This year—these last four, but especially this one—has felt to me more than once like Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, trudging through Mordor. I’ve always thought this was the longest, most desolate and, frankly, the most boring story line in the trilogy, and 2020 has had that same endless tedium punctuated by horror. In our nightly effort to stay up past 6:30, Geri and I sat down a few weeks ago and watched The Two Towers for maybe the fifteenth time. The middle film because, whatever, there are horses, and it’s not like we’re going to be confused about the plot anymore. Anyway, there’s a place not far from the end of the movie where it looks like the whole nation of Rohan is about to be exterminated by Saruman’s host. And the king turns to Aragorn and says, “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” He asks the question with such forlorn bafflement, it’s always been one of my favorite scenes. He’s an old soldier used to war, no illusions about a world untouched by strife. But suddenly it’s as if a curtain is pulled back to reveal some utter hopelessness to him, some bedrock of fundamental despair: this is the one basic truth of the world. It’s fantasy, of course, so it turns out it’s just before dawn, when Rohan gets saved by a wizard and a couple dozen knights on horseback. I say this smirkingly, but I won’t deny that there are times in my own life I have been too hasty to give up, and the cavalry has arrived just in time.
I wrote that paragraph maybe ten days ago. I couldn’t figure out what more I was going to say, specifically. And then yesterday happened. Between that paragraph and this one, the Capitol was stormed by thousands of men and women in camo and bandoliers, assault rifles and supersized flags—Trump flags, American flags, and of course Confederate flags. The entire Congress was taken to a safe place to shelter in place as a mob ransacked the House floor. Men sacked Nancy Pelosi’s office and posed for pictures, climbed up the walls of the Capitol Building like a scene right out of . . . well, The Two Towers. A woman was shot and killed. There were too many stabbings to count. It took local police and the National Guard four hours, five?, to finally take back the building.
To take back the building.
I’m writing like it was an attempted coup. Which it was. We are suddenly Chile or Cambodia.
Who is surprised that this happened? Everyone’s horrified at Trump, who started the whole thing with another nut job rant outside the Capitol to tens of thousands of disciples he invited into town and whose only message to them once the siege began was to say, “I love you,” “This election was stolen,” “I understand your pain,” and “Be peaceful.” Because he is Donald Trump. But I keep saying: Trump isn’t who should horrify us. He’s just the rusty old muscle car with bad brakes and a 450-horsepower engine that Republicans thought they could take on a joy ride. What the hell else was going to happen, making him the 2016 nominee?
It’s us who should horrify us.
So I’m writing this, conservative friend, to get to the bottom of what all your hate is about. Or, if you object to that word, your fear. Your very fundamental concern. (But really your hate.) Beyond the slogans and the righteous wrath. Now let’s agree on this straight off: I know you wouldn’t storm the Capitol. I know you disapprove of what happened. In the strongest possible terms. But I suspect also that this attempt, which has actually happened now, at keeping illegitimate power by a sitting President, has unsettled you; but it has probably not changed your politics in a basic way. It’s certainly shaken you up. But you’ll still be voting Republican in two years. And that’s not necessarily, at least not usually, anything to object to. But this is what I suspect: you are also thinking—I think you are thinking, correct me if I’m wrong—“I do not condone what happened. I have always opposed violent protest. But . . .” (Correct me if I’m off-base here, because I would dearly love to be.) “. . . but given the irregularities . . .” (Seriously, shut me up right now.) “. . . given the all the questions . . .” (And you pause for me to get it, to agree you have a point.) “I can see why this could happen. I mean. Can’t you?”
And by this, you do not mean—as I would, agreeing with you—that you can see how a thug has the power to whip up a mob.
By this, you mean that, much as you are horrified by what has transpired, much as you hope the yahoos who actually did the damage should be punished to the fullest extent of the law . . .
That it was basically a matter of the right cause by the wrong means.
You would not shout, “Stop the Steal.” But you are troubled by the “irregularities” in the 2020 election. It’s very troubling to you. And in your sober reflections, you might be remembering words you heard last summer from a lot of liberals. Because when Portland and Minneapolis burned, weren’t liberals saying, “What did you expect”? Liberals were saying they absolutely didn’t condone the looting and the destruction of property. But they found it perfectly logical that a video of a policeman kneeling on a Black man’s neck and killing him might incite isolated acts of violence. Catharthis.
And you’re wondering how what you’re saying is somehow not allowed when it’s allowed for liberals to say it.
So this, conservative friend, is why you can say it, because you can say anything you want in America, but why you are wrong:
Because what happened yesterday did not stand for anything.
It is why your comparison is absolutely, insidiously wrong. What happened yesterday was just pure, unbridled, reckless hate. Hate was the only thing that united those people. There was nothing else they had in common and no Idea they believed in. They are people whose wives and daughters and mothers have had abortions. They are people with gay brothers and sisters who come home for Thanksgiving. A few have husbands and wives who aren’t White. They have parents and grandparents who weren’t born in this country. They take Social Security checks. There are as many of them as there of the rest of us who are confused about their sexuality, or who have confused their families by it. They have lost as many loved ones to the pandemic as the rest of us, maybe more. They’re as much a motley as the rest of America. So what brought them all together? What was their George Floyd moment?
Donald Trump, and his ill treatment.
Black men have been beaten all over America. And now Donald Trump has been beaten. No one ever laid a finger on him, but he’s been beaten. He just lost a fair election by a wide margin. There was no conspiracy. There was no tampering. There is no Deep State. Donald Trump was just beaten in a regular old election.
Another way of saying this is that there is no George Floyd. For these people. There is only hate.
For Democrats. For cities. For problems that can’t be solved by just yelling. For non-Whites. For difference. For being asked to wear a mask in a pandemic. For being told you can’t have your guns. For being asked to live with people who are not like you. Or at least admit they exist. Yesterday was one big, fireball of hate. There was no other fuel in it.
And I agree with you. Given what’s happened in this country, what else would I expect?
What any Republican or conservative has to ask himself or herself today, is what they stand for. Not what they’re against. They have to ask themselves when was the last time they listened to someone they disagreed with. When was the last time they changed their mind. And what the way forward must be for a country that doesn’t look like the country they were born into—not because it’s decaying, or immoral, or less than it once was—but because countries change. Just like people. You know what doesn’t change? A stone. The moon. Death.
This is the dilemma a conservative has today. How do you deal with a living, breathing country, one that will never again be the one you were born into, just as it isn’t the country Abraham Lincoln was born into. It’s better, it’s worse . . . it’s different. And that isn’t a bad thing. Unless you prefer to live on the moon.