Dispatch from the Front Line: The U.S. must take MAGA sedition seriously and literally.
Forty seven million Americans think that what happened this week was good. And some Canadians agree with them.
We like to start these dispatches with something snappy. A joke, a sarcastic remark, a bit of world-weary, cynical snark. We just don't have it in us this week. Seeing the U.S. capitol fall before a violent mob broke our hearts and melted our brains. This is not how things are supposed to work.
We at The Line have taken an explicit anti-bullshit position. It’s right in our mission statement. That includes a total ban on spraying you with faux sentiment. We've been in journalism long enough to be pretty thoroughly dead inside, numb to the normal range of human emotions. We like it that way! So when we tell you that something was upsetting, we mean it. You should take us seriously and literally. And seeing the heart of U.S. democracy in the hands of a mob literally dispatched by America’s disgraceful, flailing president, while the legislative branch ghosted into bunkers, was shocking, upsetting, and infuriating. We still can't quite accept that it even happened.
Your Line editors chatted on the night-of the capitol’s fall, as military and police forces were retaking the complex. We agreed that the event “felt like 9/11” — an admittedly subjective measure, but a reflection of not only our feelings, but also the scale of the event. But we also agreed that perhaps we were swept up in the moment, and would feel better after a night’s sleep and a complete breakfast of toast, fruit, juice and cereal.
We didn't. And we haven't felt better since — we've felt worse, because the more we know and understand about the event, the worse we understand it to be. The cereal does nothing.
And no wonder. In the days since the capitol fell, we've learned that a police officer died after being attacked by the mob. We've seen photos and videos, and read first-hand accounts, of journalists being identified and assaulted. We've seen photos of damage to the capitol, read that the mob literally smeared shit on the building, and have seen the Confederate flags and pro-Holocaust hoodies. We've seen a significant chunk of the Congressional GOP caucus (though thankfully only a few senators) continue to outrageously insist that the election of Joe Biden is fraudulent. We've seen chaos at the heart of the U.S. government, including genuine concerns that the U.S. military is not quite under the control of its proper, constitutionally mandated chain of command.
As the shock of the event fades, and the facts become better known, the incident only becomes more depressing.
YouGov did a quick opinion poll the day of the attack on the capitol. It was fast, and we take the results with a few pinches of salt, but while we may wonder about the margin of error, the overall conclusion is undeniable. Forty-five per cent of Republican voters said that they supported the attack on the capitol. That's roughly as many Republicans as oppose it!
Seriously. Ask a Republican voter if they think storming the capitol, smashing their way into the building, assaulting police, murdering an officer, vandalizing the building, looting it, and assaulting journalists is good or bad, and you’ll get two groups of roughly equal size.
Let’s channel a marooned Martian explorer and “do the math.” A Gallup poll just a few months ago found that 31 per cent of Americans identified as Republicans. If 45 per cent of those truly actively support seditious violence against the U.S. government, that means we're talking about roughly 14 per cent of the entire U.S. population. That would be — we are not making this up — 47 million people. We've rounded some of these numbers off to simplify the math, but you get the picture. This is bad.
Trump alone has never been the problem. He's been a symptom of the problem. The problem is an American electorate that is radicalized to this point — and that problem isn't going away on Jan. 20, even if the days between now and then, and the inauguration itself, go off without a hitch.
This is an existential crisis in American democracy. We at The Line have no illusions about the rot on the left, and the danger radical elements there also pose to the great experiment. The cultural left is in ascendance and holds many key institutions, and they are treating them roughly. This contributes to the radicalization of the right — the two extremes feed off each other. We have spoken of that before, we will again. It’s a big part of why The Line exists!
But we will indulge in no whataboutism or both-sidesing today, not even to soothe the troubled consciences of our most right-leaning readers. The facts are plain: A sizeable portion of the American right-wing is dangerously radicalized and is actively hostile to the United States of America, its government, its institutions and many of its citizens. That segment of the electorate may well be in decline — what are seeing could be the death spasms of something we will not miss.
But those spasms might be pretty frickin’ destructive, and even if this is a self-correcting problem — which is not certain — it’s going to take years, maybe decades, to do us the courtesy of fucking off and dying. And if your response to all this to blink and then go, “Yeah, but what about Portland?” then you are part of the fucking problem and you’ll reap what you sow.
And with that, we are pouring ourselves a goddamn drink.
OK, that’s one drink down. We suspect there’ll be others tonight before we get this dispatch out, but we had to take a pause after writing the above. At least that’s done. Oh, no, wait, actually, one more thing. We at The Line won't make a point of tooting our own horn, but ... well, fine, maybe we will. Anyway, we remembered that in one of our previous dispatches, we had discussed the danger noted above in the abstract, but we couldn't remember when. So we read back through our archive.
