How the hell did we get here?
It's been a year since January 6th, 2021.
And instead of shamefacedly being a year safely away from the demise of democracy, we're still looking right at it.
We're still looking right at it, right on the very cusp of revolution and collapse and civil war.
It's not over.
And what's horrifying a year later isn't that a bunch of raggedy-assed unwashed unshaven sloppy virgins in militia garb, wild-eyed drooling conspiracy nuts led by some goof wearing horns on his head and woad on his face like a Dollar Store Mel Gibson, and a veritable cornucopia of howling racists in every fruity flavor from pathetic Klansmen to sad inbred toothless Confederates to violent white nationalist Nazis, attacked the nation's capitol in an attempt to overthrow democracy and appoint Donald Trump as King of some new Empire of Blustering Capitalist Rage.
How the hell did we get here?
It's easy to blame Trump -- and there is no doubt he proudly bears a lion's share of the responsibility for what happened a year ago today. But Trump is a symptom of a much deeper sickness. Like Adolf Hitler, Trump is an conniving opportunist who didn't create the nation we now live in, he just took advantage of it. Took advantage of the hate, the bigotry, the unfocused pervasive rage of those who feel their privileged place in the universe is somehow being stolen from them by the undeserving.
How the hell did we get here?
How the hell did we get to a state where Americans are willing to throw away The Republic for ... Donald Trump?
This morning, Karl Rove -- yes, that Karl Rove -- penned an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, that stodgy musty wool-smelling bastion of Republican ideology, where he straight-facedly declared with all the self-awareness of a dog licking its own asshole on a public sidewalk that the GOP has a "duty to condemn the riot and those who refuse to acknowledge it."
The GOP has a duty to condemn the insurrection.
A duty, forsooth.
The GOP. The fucking Republican Party. He's talking about duty.
The very people who elected Trump in the first place and cheered him on. Those Republicans.
Rove went on to say, “There can be no soft-pedaling what happened and no absolution for those who planned, encouraged and aided the attempt to overthrow our democracy. Love of country demands nothing less. That’s true patriotism."
Karl Rove, talking about how there's no absolution for those who planned, encouraged, and aided in the attempt to overthrow our democracy. Karl Rove.
This is typically where'd I say something like Irony jumped the tracks, careened down the embankment, smashed through a circus, plowed over a mink farm and slammed into the river, where it burst into flames, rolled over, and exploded raining down flaming weasels and burning clown shrapnel over the terrorized countryside but such is that state of our nation that I can only boggle in amazement.
Karl Rove, goddamn.
How did we get here?
Well, guys like Karl goddamn Rove, that's how.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I used to be an intelligence officer.
Military intelligence. That was my job for a couple of decades and change, in peace, in war.
Mostly war, there's hasn't been a lot of peace in my lifetime.
I was pretty good at it, or so I'm told.
But then, I should have been good at it. Because I was trained to be good at it by men who were themselves good at it. Men I respected and admired -- well, most of them anyway.
But we'll come back to that.
Our job was to look beyond our own bias. Our job was to gather information, process it, and put it together into a coherent picture for those making the decisions. Most importantly: Our job wasn't to tell the chain of command what it wanted to hear, no matter how badly it wanted to hear it, but rather to tell the truth as best we were able to determine.
Even if it pissed people off -- which was almost literally the definition of my job and rank.
Even if it meant we might incur the wrath of our leaders for it.
Even if it meant we might personally suffer the consequences of that wrath.
Let me give you a personal example.
For me, that moment came a few days after the start of the Iraq war in March of 2003.
I'd been there for months already, doing missions in hostile waters, managing the collection of intelligence in the Northern Arabian Gulf. Reporting what I saw of the situation up the chain of command. I know for certain some of what I and my team reported ended up on the president's desk, as part of the larger picture. It's not like the movies. It's not like TV shows. It was chaotic and dangerous work, it's tedious and frustrating and nerve-wracking and confusing and every damn day you have to fight against the limitations of not only what is possible and the fog of war, but also the inertia of human nature.
What I mean by that is that we go into war with certain pre-conceived ideas and a lot of those are wrong.
And it was my job, by definition, to tell those in charge when they were wrong.
And they were, wrong, often enough.
A few days after the war started, my Chief brought me the target list for that day's strike missions.
And I saw a target on that list that I knew was wrong.
We were about to launch a mission that would kill innocent people -- well, maybe not "innocent" innocent, but they were certainly not combatants. And even in a war like that, a war of revenge, where the rules defining "enemy combatant" are pretty damn vague and morality isn't something Americans much care about, they were most certainly not a legitimate military target.
And I knew this for certain, or as certain as anything ever is in war, because a few days before I had personally led a team to that target. I'd been there. I'd inspected that target top to bottom. I'd spoken to those people. I knew who and what they were and I knew the mission to kill them was wrong.
And so, it was my job to stop it.
And eventually, just in time, I did. I got the strike called off.
