We Need More Tepid Takes
Like almost everyone else, I spent a good chunk of yesterday watching in horror as Trump’s thugs looted the Capitol. I tried not to, but I wound up on social media and some news sites reading what people had to say about it, everyone from pundits and politicians to regular people, friends, strangers, people I admire, and people I kinda hate. I should know better. All it did was upset me, I barely got any sleep.
As I lay awake, something struck me. Every take I read seemed so confident. These are terrorists! This is an attempted coup! Every person involved must be arrested! Trump must be removed from office immediately! Trump must resign! If the mob had been black, it would have been a bloodbath! They must be held accountable! And on and on and on. Now, I’m not saying any of these takes are wrong. I was just struck with the confidence with which they were presented. There wasn’t an “I think” or a “maybe” to be heard. It didn’t matter if the person saying it was a former president, a guy off the street, or a supposed expert. They all had the same apparent degree of confidence.
I felt anything but confident. Were they terrorists? Maybe, but I usually think of terrorists as trying to spread terror. I felt a lot of things, but terror wasn’t one of them. I don’t know what they were. Does calling them terrorists do anything productive or counterproductive? I have no idea.
Was it a coup attempt? Again, maybe, but did they have a plan? Was there an endgame? Is it even logically possible for a terrorist to participate in a coup? They seem to have different goals. Does it even make sense to talk about a coup when the people involved support the sitting president? Again, I have no idea.
Should everyone involved be arrested? I really don’t know about this one. Has any good ever come from somebody being arrested? I know it’s what we do to criminals, the poor, and the marginalized, but is it what we should do? I don’t know. I suspect not, but I really don’t know.
Should Trump be removed from office or resign? We can’t have both. Is there a real difference between the two? The theatrics of this were spectacular, but how is it different than everything else he’s done the last four years? He only has two weeks left. Is it even worth the trouble at this point? I certainly don’t know.
Would it have been a bloodbath if the mob had been black? I believe this one to be very likely true, but there is simply no way to know. You can’t test an alternate ending in real life. I don’t know and nobody else does either.
Should we hold everyone involved accountable? That’s an incredibly difficult question. What does it even mean to hold someone accountable? What does holding someone accountable do? Will it prevent similar things from happening in the future? Maybe, but it’s not like the Nuremberg Trials stopped a bunch of wannabe Hitlers from popping up over the last 75 years. Did Martha Stewart or Bernie Madoff act as a deterrent for anyone? What happens if people are not held accountable? Did letting all the Viet Nam era draft dodgers off the hook cripple our military? No one was held accountable for the foreign interference and other improprieties in the 2016 election, but the 2020 election was still the most secure in history. Maybe it’s about justice, but in the past few thousand years, no one has been able to show how punishment brings about justice. At least I’ve never seen it if they have.
This isn’t even getting into the more amorphous claims like: This isn’t us! or This is who we really are! or Biden will heal us! Again, I’m not saying any of these takes are wrong. I just find it strange that I can be the only one so full of doubt about all of this. Am I dumber than everyone else? Yesterday’s spectacle left me bewildered and confused. The last thing I was prepared to do was loudly proclaim what had to be done.
I’ve taken quite a few writing classes in my time. I know that they always teach that good writing is confident writing. Qualifiers and caveats are practically forbidden. I think we should try honest writing instead. It should be OK to be confused and admit it. There’s nothing wrong with reflecting before deciding what to do.
It’s possible that this is the hottest of hot takes, and for that I apologize. Maybe I am the only one who doesn’t know exactly what to do about looting the Capitol. But, I suspect I’m pretty typical, at least when it comes to this. I know I’m outraged and shocked, but I have no clue what to do about it. I’d feel better if more people would admit to being unsure as well.