Was Jan. 6 Really ‘Un-American’?

Was Jan. 6 Really ‘Un-American’?

The portrait of Donald Trump that Cassidy Hutchinson painted in her testimony on Tuesday afternoon was devastating. That’s because of its style as well as its content. She used an unadorned (but, when quoting the former president, vulgar) vocabulary. She maintained a steady manner. Her voice was quiet. That bolstered her credibility and intensified the impact of her words.

You don’t need opera when the song is this sordid. You just need the goods, and she had them.

But there was at least one moment when her perspective broadened and her language ripened. Reflecting on the bedlam of Jan. 6, 2021, and on watching “the Capitol building get defaced over a lie,” she rendered the following verdict: “It was un-American.”

That phrase stopped me then and has stayed with me since.

I know exactly what she means. And I find myself wondering, with great sadness, if she’s right.

From the moment of Trump’s election to the present, I’ve been captivated not only by his profound amorality and his perversely gleeful determination to pit our country’s denizens against one another, but also by the tens of millions of Americans who applaud or shrug their shoulders about that. They have never been a true majority, as Trump’s loss of the popular vote in 2016 as well as 2020 attests. But they are multitudinous. And they are America — or at least a substantial enough portion of it to put a question mark at the end of Hutchinson’s assertion.

I wrote about that in late October 2020, when Times Opinion asked all of its columnists to weigh in on the wages of the Trump years:

What has Trump’s presidency taken from us? I’m reasonably sure that many Americans feel the same loss that I do, and I’m struggling to assign just one word to it.

Innocence? Optimism? Faith? Go to the place on the Venn diagram where those states of mind overlap. That’s the piece of me now missing when I look at this beloved country of mine.

Trump snuffed out my confidence, flickering but real, that we could go only so low and forgive only so much.

That confidence hasn’t returned. How could it? Yes, Americans rejected Trump and elected Joe Biden, and that meant and means something.

But all around the country, as the midterms unfold, Republican voters are embracing candidates who profess unalloyed allegiance to Trump, candidates who promote the myth that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, candidates who either can’t recognize or aren’t concerned about the autocratic path that Trump and his enablers would take us down. Those voters and those candidates are America.

America is the prime-time hours on Fox News, which commands a bigger audience during that stretch than either CNN or MSNBC does. America is the viewers who thrill to Tucker Carlson’s rants and echo Sean Hannity’s resentments.

They’re not all of America, obviously. And the midterms have provided some solace, such as Georgia primaries in which Republicans who refused to do Trump’s bidding — and were then targeted by him — prevailed over ultra-MAGA foot soldiers.

But this country is a mix of truth and lie, of generosity and selfishness, of order and chaos. What Hutchinson saw on Jan. 6, 2021, wasn’t un-American. It was just an especially sad and scary version of America.

Her testimony was a hopeful alternative, inasmuch as it condemned such wrongdoing and insisted on a reckoning. May it also be an example.

For the Love of Sentences

In the context of recent news, we desperately need some fun. So let’s start there, with musings by Dan Kois in Slate about a soda machine in Ben Affleck’s home that apparently dispenses both Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. “Why would you create this unholy monstrosity, this horrific hybrid, this affront to nature?” Kois wrote. “Look, I am not naïve. I know that some tragically misguided individuals prefer Diet Pepsi, the devil’s beverage, to Diet Coke, the elixir of life. But who drinks both?”

Of the possibility that Affleck prefers one while his fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, likes the other, Kois observed: “Scientists tell us that, unfortunately, there are no documented cases of successful cross-cola marriages in human history. Happy, buoyant, cosmically satisfied Diet Coke people cannot coexist with miserable, unhealthy Diet Pepsi people.” (Thanks to Doug Harris of Manhattan for nominating this.)

More sorely needed comic relief comes courtesy of Patricia Marx’s essay-cum-escapade in The New Yorker about trying to appraise the infinity of mattress options today. “As with finding a person to sleep with, choosing what you want to sleep on is now largely done online,” she wrote. (Fred Reedy, Pittsburgh)

Also in The New Yorker, Andrew Marantz wrote: “Even Trump’s putative allies will admit, in private, that he was a lazy, feckless leader. They wanted an Augustus; they got a Caligula.” (Susan Toyofuku, Pleasant Hill, Calif.)

Reflecting in The Washington Post on Trump’s last-ditch effort to turn the Justice Department into an instrument of his corrupt will, Dana Milbank wrote: “On the evening of Jan. 3, 2021, the United States was about one bunch short of becoming a banana republic.” (Laurie Caplan, Astoria, Ore., and Sandy Huseby, Fargo, N.D., among others)

In The Financial Times, Edward Luce described Attorney General Merrick Garland as “a public servant who goes by the book in an America that has given up reading.” (Chris Durban, Paris)

Commenting in The Guardian about the nervousness and cowardliness of Boris Johnson’s aides, Andrew Rawnsley wrote: “A shiver is going around members of the cabinet looking for a spine to run down.” (Jackie Hempkin, Stroud, England)

Also in The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi noted that the Supreme Court, in the same week, “ruled that states don’t have the right to pass their own gun-control laws but do have the right to pass their own women-control laws. Time to get uteruses reclassified as assault rifles, I guess.” (Judi Komaki, Manhattan)

Reviewing the new movie “Elvis” in The Times, A.O. Scott fashioned this description of the title character’s manager, Col. Tom Parker: “He’s a self-invented man, an arriviste on the American scene, a ‘mister nobody from nowhere’ trading in the unstable currencies of wishing and seeming.” (Julie Morringello, Bluffton, S.C.)

