Republicans Have An Off-Ramp — They Need To Take It
The attack on Congress last week, and other extremist disruptions which may come in the days ahead, are being driven by the belief that an American election was stolen, and that proud “patriots” need to rise up to defend our democracy from those trying to dishonor it.
The election wasn’t stolen of course, and thus this entire radicalized pro-Trump extremist movement has been built on a lie. To stop the violence, restore order, and allow the next President and Congress — and state governments — to get on with their important business — Republican leaders across the country simply must tell their supporters that the election was legitimate and to stand down, go home, and help bring an end to the ongoing insurrection.
We have to be clear that this if this does not happen, and the Republican Party, leadership including “Stop the Steal” sympathizers Kevin McCarthy and RNC Chair McDaniel, continue to sow doubt about the election, the insurrection we are seeing could turn into a years long domestic insurgency which will also certainly see prominent politicians attacked again and undoubtedly some will die.
The Trump Presidency has left America a domestic radicalization problem that is going to take years to address. But the role of post-Trump Republicans in this de-radicalization effort is going to be vital, essential. A first step will be to declare the election legitimate, and ask Trump’s supporters to stand down and go home. Our disputes in America are decided by debate and elections not bullets and violence.
A second and in my mind equally important step will be for Republicans to stand down from using language which whether they understand it or not is equally false and equally an incitement to violence — the language describing Democrats and Joe Biden as Marxists/Communists/the Radical Left. In the evolution of the current moment, this language came first, over the summer, from the President in a speech he gave at the White House, on July 4th. A few days after this speech I wrote:
“If you haven’t read or watched the President’s speeches on July 3rd and 4th — just do it. The language, the hyperbole, the violence will shock you. You will find phrases like “there is a new far-left fascism,” “this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution,” “radical assault” “the radical view of American history is a web of lies,” “unleash a wave of violent crime.” The Washington Post reported: “He celebrated Independence Day with a dystopian speech in which he excoriated racial justice protesters as “evil” representatives of a “new far-left fascism” whose ultimate goal is “the end of America.” “
The single most poisonous passage came from his July 4th remarks: “American heroes defeated the Nazis, dethroned the fascists, toppled the communists, saved American values, upheld American principles and chased down the terrorists to the very ends of the earth. We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing.”
Friends, we know the guy is loose with his words, but this is the President of the United States conjuring up some dangerous domestic enemy who needs to be fought the way we fought Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, ISIS and Al Qaeda, with the American military, with death and assassinations. This wasn’t a campaign speech, and the President wasn’t talking about politics or the 2020 elections. It was an official speech by the President, from the White House, on the 4th of July, and it was a call to arms by the leader of our government to kill and hunt down a dangerous domestic other.”
…..The call for domestic violence as we saw on July 6th was first made by the President that day. The frame he established — that Democrats have evolved into something akin to an existential threat to the country and thus must be violently put down like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Communists and Fascists — still lives in the language of Republicans every day. It was the core argument of the election, and it remains the essential frame of the GOP as they head into the new Biden era.
Like declaring the election legitimate and walking away from Trump’s false frame about the election, Republicans must also walk away from the false frame about the radicalization of the modern Democratic Party. They’ve invented an imaginary domestic threat which their supporters have become radicalized against. Democrats are not an extremist party, but a pragmatic one. Our governance while in the White House has made the country far stronger, repeatedly. Our current leaders come from the Democratic establishment, and Joe Biden has long been a leader in standing up for American ideals of liberty and freedom both domestically and abroad. We haven’t used illiberal or illicit means to gain power — in fact our recent success at the ballot box, winning more votes in 7 of the last 8 Presidential elections — is the best electoral run of any political party in American history. We are historically popular, have governed well and are run by pragmatists, not ideologues.
The ongoing attacks on Democrats as “radical,” “communists” etc is itself the language of extremism, an incitement to violence, false — and like the language around the “stolen election” it must be dropped by Republican leaders in the days ahead. It is a dangerous rhetorical relic of the Trump era which has no place in a healthy democracy; or in a modern, responsible center-right party which we all hope rises from the rubble of Trumpism.
The stark reality is that America has serious domestic extremist problem, one which scored an historic victory last week. It is going to grow, become more ambitious and aggressive in the coming months. The nation will need to work hard to prevent this armed, radicalized movement to do lasting damage to the country. The Biden Administration will be developing strategies to address the challenge, using all the tools available to them. But whether this movement becomes something truly significant, and does lasting harm, or fizzles out in the coming months will be a great degree up to post-Trump Republicans. If the GOP can de-Trump, de-radicalize itself, and return to a party one would recognize in a Western democracy, it will help bring a rapid demise of the current domestic insurgency we are experiencing. But if the language and tactics of Trump, and the purposeful stoking of extremism, remains central to the Republican Party in the coming months then the kind of violence we are witnessing now could be with us for many years.
The choice for every Republican now is a binary one — drop the language of Trumpism, declare the election legitimate, tell the insurrections to stand down or become an insurrectionist, insurgent yourself. Republicans have a clear off ramp available to them from this road of radicalization. For the good of the nation let us hope they take it.