sides of the partisan divide have doubled down on their suspicions, creating even more animosity and hate.

Sadly, some of the groups that can reasonably claim to speak for large portions of American Jewry are part of this problem.

The Jan. 6 anniversary stoking the tribal culture that passes for normal political discourse these days. In the hours and days after the Capitol riot, it might have been possible to start the healing. But that’s not what happened. Blame belongs to both sides.

While those who believe the 2020 results deserved to be challenged had a right to be heard, by Jan. 6 the outcome was decided. They should have at that point stood down and begun the important job of acting as the loyal opposition to the incoming administration.

Former President Donald Trump should have done more, before, during and after the riot to calm down his followers. He needed to strongly condemn without reservation what happened following the Washington rally he had addressed — not only afterward. Having helped to rile up his followers, it was his responsibility to do everything he could to prevent what happened.

But the reason why Jan. 6 has become yet another point of contention between the two political camps goes deeper than Trump’s mistakes. It extends to the behavior of his opponents of the previous four years.
Democrats, who took control of both houses of Congress and the White House in January, 2021, ensured that the following 12 months would see the chasm between the parties grow.

The riot was inflated by Democrats into something that to all appearances and available evidence it was not: an actual “insurrection” or attempted coup d’état by Trump and the Republicans.

Even many Republicans who condemned Trump in the aftermath of Jan. 6 have become convinced that the Democrats’ claims that democracy is at stake isn’t merely partisan hyperbole but an effort to gaslight the nation into believing that the GOP is a proto-authoritarian party.

What is more, they see the Democrats as advocating policies and behaving in a manner that is either complicit in or actively engaged in an attempt to suppress their political opponents.

Over the course of the last year, every sign of truculent conservative opposition to the Biden administration or to woke leftist doctrines — whether a coded refrain of contempt for President Joe Biden (“Let’s Go Brandon”) or the resistance to critical race theory — has been labeled as more evidence of an ongoing “insurrection.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland has mobilized the Dept. of Justice to begin federal investigations into such “insurrectionists.” Those who claim to defend democracy may think they need to destroy it in order to save it.

That Democrats portray political squabbles as an extension of the riot is bad enough. Their claims that it is the moral equivalent of the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter or as bad as, if not worse than, the 9/11 attacks — articulated by Vice President Harris in her speech at the anniversary ceremony — illustrate this problem.

When even a moderate group like the Democratic Majority for Israel spoke of the riot as a broad “plot to destroy America” shows how the discussion has escalated.

All this sinks any hope of consensus about what happened or what it meant.

So do the actions of the House of Representatives Jan. 6 Committee. Speaker Pelosi denied the Republicans the right to name their own members to serve as the voice of the minority.

The attempt to implicate the entire Trump administration, congressional Republicans and Fox News personalities in an event in which they had no discernible part has become a McCarthyesque witch hunt.
Consider the hypocrisy. The committee wants to characterize the legal stratagems devised by Trump supporters to prevent Biden from taking office as criminal. However, four years earlier, some Democrats openly considered, though ultimately rejected, the same thing.

Far from uniting the country behind a platform of healing and a return to constitutional norms, the target seems to be not so much Trump but his voters and all Republicans.
The problem didn’t start on Jan. 7, 2021. A few months earlier, there were hundreds of instances of violence and looting in American cities, an aftermath of Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Those “mostly peaceful” riots also involved attacks on police officers and public buildings. But most of the same people who have bemoaned the “insurrection” on Jan. 6 rationalized or even applauded those earlier riots.

Isn’t a riot a riot?

Trump’s appalling efforts to treat Biden’s win as solely the result of election fraud followed on the heels of years of some Democrats and media outlets promoting other conspiracy theories about Russia collusion — the aim of which was to delegitimize the 2016 election results.

Isn’t a delegitimation a delegitimation?

That some Democrats spoke of themselves and behaved as if they were the “resistance” to the Trump administration, rather than a loyal opposition, influenced what would follow.

The conspiracies floated by some Trump backers about voter fraud in 2020 were detached from reality, but that doesn’t mean the presidential contest was contested fairly.

Big Tech companies and mainstream media outlets did their best to tilt the election toward Biden, silencing discussions of reports that exposed scandals about his family’s activities, influencing the outcome, even if the election wasn’t stolen.

Mainstream liberal Jewish groups are part of the drumbeat of incitement about Jan. 6 and the supposed threats to democracy.

Groups like the ADL were right to note the presence of anti-Semites carrying placards and wearing clothing that depicted their hate at the Capitol riot. But they were wrong to justify the partisan hyperbole about Trump and his supporters as complicit in anti-Semitism.

As he had done for years prior and continues to do, ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt accuses Trump of anti-Semitism, and depicts him and his administration as authoritarian in nature.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and other liberal groups also make broad accusations of sedition and treason.

Otherwise respectable Jewish figures such as Holocaust historian and Emory University Prof. Deborah Lipstadt made specious and inappropriate comparisons between Trump and the Nazi era.

None of that makes the Capitol riot any less of a disgrace or excuses the actions of those who took part in it. But it does explain why those who voted for Trump (including the 22-30% of Jews, depending on which poll you believe) largely ignore the rhetoric about insurrection and democracy being in peril.

Here is the worst part:

It is hard to imagine either side accepting defeat in a future election, no matter the margin or which party wins.

Still worse, it’s equally hard to imagine either party lowering the rhetorical heat since they both seem to believe that their opponents are trying to destroy the country and ensure that they will not lose control of the government.

That is a tragedy.

Those Jewish groups that have taken sides in this partisan debate, even if it is veiled in a facade of defending democracy, are part of the reason why this is so.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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