1 Year Since 1/6: Death Throes of Liberalism


By Rob Mullins, Editor

Today marks one year since a pro-Trump mob breached the US Capitol while protesting the results of the 2020 presidential election. Debate still rages about the particulars of the day: was it a violent insurrection or a mostly peaceful protest that spun out of control? Was the mob comprised of deluded, dangerous lunatics or loyal, patriotic freedom fighters? Naturally, one’s view of the legitimacy of the 2020 election informs their opinion on the nature of the protest. That’s why the jury is still out regarding widespread public perception of the event. As pointed out in a previous article, consensus on this event will only emerge after one of the factions currently fighting for lasting hegemony in US politics emerges victorious.

This fact alone renders the opinion-column battles over the perception of 1/6 completely irrelevant. The real action is taking place across the country, both in Congress and individual state legislatures. The outcome of these fights to change election bylaws, restrict or expand mail-in voting, and take over critical posts involved in counting and verifying ballots are much more consequential. More so than any media spin or narrative, it is precisely these conflicts that are most revealing about the dynamics at play in American political discourse. The Democratic effort to quickly pass legislation that expands federal power over administering elections, along with the Republican effort to dominate the statewide oversight of elections, all point unmistakably to the decline of America’s political institutions and, by extension, the death of Liberalism itself.

Liberalism, the government implementation of Enlightenment ideals of secular, limited government that maximizes personal freedom, had a good run. For nearly the entirety of US history, it led to an explosion of wealth that significantly raised the living standard for untold millions. From a consequentialist perspective, Liberalism was a great boon to humanity. Nevertheless, the undeniable benefits of Liberalism do not change the fact that it rests on somewhat questionable premises. Can the government really make laws without legislating morality? How far does the tradeoff between freedom and security go? These questions become even more challenging to answer in light of Liberal political philosophy’s departure from tradition in viewing the individual as the fundamental political unit, who accepts no obligations except those voluntarily entered into, as opposed to the traditional emphasis on family and patriotism, along with the duties these associations carry.

In today’s political discourse, Liberal values reach their logical conclusion. The pursuit of unfettered free markets and limited government has brought us to a point where social media has atomized and isolated significant portions of the population to the extent that they have lost touch with reality, which makes sense when one accepts the inadequacy of Liberalism to form a coherent national culture. As a result, more and more people take refuge in anything that will provide a sense of identity: conspiracy theories, radical ideology, racial supremacy, and antisemitism. These positions, which accounted for a fringe margin of society decades ago, provide a sense of belonging and identity that Liberalism is wholly unable to deliver.

Increased polarization explains why it appears as though the stakes have never been higher in politics. When people prioritize party over country, every election down to the county clerk becomes a “battle for the soul of the nation.” Trump exploited this polarization for his political benefit. His brand of politics is uniquely devoid of ideology, as his past position on such issues as abortion, healthcare, and immigration demonstrates. Instead, to distract from his rather vacuous and vague policy proposals, Trump engaged heavily in abstract culture war conflicts, encompassing issues like abortion and “law and order.”

To conclude that Trump is the origin of the culture war because he is the first to take advantage of it would be erroneous. Instead, his bombastic and aggressive rhetoric is merely a symptom of the rot that has infiltrated the republic. Scandal after scandal regarding sexual impropriety, gaffes, and highly damaging leaked audio couldn’t sink his campaign, a shocking development in a county where the list of things that killed presidential campaigns historically included a weird yelp and crying in the face of having the character of one’s wife assaulted. But the sense of shame that forced those candidates to end their campaign does not exist in Donald Trump. He played for keeps, and he won big.

It’s easy to sit around and ask how such a nasty man could be elected president. It’s easy to insult his character, rhetoric, political positions (or lack thereof), and physical appearance. Pundits and politicians do all these things because a higher level of analysis presents a challenge. None of these traits were obscured from the public, either by Trump or a fantastic PR team. His nastiness, pettiness, and haughty demeanor were evident for all to see, and a plurality of the country found him more appealing than any alternatives in the primary and his opponent in the general election. Some see his election as a bipartisan Liberal Establishment failure, a dangerous departure from the American political tradition. This perspective misses the mark, however. In the election of a man widely perceived as antithetical to Liberal values, Liberalism actually fulfills its intended purpose of reflecting the popular will. And therein lies the problem, as we shall see.

