🎶 Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men? 🎶
Just kidding… but not really.
Having at least one History minor on our editorial board requires us to differentiate between the anti-monarchist insurrection of Parisian republicans (little ‘r’) in 1832 (as beautifully adapted in song by Les Misérables) and what happened last Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.
And indeed, what happened? Coup d’etat, mob, riot and more were all used to describe the deadly events that happened last week when fringe supporters of President Donald J. Trump stormed the Capitol building. However, the consensus among scholars of history seem to have settled on something between a failed self-coup to retain power and an insurrection — with self-coup being the better scholarly description, and insurrection coming out ahead as the more colloquially easier term to refer to it as.
But back to those 🎶…angry men… 🎶 — we’re not going to get into the weeds regarding the actions taken Wednesday or “stopping the steal.” The election wasn’t stolen from them, but that doesn’t mean something wasn’t. For many, the dignity of the feeling that you have the ability to affect change and have a say in how you are governed is the bare minimum needed to stave off a feeling of helplessness when it comes to your place in society and how best to find your place in it.
Like it or not, President Trump’s brand of populism spoke to a large group of people that felt disaffected and disillusioned, that felt like their contributions to society didn’t matter and that it was impossible to get ahead.
These people aren’t cultists, they’re our friends, neighbors and family members. There is a reason politics are so polarized right now, and it’s because people on all sides of the political spectrum feel this sense of being disenfranchised, frustrated and fed up. It’s reported that Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran from Southern California who was killed after storming the Capitol last week, was an Obama voter who became disillusioned over time after facing financial and other difficulties. She then found Trumpism, which for her became a gateway to dangerous Q-Anon conspiracy theories with no basis in fact.
In the past week, we’ve heard many politicians appealing to unity, speaking about coming out of these events stronger. This is an admirable endeavor and surely comes from a good place. However, without structural change addressing why vast numbers of people are struggling or feeling disillusioned in the first place, those sentiments just reinforce the status quo or, at best, hearken back to a false dichotomy of things returning to how they “used to be” versus “now”.
Neither the status quo or the “good old days” fixes the problem, people still remain disillusioned. People can be pushed to the fringes when they are subject to extraordinary difficulties, derision or they feel like their input isn’t valued in the “mainstream,” whether it be in a discourse of ideas or in their service to their community.
There was much discussion this week regarding Twitter, Facebook and alternatives such as Parler, after President Trump was banned from several social media services that we’ve come to view as forums for all sorts of speech. It’s unmistakable that there are spaces where hate speech thrives, but perhaps we need to ask why it’s thriving?
There’s a difference between social media giants deciding that incitements to violence are no longer welcome and very personally deriding your uncle for his political views, however colorful they may be. Do we really think the solution is attacking and attempting to silence him personally? Cutting him off and disillusioning him even more?
Ridicule the idea, not the person.
Our newsroom has a print of a Thomas Jefferson quote that we look to whenever we’re tempted to shy away from a controversial editorial:
“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.”
We need to break down the walls of the echo chambers, hear the ridiculous ideas, the unintelligible propositions, and then instead of attacking the proponent personally or even debating an idea that cannot be reasonably debated, maybe start by asking why someone feels the way they do? What factors in life and our society led them to feel that way? What would it take to change that?
We can’t allow disagreements to paralyze us or drive us into disparate camps. Let’s reasonably and with open minds discuss the things we disagree on, find the things we agree on, and affect positive change where we can.
What’s that maybe, probably bastardized Benjamin Franklin quote about having a republic, if we can keep it?