And, lo and behold, this is a quote from our dispatch of Oct. 2, 2020:
Meanwhile, the polling results you should be worried about are these:
Quibble with the methodology all you like — it does show a substantive growth in the "violence solves my problems" demographic, and we don’t think they’re talking about the people who think that mean words qualify. ... When everyone feels justified in using political violence because they're being goaded into it by their opponents — when there does not appear to be room for recourse within legitimate political structures — that's fertile ground for the cycle of violence. It’s a hard line to step back from once it is crossed, and in the end only historians are going to care about which side was right.
God bless, America.
OK, so ... yeah, that proved prescient, eh? Horn tooted.
But! While looking back through our past dispatches to find the above quote, we found this ... and this also is holding up awfully gosh-darned well, from our dispatch of Nov. 7, 2020:
… [The] GOP and the world isn't done with [Trump] quite yet. [He] remains the president, and reportedly has no plan to concede. Indeed, there's every likelihood that he'll spend the next two-and-a-half months declaring the entire election a sham, a fraud, and saying that he's been robbed of his victory by crooked Dems. While senior GOP officials stare with 100-per-cent focus off into some other direction and see and hear no evil, Trump may well do enormous damage to what's left of the U.S. body politic, and motivate more losers like the ones who wanted to shoot up Philadelphia to launch similar attacks.
... [If] you'll permit us one final aside on this topic, isn't this exactly what you expected of the man? Isn't this precisely what we all knew he'd do? In the coming weeks, we expect to see people jumping onto the anti-Trump bandwagon with the kind of gusto we haven't seen since Frenchmen pledged themselves to the resistance … as DeGaulle swept into Paris. But those of us who always saw Trump plainly for what he was, and said so, have long memories. And don't think we're not noticing all the new faces at the secret meetings.
So, two months later, are we confident that that’s held up?
Those last few quoted lines above, about new faces in the resistance and the Free French taking back Paris, bring us to the next part of this week’s dispatch, and folks, we have to say — we aren’t just breaking the fourth wall today, eh, we are positively obliterating it — that this part was hard to write.
Remember: no faux sentiment. Writing these dispatches is normally easy. Fun, actually. But this part of today’s was hard. Our feelings on this are big, and complicated, and at times contradictory.
But enough preamble. Here it is: What do we do with the Trump supporters now, now that his wretchedness has spilled so thoroughly into the open that few are even trying to defend it anymore?
The Line editors believe in second chances. We believe in redemption. We truly do. On a more pragmatic level, we also believe in de-escalation. We have seen this week what happens when the political rhetoric and partisan divides get worse and worse and worse. To avoid more of this, we need to begin moving away from the inevitability of further sectarian violence — because that’s exactly what this week’s events were. And that means we’re going to have to forgive some people we are angry at, and overlook some conduct that offended us. There’s no way around this. It tastes like ashes on our tongues, but that’s the deal, folks.
David Frum said it well a few years ago on Twitter when he wrote that “When this is all over, no one will admit to ever having supported it.” That is exactly right, and it has been fascinating to watch this week as those who’d previously stood with the president scramble to salvage something of their dignity and reputations. Supporting Trump was all fun and games when it was all about tax cuts, angering Rosie O’Donnell and generally “owning the libs.”
But this? This was something else.
People clued in fast. Even deep in the Trump Bunker, the true believers seemed to know the boss had blown it. Several of the Republican senators who planned to object to Biden’s victory changed their minds after the capitol attack. A series of White House officials, and two cabinet secretaries thus far, have resigned, and publicly cited the week’s horrors as why. Kellyanne fucking Conway put out a long statement trying to put herself on firmer moral ground, and even Hope Hicks — Hope Hicks! — is said to be preparing to resign.
Many of these people, in our view, are beyond redemption. They made their choice. To hell with them. Rudy Giuliani, who seems to be frantically unfollowing inconvenient people on Twitter? Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley? Mike Pence? There’s no path back for these people.
But what about the rest? Does a vote for Trump carry a taint for life?
We think not. Not because of any ethical or moral objection to a bit of good, old-fashioned self-righteous condemnation, but simply because it’s impractical. America needs off-ramps from Trumpism. Millions of citizens need to be pulled away from this self-immolating cult before they destroy their republic, and the free world with it.
In Canada, of course, we are seeing this same process play out in miniature. Candice Bergen, a Conservative MP, was photographed in a MAGA hat. Adrienne Batra, editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun, tweeted a photo of herself raising a glass to Trump’s victory in 2016. Alberta’s minister of agriculture, Devin Dreeshen, worked with the first Trump campaign.
There are Canadians who embraced Trump, and Trumpism. Many of them will now pretend they hadn’t. (Batra, we note, deleted her tweet.)
This is such a raw issue for your Line editors because we were Never Trump from the beginning. We were appalled and confused that others we normally agreed with — and counted as dear friends — did not. Trump is a fascist at heart, if an incompetent one in practice, and only his manifest laziness and other inadequacies, plus a few battered institutional guardrails, prevented him from being far worse than he was. It is very, very hard for us who saw this from the outset to forgive those who did not, especially because we paid a price within our own relationships and institutions for saying so at the time.