Despite mainstream media’s assertions, the Trump administration was not a significant repudiation of mainstream political practices; he simply wasn’t as polished as his predecessors. Whereas former presidents finish out their terms and make millions off speaking engagements, Trump administration officials blatantly promoted a fashion line owned by the president’s daughter on national television. Many laugh at Trump’s contention that he didn’t lose the 2020 election while ignoring Hillary Clinton’s claims that the 2016 election was not legitimate. These examples do not serve to defend Trump. Instead, these juxtapositions merely highlight why the political Establishment could not level a valid critique of the man.

The widely known soft corruption that permeates the Liberal Establishment, epitomized in the persons of octogenarian legislative leaders and codified into law by Citizens United, is essential to understanding the support Trump enjoys among his base. He cultivates an image as a strongman playing hardball. When a population comes to view politics as a zero-sum game, as the 2020 election fallout demonstrates, it is precisely this type of style and rhetoric that garners support. Through no fault of his own, Trump was in the right place at the right time. He’s also done a superb job of capitalizing on this fortuitous national reckoning to create a loyal fanbase devoted to him alone. At first, the majority comprised of blue-collar workers impacted by outsourcing. Gradually, however, the ranks began to swell.

It would be impossible to understand the sustained loyalty of the Trump base without acknowledging its substantial overlap with the Evangelical population. Protestant Christianity and its reactionary politics often bridge the gap between the everyday Trump supporter and the QAnon fanatic who is entirely out of touch with reality. QAnon and the myriad other niche groups that imitate it create a quasi-mythology about Trump that paints him as a dauntless leader who faces down impossible odds to uncover a child trafficking ring connected to Establishment political leaders and bring them to justice. The specifics of this fringe doctrine need not be explained in detail to appreciate its consequence, whether deliberate or otherwise, of creating a founding myth and cult of personality around Donald Trump.

Ongoing investigations into the 1/6 riot demonstrate that adherents to QAnon made up the vast majority of those who stormed the capitol. For example, the now-infamous horned man photographed in the Senate chamber is known colloquially as the “QAnon Shaman.” Likewise, Ashli Babbitt, the protestor shot by Capitol Police, believed in QAnon. Mass political movements typically relegate extremists and fringe actors to the margins to avoid accountability for their behavior. The QAnon crowd is in the process of elevating itself to the squadre d’azione (action squads) that destabilized Italy in the 1920s. The task of mainstream politicians within the movement is not to join the thugs in the street but perform apologetics for them to make the action palatable to the public, which is precisely what the GOP has done in the aftermath.

Republican efforts to shift the narrative have achieved the short-term goal of impeding the emergence of a consensus of widespread condemnation. First, they trivialize the incident with laughable characterizations, including Congressman Andrew Clyde’s (R-GA) remark that it was a “normal tourist visit.” Others, such as Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Tucker Carlson, concede violence but blame left-wing agitators. According to a Quinnipiac poll, 74% of Republican respondents believe too much is being made of the incident. As long as this support remains, it will be impossible to reach a consensus on the events of 1/6.

Meanwhile, Trump’s political position only continues to improve. Interest in a re-election run remains high. Even if his support among moderates has eroded, his power over the Republican Party is so strong that his campaign would clear the primary field. Moreover, despite occasional notable subpoenas from the Jan. 6 committee making the news, the committee has been unable to hold anyone but the rabble that attended the riot accountable. In light of the forceful rhetoric that the committee has used to characterize the mob, the inability to hold those charged with inciting it will prove to deal a death blow to its legitimacy.

The fight over the legacy of 1/6 is a battle of conflicting narratives. All that is guaranteed is that this ongoing process of emerging consensus will eventually end; one narrative will have to prevail. It would be absurd to assert that the right-wing conception of 1/6 possesses a monopoly on the facts. Only the absence of a coherent response from the Establishment allows for the widespread propagation of alternatives. Our hubristic faith in American political institutions to defend against threats of violence could well prove to be our undoing. In the face of all of this information, it is crucial to ensure 1/6 is not a repeat of the Access Hollywood tape leak: an event widely believed to herald the end of Trump’s political career that in reality only serves as a minor obstacle to his comeback and triumph. The unfortunate reality remains that it might already be too late. Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant.