As a lover of the English language, I must come to The Beachcomber’s defense for its perceived editorial sins. Last week, a reader irately instructed this newspaper to consult a dictionary regarding what he saw as inappropriate words to describe what happened in our nation’s capital on January 6 (“Beachcomber should consult dictionary,” Jan. 28).
I don’t know which dictionary the reader is using, but here are dictionary definitions of the words to which he objected:
The Big Lie: lie, noun. A false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood. Donald Trump and numerous Congressional Republicans claimed that Trump had the election stolen from him through widespread voter fraud, a claim which everyone from local election officials to the Supreme Court — including many Republicans and Trump appointees — acknowledged was entirely baseless. If that wasn’t a gigantic lie, what is? Or does the reader also believe the claims that the election was a fraud?
Insurrection, noun. The act or an instance of open revolt against civil authority or a constituted government. Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, attacking police officers and killing one. Many of those who did this gleefully stated they were there to overturn the election, and some even said they wanted to capture, try and execute members of Congress (including, ironically, Trump’s own Vice President). Many brought with them weapons and combat gear. While a lot of the selfie-taking morons that day were indeed just part of “a mob that turned violent,” as the reader notes, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a disturbing number of them were organized, and had put planning into an attempt to stop the certification of Electoral College votes. That sounds very much like an attempted insurrection to me.
Attempted coup: coup (short for coup d’etat, “cut of the state”), noun. A sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force. Again, the rioters explicitly stated they were there to overturn the election and delegitimize the presidency of Joe Biden. Important point: as with the insurrection, the fact that they were never going to be successful is irrelevant to the intent (hence “attempted coup”).
Treason, noun. The betrayal of allegiance toward one’s own country, especially by committing hostile acts against it or aiding its enemies in committing such acts. Well, there were no foreign enemies overtly involved (let’s not get into the Russia debate), so perhaps this is ambiguous. But if invading the Capitol, injuring and killing police officers, and threatening elected representatives in an openly stated attempt to overturn a democratically elected government isn’t treason, I’m not sure what is. Historical trivia: Guy Fawkes was convicted of treason when he and his friends tried to blow up the British Parliament (and everyone in it) in 1605.
As for denying that what happened was a “horror show”… well, this rather goes to the heart of the problem. Many people seem to just want us all to act as if what happened that day, while reprehensible, was really no big deal — just a transient anomaly that had no larger context. But it WAS a big deal, it WAS a horror show… and as much as we all want to “lower the temperature” in the country right now, that doesn’t mean we should just forget it and move on.
Because here’s the thing: the riot was not an event that occurred in a political vacuum. If it had just been a disorganized violent mob, with no encouragement from certain Republicans, I could see an argument for moving on (though I doubt the family of the cop who was murdered would agree). But that’s not the case.
The fact is that many Republican members of Congress, prominently led by Trump, promulgated the Big Lie about the election, and some of them made repeated inflammatory statements which many of the rioters eagerly admitted they took as their cue for violent action. Indeed, many Republicans have still not come out and openly acknowledged that Biden won the election; and — even after the riot — a majority of those in the House voted to object to the certification of the results.
Furthermore, not one of those who stoked the flames has had the decency to say that, at the very least, they regret how their statements might have, you know, unintentionally contributed to what happened that day. Not one.
With the exception of some individuals who still have integrity — and by the way, I never thought I’d find myself defending Liz Cheney — the current GOP has shown that it actually believes neither in the Constitution nor in democracy. Except, of course, when democracy results in them winning an election (then it’s great!)
Depressingly, a large chunk of GOP voters goes along with this, fed by repeated mistruths and absurd conspiracy theories. If people are not outraged by this debasement of our democratic process — not to mention what it says about the lamentable state of large parts of the American education system — they damn well should be.
We are undeniably in the midst of a political crisis, with the US arguably more divided than it has been since the Civil War. Like it or not, the temperature in the country is not going to come down any time soon. Calls for some of us to just get over it, to calm down and “promote unity” are unlikely to be heeded given the falsehoods and hatreds that many of our leaders continue to promote every day.
Any solution has to start with exemplars at the top. Until politicians on all sides disavow baseless lies and start acting for the good of the country instead of preserving their own power at any cost, unity will continue to be a sadly unachievable dream.
Phil Clapham is a retired whale biologist who lives on Maury Island.