Reality came calling loud and hard into the cavernous marble hallways of the U.S. Capitol last week as a mob of Trump supporters violently overtook the building and went on a terrifying rampage that left five people dead in its wake and has led to hundreds of arrests.
But as the reality born of too many conspiracies materialized in the form of militant Trump supporters who had come to Washington not to simply protest the vote certification, but were there to confront, harm and possibly kill members of Congress, as they chanted “Hang Pence”, mainstream Republicans were no doubt disturbed and becoming deeply divided over what they were seeing.
That’s the point. The Capitol assault revealed there is a growing divide between what had been the traditional Trump/Republican voter and a radicalized Trump base. This is a portion of the party that is increasingly willing to not only absorb lies and conspiracy theories that have percolated on social media and are often advanced by Trump, but fully believed on January 6, he was instructing them to go the Capitol and literally “fight back”.
I will not join those who have done a broad stroke condemnation of any and all Trump supporters and have relished the chance to point out the guy’s darker character traits, racist dog whistles, vengeful tendencies and all the rest were there in plain sight from the beginning and shame on you for going along with it and look where this has ended up. I get that there’s an impulse to do that.
Yet how a portion of a movement of 74 million voters went from “Make America Great Again” to the terrifying insurrection at the Capitol is more complicated to explain than it looks.
It’s understandable that many feel disillusioned now because the president they associated with jobs, getting tough on trade for the benefit of American workers, support for small business expansion and tax relief, which all occurred prior to the troubled pandemic response, is now seen as the president who incited a riotous mob on the U.S. Capitol and may well go out impeached and convicted.
But there’s plenty of hypocrisy being seen in this moment, too.
Corporate America is ready and eager to move far away from both Trump and the Republican members who plotted to challenge the vote certification and vow to cut off PAC donations.
Yet the corporations didn’t have a problem with Trump’s rhetoric and behavior when they were benefiting greatly from the policies. The CPA firms, banks and conglomerates across the board favored the Trump years, especially passage of the 2017 tax reform bill. Their massively reduced tax obligations dwarf whatever benefit the tax cut brought a modestly earning middle class taxpayer from Bristol County, for example, who may have been a Trump voter.
Likewise, the big tech firms, and specifically the roles their social media platforms play in the nurturing and amplification of the dangerous conspiracy theories and calls to radical behavior, is part of how we got here. The posts, private message boards and Twitter feeds shared by many members of the far-right radical groups who participated in the rampage did not come together a few weeks ago. They represent a lot of “traffic” and clicks that translate into advertising money and profits and the dominant platforms resisted calls to curb, censure or remove the more inflammatory feeds or group pages for a long time.
It’s notable that Twitter, which benefited from Trump’s inappropriate and increasingly conspiratorial tweets that were absorbed by 80 million followers, decides that now that Trump is leaving the stage for good, it’s time to shut down the account.
GOP voters have to embrace this moment as the chance to choose reality over conspiracies and not be timid to condemn the parts of the party that don’t reflect their values.
It’s unfortunate the statewide GOP dodged the chance recently to go in a new direction when the votes for state Rep. Shawn Dooley of Norfolk for chairman fell short.
Abraham Lincoln’s party, which stood for supporting the hallmark of American democracy — the peaceful transfer of power — cannot allow itself to waiver from that now.