The crowd shouted “kill him with his own gun” as they attempted to break into the Capitol building and force elected officials to illegally install Trump as a de facto American dictator. Let us not mince words, what happened on January 6th has no precedent in American history. But whether Trump is legally responsible for the insurrection is ultimately beside the point. The real question is what drove these individuals to rebel against the very nation they claim to cherish so dearly.
The Big Lie
It’s easy to blame the “Big Lie,” the false notion that the election was “stolen” by Biden, for the events of January 6th. But this may be an oversimplification. The Big Lie is not the cause, but is rather a convenient rationalization for actions that participants knew was illegal and wrong.
As I have written numerous times, a conspiracy theory that required the active participation of North Korea, Dominon, Smartmatic, Governor Kemp, the CIA, the media, the CDC, Attorney General Barr, Vice President Pence….just to name a few, is downright laughable. Most rational individuals, especially those who closely follow politics, would immediately see through such a charade as totally nonsensical.
This is further buttressed by the fact that the Trump legal team requested multiple audits, recounts, launched over 60 lawsuits, and lost every last one of them. As if the Big Lie wasn’t transparent enough, the Trump legal team’s efforts to discredit the election only served to illuminate the fact that they couldn’t produce one shred of tangible evidence to support these outlandish claims.
Any rational individual would have been able to see through this. Are we to assume that the insurrectionists who broke into the Capitol are simply irrational or ill-informed? Maybe some were, but it’s more likely that many of those individuals simply went along with the Big Lie to rationalize their effort to keep Trump in power.
The true cause of Jan 6th’s insurrection is, my view, is cognitive dissonance. We have generations of Americans raised on the unquestionable notion that America is the best there is. They were taught that America is a God-given land of near perfection, and that living in America guarantees one a quality of life that exceeds all other nations of the world.
But this promise of opportunity and prosperity is shattered by a stark reality: America is falling behind. America’s life expectancy is falling, obesity and chronic health issues are ever more rampant, and the cost of healthcare is wiping out any gains in paychecks year after year. More and more Americans live paycheck to paycheck, barely scraping by, or are dependent on the government for their very survival.
The reality of the American heartland cannot be reconciled with childhood indoctrination, creating a cognitive dissonance that drives frustration and anger. But instead of blaming themselves or America, they direct their anger toward politicians in Washington DC, who they believe sold them out.
Disillusionment and disfranchisement are ripe conditions for “strongmen” appeal. Trump was able to tap into this frustration by casting himself as an outsider who “alone” could right the wrongs of the nation and “bring back” the America that was before.
Trump’s self-aggrandizing nature was perfectly suited to tapping into this latent follower base, a group hungering to cast blame elsewhere for domestic problems. Trump’s devotees became willing to follow him anywhere, accepting anything that he did, trusting every word he spoke, no matter what…even if he told them that the democracy he took an oath to defend was a fraud.
The Post Trump Era
While the Big Lie was false, the feelings of frustration and insecurities of those who participated in the insurrection are very real. The lessons, however, are thus far unlearned. While politicians debate whether Trump is responsible for the insurrection, the question we should be asking is how will D.C. regain the trust of the American people?
Washington should be focusing its efforts on establishing an accountable government that lives up to its ideals. We must forge a middle path, by bringing together the moderate elements of the political establishment, cease the petty games, the name calling, and extremist politics, and find practical solutions to America’s problems.
If Washington doesn’t learn from the events of January 6th, it wont matter whether or not Trump was convicted….it will happen again and next time be successful.