Jan6 - The Pitfalls of Overstating the Case
Overstating a case repulses people from a serious consideration of the very real and concerning facts that should be reckoned with.
There are grains of truth in almost every political narrative. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be popular narratives because no one would believe them. I disagree with much of what President Obama did while in office, but I understand that the public support for “change we can believe in” was rooted in actual realities that compelled many voters. I stood athwart Trumpism from the minute Donald Trump came down the golden escalator and, to this day, work to curb its influence on conservatism and in the Republican Party. But I understand that the populist upswell that swept Trump into office was rooted in legitimate concerns about the direction of the country.
The problem is not the root of reality at the core of most political narratives. It’s everything else built onto that kernel of truth, all the fluff and hyperbole that bends towards histrionics. It’s that, in overstating a case, the aspect of a narrative that’s real, that’s concerning, that should be considered and dealt with, gets overlooked and dismissed as people are repulsed by everything that comes along with it.
Our political culture has become one centered around populism, demagoguery, and unbridled passion and emotions. Both sides are more animated by the desire to “fight” than to engage in the process constructively. And, quite often, “fighting” means that every concern must be dialed up to ten; otherwise, “you’re part of the problem.”
We saw this in 2016. The continuation of Obama’s legacy was a genuine concern for conservatives (such as myself). Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate, and many people were understandably repulsed by the idea of putting the Clintons in the White House again. I think there’s a tremendous case to be made that her election would have been awful for the country.
But Hillary’s election wouldn’t have been the “end of the republic.” Defeating her didn’t call for a “Flight 93 Election.” The conservative movement didn’t need to turn to the likes of Donald Trump to beat her. In fact, and this is connected to my point, turning to someone like Trump weakened the case against Hillary Clinton, and approaching the election with histrionics, with a “fighting” approach, ended up making the election closer than it would have otherwise been.
This example applies to so many other circumstances. We are at a point in our discourse where being calm, measured, and nuanced is considered a weakness. But the reality is the exact opposite. When rhetoric is allowed to run away with the winds of passion and fear, it weakens rather than strengthens the argument. It gives people an excuse to ignore what they could otherwise recognize as real concerns.
I think that, right now, we’re witnessing this dynamic at work when it comes to the January 6th Commission.
There’s no doubt in my mind that January 6th is one of the worst days in the history of the American Republic and definitely the worst day in the history of the Republican Party. I firmly believe that Donald Trump deserved to be impeached for his failure to act in defense of the legislative branch. I agree that what happened was fueled by a cynical effort on the part of Donald Trump to keep power after having lost in a free and fair election. I’m not afraid to characterize what happened that day as an insurrection nor condemn those who fueled it, perpetrated it, and continue to offer excuses for it.
However, I also push back against those who, I feel, are overstating their case. Yes, we were on the cusp of a constitutional crisis, but that doesn’t mean the very existence of our republic, our democracy, hinged on what happened that day. January 6th was uniquely bad, but that doesn’t mean we should smear the strength of the American Union by asserting that a bloviating windbag like Trump and an angry crowd of his hoodwinked acolytes could bring down the greatest country in the history of the world.
I want people to take January 6th seriously. I want Republicans to reckon with what happened on that day. And I want conservatives to take broader steps to distance themselves from the ugliness of what Trumpism has wrought. But I’m greatly concerned that Democrats and their allies are themselves providing obstructions to fully reckoning with what happened.
The Democratic narrative is that Donald Trump had the means, capacity, and will to overturn the 2020 election and stay in power, that what he tried to do nearly destroyed democracy in America, and that if the Republican Party regains Congress this year or if Donald Trump, or someone like him, regains the White House two years from now, that democracy dies.
There are definitely kernels of truth to this. Still, it is clearly overstating the case and quite obviously involves cynical electioneering as the Democrats maneuver to use the tragedy of January 6th to obtain and maintain power. As people see this, it pushes them away from the reckoning we need. It makes it that much easier to ignore the truth of what happened that day and to cling to the confirmation bias coming from elsewhere that allows people to collectively shrug.
David French made a great point yesterday about how anti-anti-Trump bears responsibility for aiding and abetting the Trump con job. Might I also add that pro-anti-Trump also bears responsibility for constantly overstating their case, for defending those who overstate their case, and for refusing to engage in nuance and in the calm, measured rhetoric that could actually change hearts and minds?
If we fail to fully reckon with what happened on January 6th, it won’t just be because too many people shrugged their shoulders. It will also be because too many people set their hair on fire while ignoring the cynical electioneering of their erstwhile allies and while shrugging their own shoulders at other instances of political violence coming from all different corners of the political map.