And in The San Francisco Chronicle, Kevin Fisher-Paulson wrote: “Parenting really is a heartache business. At the end of the day, there is no end of the day.” (Pat Jackson, Sacramento)

To nominate favorite bits of recent writing from The Times or other publications to be mentioned in “For the Love of Sentences,” please email me here, and please include your name and place of residence.

Bonus Regan Picture!

When Regan whirls through the woods, she’s a paragon of four-legged athleticism, all leaps and bounds and sprints and spins. But her indoor sport is sleep. And that’s what she really excels at. She’ll often shuffle upstairs as early as 6 p.m., stretching out on the foot of my bed long before I get there. She’ll frequently stay put in the morning for two, three, even four hours after I wake and head downstairs.

And when I go to rouse her? I sometimes find that she has repositioned herself and claimed the precise spot I vacated. It seems almost cruel to dislodge her, but I do, because 14 consecutive hours of slumber are quite enough. And because those woods beckon.

On a Personal Note

One of my Duke students, an uncommonly thoughtful woman who cops readily to her confusion about the ways of the world, sent me an email on the day that the Supreme Court struck down Roe. The decision, she wrote, reduced her to “a vessel for potential life.” She was reeling. And she didn’t know what to do about it.

“I can only imagine how you feel,” I wrote. “I really do think it’s more than cliché to say that men must be humble about this issue.”

About 36 hours later, over my morning coffee, I spotted an article on The Times website about men and abortion, and I read this passage:

Paul Noble, 57, a retired high school teacher in Illinois, grew up in a “very white, very Catholic” community in the suburbs of Chicago. He said he learned from those around him that he should be “pro-life.”

His perspective changed during his sophomore year of college in Wisconsin. He was a resident assistant in his dorm at the time, and a young woman came to him for advice. “She sat down and immediately started to cry. She said, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m pregnant,’” Mr. Noble said. She explained to him that she had broken up with her boyfriend and that having a baby was not an option.

“I was just kind of agog listening to her talk,” Mr. Noble said. “This feeling washed over me — I don’t know if it was shame or humility — and I remember thinking to myself: ‘Why did I think I had a right to have an opinion on this subject?’”

He’s of course entitled to an opinion. Men have a role in reproduction, a role in families, a role in communities. And it’s silly to think that individuals should develop moral convictions and make political judgments only about matters that affect them in the most direct and immediate ways. That’s not how democracy works, it’s not how human nature works and it’s not how societies are stitched together.

But he was recognizing something important, something essential, which is that he would never carry a potential life to term, with all the fear, pain, sacrifice and difficult decisions that often attend that process. In our culture, he would probably never be made to feel the degree of responsibility for a child that so many people expect mothers to take on instantly and happily and forevermore. The stakes for him were hugely different from the stakes for his fellow student. That didn’t and doesn’t preclude an opinion, but it sure as hell compels “humility.”

I love that he used that word. I wish it was front of mind for more of us — for all of us. I wish Justice Clarence Thomas felt just a dab of humility as he elevated his and his scheming wife’s regressive vision for our country above a majority of Americans’ values. I wish his most conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court — who “prefer to set American law as they believe it should be set, even when they must overrule longstanding precedent,” as David Leonhardt observed in The Morning newsletter in The Times — would reacquaint themselves with it.

“The arrogance and unapologetic nature of the opinion are breathtaking,” Linda Greenhouse wrote in The Times, referring to the reversal of Roe, and she’s right. No matter the flaws of the Roe decision itself, it determined American law for half a century, during which the culture shifted, the possibilities for women expanded and the science of dealing with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies advanced. A precedent that longstanding, with ripple effects that broad, matters.

Also responding in The Times to the court’s seismic ruling last Friday, Bret Stephens wrote: “For me, the word that comes to mind is arrogance. Supreme arrogance.” It’s no accident that he and Linda, who occupy different places on the ideological spectrum, landed on the same term.

I’m mentioning humility and arrogance specifically in the context of Roe, but I’m also thinking and speaking more broadly than that. In our political fights, in our personal lives, all of us should ponder and factor in the limits of our understanding. All of us should accept that the world doesn’t exist to mirror our preferences or validate our prejudices. It’s richer for that. And peace depends on such acceptance.

The post Was Jan. 6 Really ‘Un-American’? appeared first on New York Times.

Last Update: Thu, 30 Jun 22 12:10:06