When the United States of America began an aggressive bombing campaign against top Iraqi government figures in 2003, the campaign was initially labeled one of "shock and awe." That's a military phrase meant to characterize an effort to assert "rapid dominance" over the enemy, and I remember with great clarity the images from CNN depicting a surreal nighttime apocalypse in the Middle East.
That phrase tripped through my mind two days ago, albeit in a markedly different context, when I watched in horror as hundreds of misguided traitors stormed the United State Capitol building, destroying property, inciting terror, and diminishing the hard-fought legacy of American democracy.
News broke this morning that one of the defenders of the Capitol Building, Officer Brian D. Sicknick, perished last night as a result of injuries he sustained in the melee. So very sad for his family and friends, because this never should have happened!
Nothing else can quite crystallize the toxic effects on logic, rational thinking, groupthink behavior, and misinformation that digital communication platforms have had on the American informational ecosystem as can this particular case study in idiocy.
While this group of dithering delinquents of despotism claim "revolution" in their unvarnished responses on air, there is nothing so romantic or authentic afoot in this "movement" by hate mongers, conspiracy theorists, and ill-informed conservatives.
In two short decades, digital communication tools have done so much to inflame the worst behaviors in a small subset of the American people. Their effects include (among so many others that won't be discussed in this blog post):
- Inspiring previously hidden bigots to step out into the light, spewing their hatred indiscriminately and mucking up the larger social media infrastructure with incivility, anger, and misinformation. Sure, these people existed before Twitter, but their reach was confined to shoddy newsletters and clandestine F2F meetings. Now, they congregate online, egging each other on, which leads to:
- Toxic groupthink idiocy. When swept up in the throws of a riot, most human beings behave in ways they never rationally would on their own. This group in particular, being both ignorant of reality (there were more than sixty attempts by trump to overturn election results; few among them were successful) and emboldened by their leader, took things ten steps too far earlier in the week. Goodness, gracious people...
- The fomenting of paranoid conspiracy theories. Look, it's easy to retweet things. It's easy to like things, and to read headlines without checking the veracity of a story. A discouraging percentage of the people that stormed the Capitol believe in the outlandish, ridiculous theories espoused by nameless writers on private threads in the QAnon movement. Look, some of the stories this group disseminates are simply insane. I won't get too deeply into it here, but their reach into the lives of marginalized, disgruntled, ill-informed loners and social pariahs seems to be a serious threat to those doing the difficult work of serving the American government. Some of those duped by these outlandish theories now regret it, and I think the QAnon presence at Wednesday's debacle was pretty significant.
- Lack of quality content-moderation practices. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms either don't care or don't have the wherewithal to delete these inane posts, although I do credit Facebook and Twitter for locking down trump's accounts in the wake of his damning videos whipping these folks into a frenzy.
These four ingredients combined in a horrible stew of anti-American destruction on Wednesday, and I didn't feel any sense of shock and awe in the sense of its original meaning. Of course, I was shocked by their behavior and in awe of their brazen stupidity, but that isn't a recipe for "rapid dominance," is it?
Instead, I felt shame and disgust. These people represent a small (but vocal and growing) minority of our American population. They are followers (those same sheep they love to crow about in their tweets) from the margins of American life and society, content to travel around "protesting" (proud boys my ass) instead of improving life in this country. They are divisive, destructive, and deluded.
Thankfully, our American legislators returned to their work later in the evening and certified President Biden's election victory. That, in my view, is heroic work that speaks to the strength of American democracy.
I am an Oregon democrat living in Jacksonville, and I didn't vote for either George W. Bush or donald trump. In both cases, however, I accepted their victories as the will of my fellow Americans, and I supported them in their efforts to guide our country and move us forward.
I am a patriot--and no, that isn't a bad word. I am proud to be an American and thankful to live in this country. It's not perfect, of course, but I still feel optimistic about America's promise.
But, even as a patriot, I cannot support trump. I think he's both dangerous and ignorant, and that's a potentially combustible combination. I echo Colin Powell's views that trump should resign. Powell is a great American, by the way, and his interview touched me because it was so reasonable and assertive. Heck, even that conservative bastion The Wall Street Journal is calling on this man to step down.
You know, in twelve days all of this is going to change. I felt shame and disgust all day Wednesday and on into yesterday afternoon. I was saddened for this great country. But all of this is about to change, and I feel optimistic again for the future in the wake of Congress completing their work and the national reaction to the heinous actions of so many depraved traitors. May part of their punishments be to actually read the United States Constitution...