January 6th, 2021 will probably be remembered by most as yet another date that will live in infamy. Some will decry it as the day when the fragility of our democracy was broadcast to the world in real time, while others (myself included) will see it as hard proof of institutional racism at the very highest levels of our government; after all, we all know what would have happened if it had been BLM protesters who broke through the police lines and onto the floor of the Capitol building, and even into the personal offices of members of Congress. Instead, there’s Capitol police taking selfies with the rioters.
Instead, we should see this as a banner day for American democracy, for it is today when our nation’s right-wing white-supremacist fever finally began to break.
Oh, the problems will continue for generations to come, but it is right here on this very day that many — perhaps most — Republicans began to realize just how far off the edge of the political map they’ve gone, for now they’re looking at a monster called “armed insurrection in our nation’s capital”.
For the MAGA insurrectionists, today is their Götterdämmerung, the final battle ‘twixt good and evil, and there is no doubt that many of them — the individual at the podium included — who, having visions of Mel Gibson screaming “Freeeeeeedom!” in their minds — will see this as their personal Golgotha, the place where they (metaphorically) gave their lives to keep Trump in office.
Make no mistake: their fear and rage are quite real. As of this writing, the situation is fluid and could very easily turn deadly.
But the change will begin tonight, when most of the rioters have gone back to their homes or hotels, and most of the rest of America is tired of watching the constant “if it bleeds, it leads” drumbeat of the news. Many, many Republicans will pause and look at their hands and ask themselves, “Is this what we have become?”
When groups feel threatened — either physically or through threats to their identity — they may develop a strong “us versus them” mentality. This can prompt members to accept group perspectives, even when those perspectives don’t necessarily align with their personal views. Groupthink may also occur in situations in which decision-making is rushed — in some cases, with destructive outcomes.
Attitudes spread by groupthink can induce one to do things one would never have considered otherwise. This dynamic occurs every time a peaceful protest becomes violent, for very few protesters show up intending to riot, to cause property damage or injure other people. But once a group feels threatened, once those within begin to feel fear or anger, the emotion spreads like a wildfire — and like wildfires, cannot easily be extinguished.
I’ve experienced that rush of emotion, and was committing the same crime as the others in my group (it’s a long story for another time), but later, after it was over, I began to realize what I had done, and what had really happened, and I knew I’d never let that happen again. Yes, this is psychological projection on my part, but that’s what I believe will be on the minds of many, many Republicans as they toss and turn in bed later tonight: “What the hell is happening to us? What are we becoming?”
The MAGA movement dealt itself a mortal blow today. Those politicians who most vociferously supported it will be increasingly shunned by the Republican rank-and-file. To be sure, America will still be infested with right-wing idiocy, with racism and greed until long after we all have departed this life, but it will begin diminishing as of today.
In his memoirs of WWII, Churchill stated how utterly relieved he was at the news of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and described his relief: “I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved.” He knew that as bad as things were, that the Japanese attack ensured eventual Allied victory.
As infamous as the MAGA insurrectionists’ deeds have been this morning, and as damaging as their deeds are to our international reputation, today is a good day, a very good day indeed. We should sleep soundly tonight, and perhaps dream that a certain mountaintop is a little closer today than it was the day before.