An open letter to QAnon, “stop the steal,” and other communities involved in the Capitol attack

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A QAnon symbol at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty)

To the QAnon community, and others involved in storming the Capitol:

The Deep State is real, but it’s not what you think. The Deep State you worry about is mostly made up; a fiction, a lie, a product of active imaginations, grifter manipulations, and the internet. I’m telling you this now because storming the Capitol building has drawn the attention of the real Deep State — the national security bureaucracy — and it’s important you understand what that means.

You attacked America. Maybe you think it was justified — as a response to a stolen election, or a cabal of child-trafficking pedophiles, or whatever — but it was still a violent attack on the United States. …

A sad day for America that might inadvertently lead to some good

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Trump supporters storm the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 (Evelyn Hockstein/Washington Post via Getty)

It was a sad day for America. A mob stirred up by lame duck president Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building as Congress met to certify the November election, smashing windows, ransacking offices, and taking photos on the Senate floor. Five people died, including a rioter shot by Capitol police and a police officer hit in the head with a fire extinguisher (the other three involved medical complications).

I love the Capitol. It’s a gorgeous piece of architecture and symbolizes American democracy, which is something I care about a great deal. On my last night living in D.C., I made a point of walking all the way around it. …

You un-American, anti-democracy, lying sack of sh*t

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Senator Ted Cruz in a hearing, November 17, 2020 (Hannah McKay-Pool/Getty)

Liar or believer? I’ve asked that a lot these past four years, as Republican politicians and media figures spout falsehood after Trump-supporting falsehood. Do they really believe it? Or are they cynically going along with claims they know have no basis in reality — or are even the opposite of reality — because they don’t value truth, don’t respect their supporters, and see personal advantage in the lies?

Do they really believe Vladimir Putin is right and the U.S. intelligence community is wrong about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election?

Do they really believe “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea”? That COVID is no more dangerous than the flu? Or that Trump recalled the corruption-fighting ambassador to Ukraine, froze legally-allocated aid to Ukraine, and asked Ukraine’s president to do him the “favor” of announcing an investigation into Joe Biden because Trump was trying to oppose corruption, rather than trying to manufacture an advantage against the candidate he expected to face in 2020? …

One teenager used a racial slur in a video, another made it go viral, and adults made the whole thing worse

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(Wikimedia Commons)

This weekend, The New York Times reported on some teenage drama. In 2016, a high school freshman named Mimi (who is white) posted a short video to Snapchat of herself saying “I can drive, n*****” in a rapper-like cadence. In spring 2020, it circulated around the school again, and a classmate of Mimi’s named Jimmy (who is half black) saved a copy. In June, during protests over the police killing of George Floyd, Jimmy posted the video. It went viral, people got mad about it, and denounced Mimi on social media. Some contacted the University of Tennessee, which Mimi was going to attend this fall. She got kicked off the cheer team and, under pressure from administrators, withdrew. Jimmy told the Times he “taught someone a lesson.” …

Undermining democratic legitimacy and conning supporters, but not actually affecting results

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A Trump supporter in a shirt alleging “fraud” at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC, November 14, 2020 (B.A. Van Sise/NurPhoto via Getty)

I saw this coming. As President Trump denigrated vote-by-mail and installed crony Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General, his unsubtle plan to manipulate the election came into focus. I called it out in July, and again, step-by-step, in August:

Taking stock of who rose and fell after four long years

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Winner: Joe Biden

Biden ran for president twice before and went nowhere. After eight years as Obama’s vice president, he retired from politics, staying out of 2016. In 2017, Biden said Trump calling white nationalist demonstrators in Charlottesville “very fine people” prompted him to run, and he maintained his “restore the soul of America” message throughout the campaign. He weathered Trump’s schemes to manufacture dirt in Ukraine, and an avalanche of harsh attacks on his son. Now he’s president-elect.

Winner: Donald Trump

Yes, he lost the election. And yes, he’s going to lose his protection from prosecution. Donald Trump is a lifelong crook — likely criminal fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, more — and had been getting away with it before he decided to shine the world’s biggest spotlight on his activities. He’s about to have legal problems, including state charges that a presidential pardon can’t touch. He owes a lot of people money, presumably including some who are not that forgiving. In office he failed in many ways, most notably with COVID. …

Vote counting isn’t over and challenges remain, but things are looking up

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Joe Biden in Delaware, November 4, 2020, a day after the election (Win McNamee/Getty)

The 2020 election was the inflection point I couldn’t see past. Something big was going to happen that would reshape whatever came next, and while we could game out various scenarios, we couldn’t know what it’d be like until after.

Now that it’s after, I feel relieved.

1 — I’m relieved that Election Day went smoothly. The pandemic didn’t disrupt voting, thanks to lessons learned from disrupted primaries, and many new volunteers working the polls. A record-setting number turned out to answer one of the biggest questions in American history.

2 — I’m relieved that Biden is poised to win. Well, mostly I’m relieved that Trump isn’t. When I wrote that Trump posed a threat to American democracy, I meant it. …

Donald Trump shattered norms, broke laws, and violated the Constitution, but he can’t keep power without reelection

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President Donald Trump at the White House, October 26, 2020 (Tasos Katopodis/Getty)

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has experienced the early stages of democratic backsliding. As seen in Turkey, Russia, Hungary, Poland, and recently India, an elected leader erodes democratic norms, overcomes restrictions on executive power, installs loyalists in key agencies, and attacks independent sources of information. Where they can, these would-be authoritarians use state power to gain electoral advantage. Eventually, they rig elections and change constitutions to keep themselves in office.

It’s been almost four years, and we’ve seen Trump cast aside norms, break laws, violate the Constitution, and use his position to make money off U.S. taxpayers and foreign governments, all without facing any real consequences. He successfully stymied investigations by the FBI, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the House of Representatives. He fired inspectors general — the independent watchdogs installed in post-Nixon reforms — because they did their job and reported illegal and unethical activity. …

The Trump campaign’s long-planned October Surprise was a dud, and they look out of ideas

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President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Georgia, October 16, 2020 (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty)

On Wednesday, The New York Post published a bombshell. “Smoking-gun” emails, they called it. From Hunter Biden! Supposedly implicating his father, Democratic nominee Joe Biden!

It’s mid-October. Aren’t you surprised?

The story smelled from the start and unraveled quickly. It began with a false premise, presenting then-Vice President Biden’s effort to oust a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor as personal, when he actually acted on behalf of the Obama administration with support from Congressional Republicans and the European Union. The article’s source was Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was not-coincidentally part of the scheme to extort the president of Ukraine into manufacturing an investigation of the Bidens, which got Trump impeached.

The long-running, repeatedly escalating fight is bad for the country. And dangerously out of balance.

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(The Supreme Court building. Photo by Mark Thomas, Pixabay)

I object to the Judicial Wars. I object to the whole thing. We’re into the fourth decade of this partisan battle, with escalation after escalation distorting the Senate and undermining judicial legitimacy.

I blame both sides. Yes, Republicans are worse at the moment (we’ll get to that), but Democrats are responsible for multiple escalations.

I don’t really care who started it. Even if one side is ultimately more at fault, both helped make it worse.

Judicial legitimacy is a pillar of a rule-of-law society. The more the public sees the courts as another extension of partisan politics, rather than impartial arbiters of the law, the greater the risk leaders refuse to follow rulings they don’t like. From a nonpartisan perspective that values the functioning of the U.S. …


Nicholas Grossman

Senior Editor at Arc Digital. Poli Sci prof (IR) at U. Illinois. Author of “Drones and Terrorism.” Politics, national security, and occasional nerdery.

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