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Politics & Policy

Cause and Effect from Last Wednesday’s Chaos

Protesters tear down a barricade as they clash with Capitol police at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

On the menu today: Examining cause and effect in the sequence of Wednesday’s chaos at the U.S. Capitol; Twitter bans President Trump permanently; Amazon Web Services pulls the plug on Parler; and House majority whip Jim Clyburn says, “Let’s give President-elect Biden the 100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running, and maybe we’ll send the articles sometime after that.” Oh, and Alex Jones found a conspiracy theory that’s too farfetched, even for him.

Who Could Have Prevented Wednesday’s Violence?

Six events, in sequence:

One: At 8:17 a.m. Wednesday morning, Donald Trump tweeted, “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Shortly after noon, Trump said at the Save America Rally:

If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do. This is from the number one or certainly one of the top constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it. We’re supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our constitution, and protect our constitution. . . . All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the States to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people.

Later in his speech, Trump added:

Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. If he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution . . . Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you. I will tell you right now.

Two: By 2:16 p.m., as the protesters-turned-rioters broke into the Capitol complex and the U.S. Capitol was put into lockdown, Vice President Mike Pence was ushered off the floor of the Senate.

Three: At 2:24 p.m. — about eight minutes after the Secret Service determined that the rioters represent a threat to Pence — Donald Trump declared via Twitter:

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

The president does not tweet any criticism or denunciation of those storming the Capitol. He directs his anger and ire entirely at Pence.

Four: 14 minutes later, at 2:38 p.m., Trump urges everyone inside to “stay peaceful.” Of course, anyone watching live television coverage or the videos on social media could see they were not being peaceful.

Five: As the afternoon progresses, the angry mob invading the halls of the U.S. Capitol Building chanted “hang Mike Pence.” At least three protesters specifically told media present that they intended to hang Pence from a tree. You saw the gallows that the crowd assembled and the zip-ties carried by masked invaders. You heard about the pipe bombs police found. You may not have heard the report of the Molotov cocktails.

Six: By 6 p.m., Trump wrote a tweet that appeared to justify the actions of the mob:

These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.

Many people, particularly those disinclined to support the president, will look at the sequence of events above and conclude that events one and three led to events two and five. Others who are inclined to support the president will insist they’re just a bunch of things that happened coincidentally, with no tie or cause and effect. One didn’t lead to the other; had Trump not held the rally or insisted to his followers that Pence could alter the outcome of the election, everything that happened Wednesday afternoon would have unfolded the exact same way.

That latter conclusion requires a fervent, unshakable belief in predestination that some religious faiths would envy. It is difficult to believe that if Donald Trump had not said and done what he did Wednesday, that the violence and horrific scenes we saw would not be at least partially mitigated . . . and perhaps some of the people who died on that awful day would be alive today.

Joe Biden won the presidency with 306 electoral votes, including the state of Arizona where he won by 10,457 votes, Georgia where he won by 11,779 votes, Nevada where he won by 33,596 votes, and Pennsylvania where he won by 80,555 votes. In none of those states has anyone come close to proving, or even plausibly suggesting, vote fraud on a scale equal to or larger than Biden’s margin of victory. (Biden also won the popular vote by a margin of more than 7 million votes; the invocation of “the anger of 74 million Americans” hand-waves away the rights, interests, and perspective of the 81 million voters who cast ballots for the other guy.) The votes have been counted, recounted, certified, and many legal challenges have been adjudicated, with little or no alteration of the initial vote counts.

If Trump had accepted his defeat, only the fringiest of the fringe would still believe in the narrative of Venezuelan hackers and the stolen election. If Trump had read and understood the Constitution, he would have recognized that Vice President Pence could not alter the outcome. If Trump had held his rally at a site further away instead of the Ellipse, fewer of his supporters would have marched to Capitol Hill. If Trump had forcefully ordered the angry mob to disperse at the first sign of violence, denouncing them for assaulting police officers in his name, the violence might have ended quicker.

At each step of this process, Trump had the ability to cool public anger, reduce the tensions, and steer people away from violent confrontation. At each step of this process, he chose the opposite path.

Twitter Bans Trump

We keep experiencing events that are shocking but somehow not surprising. I wrote less than two weeks ago, “The slapping of warning labels on all of [Trump’s] tweets that the election was stolen is a sign that they just don’t want him on the platform, and they’ll face enormous pressure to cut off the president from his audience in the name of ‘fighting disinformation.’” But I figured Twitter would wait until Trump left office.

The problem is not Twitter’s decision to apply its standards and shut down the president’s account. The problem is that almost no one thinks Twitter applies its standards evenhandedly. The Ayatollah Khamenei, the Chinese foreign ministry and various Chinese government spokesmen, and other disgraceful heads of state still have accounts. Louis Farrakhan is still on there. You do not have to look too hard to find users verified with a blue checkmark, publicly venting their desire to commit violence, with minimal response from Twitter management.