There were some very irate commanders. I'd maybe used some less than respectful language to get their attention, words like "war crimes." But that's what it took to get through their pre-conceived perception of the situation. There was some talk of disciplinary action against me, as a result.
But in the end instead of an A-6 loaded with missiles, we sent in a SEAL team to assess the situation in person.
I was right.
And instead of getting court martialed for insubordination, after we came home a few months later I ended up getting a medal for saving the lives of 43 Iraqis.
In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters if we'd killed those people. No one would have cared. You'd have never known about it. It would have just been a couple more dead in a war that killed half a million people who'd never done a damn thing to us and no one would have given a shit. Least of all America.
But it mattered to me.
It mattered to me because the men who trained me made it matter to me. The good guys don't kill people they don't have to, even in war.
Now, I'm for damn sure not telling you this to blow my own horn, because all I was doing was my job. It was my duty. It was professionalism. It was the way I was trained. The medal and the commendation that go with it are in a box with the other ones from 20 years of service, on a shelf in the back of my closet. Maybe someday after I'm gone, my kid will find it and have some idea of what his old man did.
Maybe he'll be proud of me, I don't know.
Like I said, it doesn't much matter at this point. And I don't know if honor and duty and steadfastness mean anything in a dishonorable war started on lies from those like Karl Rove.
I did my job, same as everybody else over there. No more, no less. It was one minor moment in war, one of a thousand goddamn things in a war of goddamn things, and one of the few I can actually mention, even if only in vague terms.
The point here is that I did what I did because I was trained that way.
I was trained to do the right thing, even it it meant saving enemies that no one would ever care about.
I did what I did because the men who trained me demanded nothing less.
I did what I did because I believe that we are the good guys, or we're supposed to be anyway. America falls short often enough, but in the moment, well, either you stand on the moral high ground or you're buried under an avalanche of your own hypocrisy.
We lead by example, or we don't lead.
It's really just that simple.
I served for a number of years after that moment, long enough to learn we'd been lied to by the President, by slimy sons of bitches like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.
I tried to retire. I was refused three separate times.
But eventually they let me take off the uniform and go home and so it became someone else's job, someone else's duty, the next generation's war, the responsibility of the people I had trained.
And me? Well, I became just another old gimpy veteran.
I did some consulting work afterwards, but by then the scope of George Bush's malfeasance had become clear and so I retired to Alaska and became a writer. I started this blog and wrote about war and politics and the coming election. Social Media as we know it now was in its infancy. Facebook, Twitter, these were new things. I signed up.
And by and by, given the nature of social media, I reconnected to old friends, those very men I had once so admired, the ones who trained me in honor, duty, professionalism, and the skills to see the truth through chaos.
And I was horrified.
You see, a liberal black man had just been elected to office.
I voted for him. Yes, I did. Not reluctantly, but with enthusiasm. Proudly. Obama, my God, he was young and dynamic and smart and educated and articulate and kind and compassionate and funny and all the things that made me proud to be an American.
I'm still proud that I voted for him, twice, voted for the first black president not because he was black but because he embodied the very best of what this nation might be.
But what does that have to do with January 6th?
How did we get here? To this moment?
President Barack Obama.
Because the election of a young, dynamic, smart, educated, articulate, kind, compassionate, and funny liberal black man galvanized the foul racist mean underbelly of this country like nothing else ever had.
Those who attacked the Capitol a year ago today. They are in almost every regard, the antithesis of Barack Obama, mean, crude, uneducated, ill spoken, filled with rage and blind ignorant loud blustering false patriotism.
And those men I had admired? Those veterans I respected?
Like me, they were trained to be objective. To put aside their own bias. To demand proof. To require evidence. To check and doublecheck the information.
And they threw all of that away, all of it, when a black man took office.
They forgot everything they ever knew.
They forgot who they had been.
They watched Fox News all day and they lost their humanity. They lost their objectivity. Without the supporting structure of the military and the purpose it gave them and the impartiality our profession had imposed upon their worldview, they lost their very identity.
They became, literally became, different people.
It was horrifying. Like watching a loved one eaten alive by Alzheimers.
They included me on increasingly insane email chains that quoted Nancy Grace, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck as fact. They sent me racist mails quoting the comedian Jeff Foxworthy as if that guy was some sort of expert on anything. They posted racist memes to their Facebook pages and said with a sly wink, it's not really racist if it's true. Heh heh. They sent me dire proclamations from the NRA how the negro in office was somehow coming to take their guns -- these were men who'd been trained in firearms by professionals, who'd served honorably in war, who laughed at a bunch of unholstered swaggering goons like the National Rifle Association and yet here they were now suddenly quoting Ted Nugent.
And it got worse.
It got so much worse.
