Learning to Like the Violence
The scene in the car caught everyone’s attention. The president swearing, arms lunged at the steering wheel, his mind bent on personally landing at the Capitol to greet his gathering mob. Like many of the most unforgettable anecdotes of history, it may be false. Real time apocrypha.
This doesn’t matter.
Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified on Tuesday for two hours before the House Committee about the growing apprehension in the Trump orbit during the days leading up to Jan. 6.
Details of her account have been immediately put into question, particularly the memorable SUV action scene. More telling are the details that so far remain unchallenged.
Wheel lunging or no, Trump and his confidants knew about the coming storm. They’d been warned by the secret service. They knew things might get ugly (or even worse, that they might be legally liable for it!). Some appeared indifferent, others (Guiliani, per Hutchinson) were practically exuberant.
According to Hutchinson, when Trump learned, ahead of his grand speech on Jan. 6, that his followers are being kept outside the arena for refusing to surrender their arms (on offer was the full gamut between AR15s and flagpoles sharpened into spears), the president allegedly barked at his team to remove the magnetometers and allow the crowd to flow in. “They’re not here to hurt me,” Hutchinson recalled Trump saying.
Twitter can argue whether or not this apparent willingness to skirt security protocols on a hyper-tense day that began with a rousing populist speech and concluded with a fevered, vengeful march on the nation’s legislature should be considered an act of incitement. At a minimum it speaks to Trump’s ghoulish disregard for peace, his contempt for the duties of his office, and his apathetic shrug in the face of even the most basic social responsibilities. If there’d been news about burglaries in the neighborhood and one of your housemates left the door unlocked, you’d scold the hell out of them, even if nothing ended up getting stolen. If a CEO knowingly ignored a potentially catastrophic flaw in his company’s product, he could get sued. What should we make of a United States president whose primary criterion for de-escalation is whether the bloodlust is directed at him?
But seriously, we know enough about how Trump sees the world not to be surprised. In the midst of the riot – in those rare moments during which even Republican lawmakers had had enough, and the crack of their spine temporarily straightening into place was heard across the country – Trump posted a video where he kindly asked the rioters to go home, but not without emphasizing just how much he loves them. There’s no sign that Trump was perturbed by the riot, but there are many indicating that he was in fact pleased.
So far, nobody seems to challenge this tick-tock of cruel presidential indifference. The current meme of Trumpworld twitter and Truth Social is a virtual Zapruder film analysis of the would-be-car-jacking story, tirelessly scrutinizing the plausibility of Trump grabbing anyone by the clavicles.
They will spend days sharing and debating diagrams of the car, applauding whenever testimonies emerge that contradict Hutinchon’s account of the incident. What they won’t do is say a word about the rest of her testimony. For them, Trump turning a blind eye to warnings about security risks isn’t news (not as much as Hutchinson misnaming the vehicle Trump was in!).
And this to me is the horror of the moment. Among a certain faction of the right there’s an unremitting commitment to raise any possible excuse that might obfuscate the plain and obvious truth: Trump didn’t care. This habit scares me more than Trump as president ever could, because what it seems to imply is that for a large and noisy group of people, even the specter of political violence isn’t enough to dull their partisan blades. Even this grotesque display of what at minimum looks like a president sanctioning – if not fueling – mob justice doesn’t seem to inspire much grace.
In fact, the equivocators have become the mirror image of what many of them claim to hate most: the left’s mob apologists who back in 2020 would strain facts and bend the meaning of words in order to ignore or exonerate violence.
If you find yourself overcome with melancholy by the end of the American experiment, here’s the reason. It’s not about a president, high on power and pathologically incapable of admitting defeat, trying to steal an election. Nor is it about the few hundred tacky, maniacal superfans who had swarmed the Capitol only to successfully defecate inside lawmakers’ private chambers. Nor, for that matter, is it about the mobs of justice LARPers who had used the cover of a pandemic and racial injustice to loot and vandalize their neighborhoods senselessly and indiscriminately.
It’s about how, by all of these accounts, the illiberal wings of American politics are practically admitting that fomenting political violence and excusing cruelty towards fellow citizens no longer deserve condemnation – as long as it’s done under the right banner.
Brilliant! What a wonderful essay!
I love how you raise and then, as quickly, bash the heart racing drama by conceding that it might be false. To imagine being more appalled that Hutchinson’s account might be untrue than from the indisputable horrid surrounding it. You made me find some irony about lying -- how the worst of it somehow still reflects greater truth than our boatloads of facts.
I do have one profound and lingering linguistic fear from the Hutchinson story. It will likely destroy my life long love affair with one of my favorite words and body parts of all times: the clavicle.