This is akin to how the New York Times staff revolted over Senator Tom Cotton’s op-ed but yawned at a column by a Chinese government official arguing in favor the country’s military crackdown in Hong Kong. What is deemed unacceptable on major social-media platforms is what is deemed unacceptable to the demographic of hard-Left Americans.

Parler Tricks

From the perspective of Apple and Amazon Web Services, Parler was not only violating the AWS terms of service, they were not even enforcing Parler’s own terms of service. Is there anyone out there who would disagree that a web company should remove threats of violence against government officials or anyone else?

In a letter to Parler, Apple’s app review board said, “We have continued to find direct threats of violence and calls to incite lawless action” on the social media platform.

Amazon’s letter to Parler included screenshots of some of the content it said violated its terms for hosting. A Parler user posted that he would give liberals “a damn bullet to your damn head.”

Another said, “We need to systematically start assassinating #liberal leaders.”

Most companies would respond to a letter such as this with, “Goodness, that’s terrible! We had no idea those comments were on our site. We’ll get right to the work of removing them.”

But there is great currency in victimhood in our political culture now, and Parler CEO John Matze characterized the move as, “Amazon will be shutting off all of our servers in an attempt to completely remove free speech off the internet.

What is Amazon really objecting to about Parler? The death threats, or the pro-Trump views? Many right-of-center Americans believe that threatening statements are simply the excuse. They perceive corporate America cracking down on conservative, or at least pro-Trump viewpoints, anywhere they can. Stripe announced they will no longer process payments for the Trump campaign website.

Hard cases make bad law. If Parler had set itself up as “the social-media platform where violent threats are permitted,” from the beginning, Amazon and Apple would never have done business with them. If Parler had stringently enforced its own rules barring violent threats, they would not have given Amazon and Apple an easy way to justify purging them. At minimum, Parler could argue to Amazon, Apple, and the broader public that they were making a good-faith effort to remove threatening messages from their platform and that the problem wasn’t with Parler, but with a minority of Parler users.

In that scenario, if Amazon wanted to ditch Parler, they would have to find other reasons or excuses. As it is now, if Big Tech is driven by anti-Trump or anti-Right animus, those threatening messages and Parler’s lack of action give them all the excuse they need.

House Democrats: Maybe Trump’s Impeachment Can Wait until May

In a set of circumstances so extraordinary that even I support impeachment, the Democrats in Capitol Hill are finding a way to louse it up. Apparently, Trump holding the powers of the presidency wasn’t a serious enough threat to get the House of Representatives to work on a weekend — or this week, really, as the House is in its “district work period” — and House majority whip Jim Clyburn suggested the House may not send an article or articles of impeachment to the Senate until after Biden’s first 100 days.

You can’t remove a president from office after he leaves office. Yes, a successful conviction in the Senate could bar Trump from running for the presidency again, but is the Senate more likely or less likely to convict with 67 votes in May? The Senate would probably have to vote specifically on barring Trump from elected office in the future. (Recall that Judge Alcee Hastings was impeached on eight articles in 1989 . . . and elected to Congress in 1992. He’s still in Congress today.)

One other point: Joe Biden wanted to step into office and put all of the Trump drama and bitterness and anger behind him and usher in an era of normalcy and good feelings. He didn’t endorse impeachment, I’m sure he wants to get his cabinet confirmed, and he wants to get on to the business of his administration.

But the world has changed after the Capitol Hill Siege. Until justice is done, and Trump himself is held accountable by Congress for his role in the chaos that interrupted and delayed the legislative branch from doing its work, a “return to normalcy” is impossible. Putting the impeachment effort in Tupperware and stashing it in the back of the fridge is declaring that it doesn’t matter that much — and if it doesn’t matter that much, it shouldn’t be pursued.

This shouldn’t be a difficult call, prioritizing between holding Trump accountable and getting Biden’s appointees in charge of the federal agencies. The country can function with acting secretaries for a few more weeks. In a lot of cases, it’s been functioning with acting secretaries for a long while already.

ADDENDA: Notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones had too much, finally snapped, and went totally . . . er, sane, declaring that he’s sick of QAnon.

“Q tells us stuff, and all of it’s lies,” Jones raged. “Because every [expletive] thing out of you people’s mouths doesn’t come true. And it’s always ‘oh, there’s energy’ or ‘oh, now we’re done with Trump.’ You said he was the messiah! You said he was invincible! You said that it was all over. That they were going to Gitmo. And now that he’s part of a larger thing of Q. I will not suffer your Q people after this! I knew what you were day one, I know what you are now, and I’m sick of it!”

Finally, I know it wasn’t the outcome Greg wanted, but the kid-friendly Nickelodeon broadcast of the Saints-Bears game was a lot of fun. The NFL and its broadcast partners should examine more ideas like this one.

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