But we need to get over it. People won’t take the off-ramps if they know there’s a mob waiting for them at the bottom. We need to incentivize moderation, and getting people onto those off-ramps is more important than our petty revenge.
But we do think that the off-ramp should have a modest toll. And we think we know exactly where to set the price: an acknowledgement that you were wrong. So here’s the deal, Canadian MAGA buffoons: we won’t hold it against you, much, but you have to admit that you were wrong. We’ll accept that with typical Canadian courtesy, and won’t lord it over you.
But we’ll savage any one of you that pretends you were with us from the beginning. You weren’t. You drank the Koolaid. You failed the Good German test. And you should be ashamed of that. We’re willing to let it be a mostly secret, private shame, but you need to fess up, now, as the cost of forgiveness. And if you ask us, it’s cheap at the price.
Lastly, just before we blasted this already over-long dispatch, (it’s been A Week, ok?) Twitter announced that Donald Trump would be permanently suspended. Count us at The Line as skeptical about Big Tech and its emerging mandate to police unpopular and unpalatable speech. In recent weeks, we’ve even objected to Twitter’s over-eager use of the ban hammer.
However, very few people are free speech absolutists. The mealy arguments about what a private monopoly that dominates the public square should or should not do aside, we believe that there are reasonable limits to what people should be able to publish.
Libel is one of those reasonable limits. So is incitement to violence.
Trump’s conduct and speech in recent days crossed the line into incitement. Twitter was right to ban him.
That said, a sitting U.S. president applauding a mob of violent insurrectionists storming the capitol building to protest the outcome of a legitimate election is historic, unprecedented stuff — and it must stay that way. Once corporate monopolies begin to exercise this kind of power, the temptation will be to continue to expand that power by narrowing the scope of acceptable behaviour and speech on their platforms. We are now seeing other companies fall in line: Facebook booted a journalist from The Blaze. App stores are shit-canning far-right Twitter knock offs like Parler.
It’s not hard to see how badly this could go if we fail to keep an eagle-eye on techbro excess. Remember; these corporations don’t have the best interests of democratic norms or civic discourse at heart. These are companies trying to make money and avoid regulation and scrutiny right before a Democratic administration is about to be sworn in. Their goal is to maintain their own monopolies and institutional power. That’s it.
They’re not your friends because they (finally) banned someone odious. And the tactics that are used on your enemies today will inevitably be turned on yourself.
On Monday, after our vacation ended, we were back with bells on, recapping in a special dispatch … well, how terrible the news was over our vacation. New COVID variants, political dysfunction in the U.S. — we were so young, on Monday! — and politicians catching heat for catching rays south of the border. Sigh. Life was simpler, five days ago, right?
Ken Boessenkool and Christopher Ragan were up next, voicing their overall support for the Liberal carbon tax, but pointing out that it still leaves a lot to be desired. “We counted 104 initiatives in the federal government’s new climate plan,” these super-nerds wrote. “Sixty-three of these are things the government should be doing, such as financing basic research, funding transition programs from old jobs (coal plants) to new jobs (biofuel plants), and retrofitting the government’s stock of buildings. All good. As for the policies that are unnecessary in the presence of a rising carbon price? We counted 26, and they involve spending serious money — $41 billion over 10 years, with half being spent in the first three years. That’s $20 billion of taxpayers’ money spent on things that the rising carbon tax will do anyway. That’s a waste.”
And then the whole storming of the Rotunda thing happened, and something had to be said. Jen Gerson stepped up to the plate with a fast column that managed to capture some of the insane weirdness of the whole affair. “The real question now” Gerson said, “is what happens next? A significant mob has been convinced of a monstrous conspiracy theory; that the American election was stolen from its rightful president. This claim is without proof, merit, or evidence, but Trump has managed to stoke it well and hard enough to raise questions of legitimacy in the minds of his devoted followers. There are a few plausible paths open from here and, I'm sad to say, none of them look great. For the immediate threat of mobbery, it's a question of dissolution or escalation.”
Ken Boessenkool, who clearly writes very quickly, was back in action on Friday, laying out some early lessons from the Trump era that Canadian conservatives need to take up. “We need to do a better job of drawing lines when it comes to character,” he said. “And we need to be most diligent within our own tribes. I will no longer countenance casual Trumpism. Derek Sloan should not be in the Conservative caucus and certainly shouldn’t have been allowed to run for the leadership of my party. Here’s what I wrote about O’Leary. And I have been pretty blunt about the dangers of conservative populists in my midst — the aforementioned @martha79453 and @henry83795.
“I am not arguing to outlaw these views. I’m not arguing that we cancel. What I am arguing is that within our various institutions we reserve harsh private and public opprobrium for bad character. And that we do so in the service of preventing bad character from ascending to leadership.”
Seems like a good idea to us. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
That’s it, folks. We’re tired. Bone-deep fatigue, and not just physical. Thanks for reading, as always. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe today. We could really, really use your help doing what we need to do here.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: firstname.lastname@example.org