The Pointlessness Of It All
Alexander the Great is purported to have said: “I have no fear of an army of lions led by a sheep. But I do fear an army of sheep led by a lion.” It is wise to keep this distinction in mind when evaluating the events of yesterday’s assault on the Capitol by an armed rabble intent on disrupting the formal confirmation of Joe Biden as our next president. The popular media have labeled it an “Insurrection” or “Coup attempt.” What took place was horrific, lamentable, and historically tragic, but it was not an insurrection.
In a classic “Banana Republic”-style coup d’état, what happens immediately after the halls of power are stormed by the sheep is critical. The lion will assume power and order the takeover of the TV stations, newspapers and all media. He will then announce that the old regime has been ousted and ask all citizens to support the new one. Next comes the takeover of the nation’s military apparatus, airports, and government infrastructure.
None of this took place in Washington.
That is not to trivialize or downplay what actually did take place. It was, after all, the first time the Capitol had sustained such an attack since British General Robert Ross burned it down on August 24, 1814 during the War of 1812. But had it been a real insurrection this time, you would be reading this in the Proud Boys Post by now. So let’s try to keep things in their proper perspective.
There was no “Glorious Leader” — such as Lenin or Castro or Mao — to galvanize the masses around him and then seize total power. The U.S. Capitol was not the St. Petersburg Winter Palace. Instead, we had the spectacle of a political leader at the end of his tenure and the end of his rope, clutching at the last threads of hope that would allow him to retain power by directing his followers to march on the Capitol to redress HIS grievances.
For Trump to have imagined that these Duck Dynasty, rifle-toting, neo-Nazi skinheads would somehow restrict themselves to acceptable civil behavior after listening to his tirades against a left-wing establishment that had stolen the election from him, was the height of folly. His remarkably mindless behavior spelled his political epitaph.
By expressing sympathy and support for the mob after they breached the Capitol, he appeared to be encouraging them when he should have been condemning them. In the eyes of the world and history he demonstrated that he placed his own political fortunes above the most hallowed structures of our nation’s democracy. Whether his behavior was the result of blind ambition, malicious myopia, or simple stupidity, it doesn’t matter. Trump will forever be remembered as the president who led his supporters to attack the sacred temples of our democracy.
This outcome has left our Constitution forever besmirched and has permanently stained Trump’s political legacy. When you conduct a word association test using the names of US presidents, Nixon evokes Watergate, Clinton elicits Lewinsky, and Trump will be met with Assault on the Capitol. It is the nadir and not the apogee of a president’s term that most often becomes the "brand" of his presidency.
This is unfortunate since Trump’s pre-COVID accomplishments, in both the domestic and foreign policy arenas were formidable. But Trump’s self-inflicted political implosion is the least of the tragic aspects of yesterday’s events.
First, the attack exposes the fragility and vulnerability of our most fundamental institutions. As Reagan reminded us: “Freedom is just one generation away from extinction.”
Secondly, the spectacle of anarchists being cleared out of government buildings by police gives comfort and solace to the world’s authoritarian regimes who will now use the same rationale to defend their actions in suppressing free expression in their own countries. China will be able to now point to what happened in Washington and claim that they are likewise restoring law and order when they throw Hong Kong pro-democracy activists into jail.
Third, the ease with which the mob was able to compromise the security of the very seat of American political power is an embarrassment and an invitation to adventurism extended to our enemies. If the American government can be taken over this easily, who needs to bother with armies or flying jetliners into tall buildings?
Finally, is the realization that it is precisely this type of political chaos that drove my own family, as well as the families of almost all Americans, to these shores in the first place. These sort of things are not supposed to happen here in the shining city on the hill. And it is this — not the assault on America’s federal legislature, but the assault on America’s soul — that is the most heart-breaking tragedy of them all.
At the end of the day, one has to wonder at the point of it all. The Senate vote was concluded and Biden was officially named the next president. Trump provided vindication to those who had been vilifying him for years. And the stature of our nation has been severely diminished in the eyes of the world. Who benefits from all this? I can only think of one party. The Chinese Communist Party.
January 7, 2021
Peter Weisz’s Blog