The Wall Street Journal recently ran one of those opinion pieces you know you’ll remember years later. In “The Impossible Insurrection of January 6,” the Journal’s Barton Swaim argues that the invasion of the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters shouldn’t be considered an insurrection or an attempted coup, chiefly because, given progressives’ near-total control of our institutions, it had no chance:
It is irrefutable that some form of modern liberalism or progressivism prevails in nearly every sphere of American public life: the news media, the universities, K–12 education, the entertainment industry, corporate boardrooms, mainline religious organizations, college and professional sports (excluding the fans), much of U.S. military bureaucracy, and state and federal agencies.
Americans are increasingly aware of progressive dominance of society — and outraged at the woke mob’s totalitarian tendencies — but they despair at being able to do anything about it. Growing numbers of conservatives and independents sense that whatever the results of any election, the progressive agenda always wins. As in other instances of democratic failure, they are shifting their allegiances away from democratic institutions to charismatic personalities, from American ideals to cultural identity, from conservatism to a bipolar mix of nationalism and national divorce.
Alas, the progressive state is like quicksand: Do nothing, and you will sink; but struggle against it — without the right strategy — and you will sink even faster. Though the Trump presidency was one of significant policy successes for conservatives, the MAGA impulse — more visceral than strategic — often lashes out in ways that only reinforce the progressives’ dominance of the state.
Progressives seek to salve market failure and social injustice, but their remedy is to make some groups more equal than others — “equity,” in woke parlance. The progressive constitution is not one that any country would broadly choose if given a choice, and it cannot maintain the country’s trust, as we are seeing. Its trajectory is socialist, and like all socialist programs, it is a road to serfdom. Accommodation is surrender, and surrender is not an option. Neither is divorce, and neither is exile. If democracy is to prevail, we must defend it here and now.
Anatomy of a ‘Coup’
The harrowed narrative of a near-coup, Swaim writes, is a delusion that “springs from the American liberal elites’ failure to accept the fact of their own predominance.” He warns, “The danger is that this paranoia keeps liberals from understanding their own dominant position — and acknowledging how illiberally they often exploit it.”
I was horrified by the events of January 6, for the same reason I was horrified in 2011 when progressive protesters invaded the Wisconsin state capitol to block a budget-reform bill; and in 2013 when they shouted down an abortion bill in the Texas legislature from the rafters; and in 2020, when they spent a good part of the summer destroying public monuments, besieging federal buildings, abusing the police, and attacking local youngsters for trying to put out their fires when the responsible authorities were too lily-livered to do their jobs.
What separates democracy from totalitarianism, and from sheer barbarism, is the rule of law, of which the most precious part is our Constitution and its provisions for elections and for making laws. I don’t believe President Trump intended his supporters to overrun the Capitol, chiefly because I don’t think he really knew what he was doing. But the riot was a foreseeable result of rousing his supporters to intimidate and influence the largely pro forma certification of electors then unfolding in Congress. Once the rabble overwhelmed the police barricades and began flooding into the Capitol, it became — at the very least — an assault on our constitutional order. The “attempted coup” label is not as “preposterous” as Swaim thinks.
Still, Swaim’s broader point is hard to discredit if you consider the counterfactual. Imagine what might have happened if, on January 6, Trump loyalists had enjoyed overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and in the state legislatures of key battleground states. And imagine further that the vice president, Senate majority leader, and speaker of the House were all supportive of Trump’s bid. And imagine that the mainstream media was insistently reporting that the election had been stolen. In that case, the result of January 6 might indeed have been quite different.
Read the full article at National Review.