I was planning on a totally different post today, but felt I had to write about the events of last Wednesday. The violent storming of the nation’s capitol by Trump supporters is going to be one of those days that live in infamy. I called 2020 the year to burn your planner, now I am wondering if 2021 is trying to outdo 2020.
I wish I could say I was shocked about Trump supporters storming the capitol, but I am not. It is a logical escalation of the Trump presidency, and fed by trends that started before Trump got elected. I would even say those trends are how he got elected.
I personally no longer care if Trump actually believes the conspiracy theories he spouts or is simply saying what he thinks his followers want to hear. I won’t comment on his mental state because I am not a psychiatrist (and even if I was, I think analyzing people from a far is iffy). I do think commenting on behavior is valid—there is a difference between saying someone suffers from Narcissistic personality disorder and someone demonstrates narcissistic behavior. Many of his followers do honestly believe they are doing good, but it doesn’t make those 5 people any less dead.
Different actors supported what they thought was in their best interests, and the end result was feeding a beast who broke through from its chains. Trump by himself would be powerless. But the moderate conservatives were willing to shut out his rhetoric and vote for him because he gave them the policies they wanted, evangelicals ignored his personal behavior because he was against abortion, the Republican party accepted him because he brought in the voters they needed to get elected, and members of congress supported him because it brought them power and influence. Each of these fed the beast. None of them tried to reign him in with more than half-hearted attempts.
The warnings were all there. I at first thought the problem was the leadership of capitol police didn’t take the threats seriously although more information is pointing to something more nefarious. Hopefully more information will come to light as investigating continues. I admit I didn’t take Trump seriously when he ran in 2016, and a lot of the news around his campaign was why is he so popular? That is a story about us, not him, and there wasn’t enough careful analysis of his policies or his past before the propaganda machine got going. But when he won I realized he did tap into something that was real, and that had to be taken seriously.
Trumpism at its heart has always been about Trump himself. Not an ideology, because the policy changes based on whatever serves Trump, and what feeds his ego. I unfortunately can’t remember the guest or show where this was said, (either Kerri Miller on MPR or the Takeaway) but Trump pushes until he is stopped. If you look at his pattern of behavior, it is clear. If those who gave him power had tried to stop him, would things have gone this far?
I recommend Zoe Quinn’s book Crash Override, which speaks of this in more details. Social media makes money through users and eye balls. While I do believe there are ethical corporations, I also believe you can expect a for profit company to do what brings it the most money in the moment without looking at the long term or societal consequences unless a larger force acts on it. Conspiracy theories brought the eyeballs and users, which brought the dough. People engage more when they are upset, and there has been very little to stop someone from fully making something up to get clicks. If something gains attention on the internet, google search results prioritize it. However, the internet is a toddler—it doesn’t understand the difference between good attention and bad attention. We like to believe humans are rational creatures, that seek to be fully informed about the major issues of the day with accurate information that challenges their thinking. But it is unfortunately not true. The belief of many of the new tech giants was that raising what gets the most attention would allow the best work to be brought to light. Which is naive.
It is far too easy for people of all political striped to keep to their silos. The splintering of media is the splintering of the American source of information. It is also the repudiation of the science and knowledge which brought us the modern world we live comfortably in.
Ideology and extremism are always enemies to progress. So much of this beast tearing through America today is something good in small doses or with a nuanced approach taken to an extreme. It is one thing to say reporters are better at reporting on some communities than others and are used to framing stories in a particular viewpoint, a different thing to say they are all lying. Even scientists have biases is different from saying science is wrong. It is one thing to say a degree isn’t the only way to be educated than to say a few google searches means you know as much about a topic as someone who has studied for years. Or your friend Bob knows more about the Covid vaccine than the scientist explaining how mRNA works on the news program. It is one thing to confront that our institutions are imperfect, and were built to help one group and not others than to say they need to be burned down.
Actually solving problems of our nation requires being humble. It means trying something, seeing if it works, and being honest about what has happened instead of staying stuck in an ideology. Take what works, learn from what doesn’t. The problem is politics has turned into a sport like football, where its about winning for your team instead of making policies that will bring positive change in the long run.
I don’t know what the future holds. But I know we are facing the end of an era, and hope as a country we can make it through the rough days ahead.