Konopacki 11-24

Happy Thanksgiving! Let's hope that it really is.

I can't remember a Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays, when we've been surrounded by so much gloom. The 2016 holiday, which followed the election of Donald Trump, came close. But that was just an election. This year it seems the future of American democracy could be at stake.

Particularly disturbing is the possibility that some Americans are planning to go to war with their fellow citizens. A report in the New York Times the day after Veterans Day documented that possibility.

"At a conservative rally in western Idaho last month, a young man stepped up to a microphone to ask when he could start killing Democrats," it began.

“When do we get to use the guns?” he said as the audience applauded. “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” The local state representative, a Republican, later called it a "fair" question.

The report continued: "In Ohio, the leading candidate in the Republican primary for Senate blasted out a video urging Republicans to resist the 'tyranny' of a federal government that pushed them to wear masks and take F.D.A.-authorized vaccines.

“When the Gestapo show up at your front door,” the candidate, Josh Mandel, a grandson of Holocaust survivors, added, “you know what to do.”

Just 10 months after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, right-wing Republicans are talking openly that the use of force is justifiable to oppose those who wouldn't overturn the 2020 election. A recent poll showed that nearly a third of citizens who identify as Republican believe that will be necessary. A significant number answered "yes" when asked if “true patriots” may have to resort to violence to “save” the country.

The country's politics have had their overly contentious moments many times in its history, of course, the Civil War being the prime example.

Omar Wasow, a political scientist at Pomona College who studies protests and race, drew a contrast for the Times between the current climate and earlier periods of turbulence and strife, like the 1960s or the run-up to the Civil War.

“What’s different about almost all those other events is that now, there’s a partisan divide around the legitimacy of our political system,” he said. “The elite endorsement of political violence from factions of the Republican Party is distinct for me from what we saw in the 1960s. Then, you didn’t have — from a president on down — politicians calling citizens to engage in violent resistance.”

Yet starting with his 2016 campaign and throughout his term in office, Trump alluded to the possibility of violence. He encouraged attendees at his rallies to "knock the hell" out of protesters, praised a Montana state senator who body-slammed a reporter, and often called for his supporters to show how tough they could be, encouraging them to forcefully remove agitators from his rallies.

What's so troubling about today is that political leaders in Congress openly downplay the insurrection, and several make comments that appear to sanction violent reactions. An even greater number won't concede that there really was an attempt to forcefully disrupt the results of a presidential election.

An example of that was on full display on a recent "This Week," ABC-TV's Sunday morning talk show.

While interviewing his guest, Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, anchor George Stephanopoulos asked if the senator was troubled about remarks attributed to Trump in ABC reporter Jonathan Karl's new book. Trump told Karl that it was only "common sense" for people angered over a fraudulent election to chant "hang Mike Pence" when the then vice president wouldn't overturn the election's certification.

Stephanopoulos played the audio of Trump's interview with Karl for Barrasso and pressed, "Can your party tolerate a leader who defends murderous chants against his own vice president?"

Like other elected officials who were asked the same question, the senator avoided it, saying that "the Republican Party is incredibly united right now" and arguing that "Trump brings lots of energy to the party."

That's the kind of obfuscation that is leading the political fringe to take matters into their own hands — elected officials without the guts to speak up when they know something's wrong.

The Sunday New York Times earlier this month published a special section entitled "Snap Out of It, America." It contained a number of essays promoting ways, including constitutional amendments, to get the country out of what many call its "lethargy."

I'm worried that it's much deeper than that. Brazen acts of violence aren't just happening in the nation's capital but have infected meetings of school boards and municipal governments.

For sure, we still have plenty to be thankful for. There's lots of good around us, from our families to those who work tirelessly to make life better, to the food we have to the institutions that help us enjoy comfortable lives that many in the world don't have.

But if we don't "snap out of it," we might not have much to be thankful for in our Thanksgivings of the future.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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