They joined the fucking Tea Party. They began to trade in the most insane and ridiculous of conspiracy theories. There was no lunacy too great, no rage so unhinged, that they couldn't embrace it if it came from Rush Limbaugh. And then when the next election came, these men that I had once so admired, who had served steely-eyed in war and who would have once risked it all for the truth, who had once led every day by steady example and who had been supremely contemptuous of those blustering frauds, the paper warriors, those of stolen valor and empty bravado, suddenly these same men were cheering ... Sarah Palin.
How did we get here?
America has always had more than its share of malcontents, of lunatics and violent nutters, the proudly ignorant and outright stupid, the sociopaths and the religious extremists, and while they nipped around the edges of our society, they were rightly relegated to the shadows.
Ronald Reagan and Lee Atwater and their version of The Southern Strategy brought the howling fringe into the Republican Party. But it was a war started on lies and the election of a black man to the highest office in the nation that normalized the most unhinged and brought them front and center.
There was always going to be consequences.
You can't spend decades building a political ideology based on hate and rage and not expect that there will be violence.
And it's always -- always -- downhill.
An ideology of hate and rage cannot build a better society, cannot create a better world, even for itself. It can only destroy.
Those who warp reality to fit their ideology can never ever be trusted to tell the truth, or ever see it.
When you raise up ignorance, extremism, and violence as not only normal but something to be admired, then the most admired must perforce be the most ignorant, extreme, and violent.
How did we get here?
How did we end up a year ago today, watching ignorant violent extremists storm the Capitol of our country shouting the name of an ignorant violent extremist, waving the very flags of violent extremism, in support of an violent extremist ideology?
It has often been said that for evil to triumph, good men need do nothing.
And that is true.
But it's more than that.
For evil to flourish, good men forget who they are. They forget the ideals they once swore to give their very lives for. They come to believe that they are aggrieved, that justice, liberty, and democracy are zero sums and that they have been diminished by the rising freedom of others. They come to see education and intellect as "elitism" and they begin to regard duty and the obligations of civilization itself as oppression. They raise up ignorance, hate, and especially violent rage as strengths and sneer in contempt at compassion, charity, and selflessness.
And the saddest part of this decline is that they cannot see that those who would lead them to their own destruction, do so not for ideology or belief or even from some supposed moral high ground, but for profit.
And if you're to keep the money rolling in, then you have to keep going further and further.
And hate always has consequences.
When your entire ideology is based on outrage, then the only way to maintain power is to stoke the fires of hate into an inferno of bitter white hot rage.
When rage becomes the only emotion you can feel, well, that only ends one way, in violence and blood.
And if you doubt this, you have only to look at the reaction among Republicans to President Biden's speech today on this anniversary of the insurrection.
Those responsible, those who led the insurrection and cheered on treason, they refuse to accept responsibility.
Instead they offer up defiance.
And threats of violence. More violence.
They have learned nothing. They are not sorry. They are not ashamed.
And you have only to look to their leader to see that it is true.
How did we get here?
These treasonous, traitorous, seditious insurrectionists. These sons of bitches right here with their fists raised into the air cheering on hate and violent insurrection.
From Limbaugh to Palin, from Carlson to Beck to Hawley, from Greene to Boebert to Gohmert, from McConnell to Gaetz, and most especially to Trump, that's how we got here.
But that's also how we stop it before this cancer kills us.
Like cancer, we cut it out.
We bring these bastards to justice. We hold them to account for their words and their actions and their endless treason. We drop the hammer on fascism so goddamn hard that these miserable fucks and their craven shitty stormtroopers never dare show their faces again.
Biden came out swinging this morning and put the blame for this insurrection squarely on those responsible and it's about goddamned time.
He should have done that a year ago.
There is no compromise with those who would murder us for their own profit.
If Merrick Garland can't step up now and do what is necessary to defend democracy and the Republic, he needs to be fired with alacrity and we need to find us someone who isn't afraid do what needs be done.
This is the moment, right here, right now.
This is the moment where history turns on a single sharp pivot and the very fate of civilization hangs in the balance.
And rarely -- if ever -- is that moment so clear while it's happening as it is right now. THIS is history, this moment right here, and what we do in this moment is how history will remember us.
A century ago, Germany could not stop its slide to destruction and those people, the craven cowards and the innocent and the monsters alike, had to ride the horror all the way down.
But we have their terrible example before us and we don't have to suffer the same fate.
We can stop it.
We can restore democracy and save The Republic.
But the time for half measures is long, long past. It is time now for bold action. This is our nation. This is our democracy. It's worth fighting for and it's time we take it back from these miserable sons of bitches and send them back to the fringe where their rotten ideology belongs.
As much as it pains me to say it, Karl Rove is right.
Those Republicans who still believe in democracy and their duty to The Republic, if there are indeed any such left, have a duty to condemn the riot and those who refuse to acknowledge it.
There can be no soft-pedaling what happened and no absolution for those who planned, encouraged and aided the attempt to overthrow our democracy.
Love of country demands nothing less.
That is true patriotism.
A year on, the question isn't: How did we get here?
It's how we get out of here.
This is the moment. Get after it.