Of Peaceful Protests, Riots, and Contested Elections

The perpetual cycle of outrage in American society is so predictable as to be boring. It hardly takes a psychic to foresee the reactions to the events at the Capitol last week.

Progressives reacted with indignant outrage at the “storming” of the Capitol and the “insurrection.” To them, the protests was a violent riot, a mob attack on our government. They compare it unfavorably to the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) protests of last summer; to them, last week’s events were an episode of domestic terrorism while the BLM protests were merely a peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected civil liberties. What little violence occurred during BLM events was not representative of the movement as a whole and was overblown by the media. Once the conservative protest was thus distinguished as treasonous, progressives felt, as is becoming increasingly typical, that they had the moral authority to actively censor anyone or anything related to the protests on social media.

Many conservatives see the Capitol protestors as true patriots, the remaining few who are willing to fight to protect the democratic values of the United States in the face of rampant electoral fraud. They blanch at the negative media portrayals of actions they believe to be righteous. To them, last week’s conservative protests were merely a peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected civil liberties, unlike the BLM protests, which were little more than lawless riots. What little violence occurred at the Capitol protest was not representative of the movement as a whole and was overblown by the media. Conservatives bristled at the left’s hypocrisy while simultaneously denying their own and were resentful of yet again being subjected to more censorship from the progressives, all of which reinforce the feeling of persecution.

The familiar and tedious script played out at usual, each side claiming righteousness and accusing the opposing side of being morally bankrupt. Each side rightfully pointed out the hypocrisy on the other side while ignoring the hypocrisy on their own side. Empathy, compassion, and tolerance for differences were once again casualties in this war between the United States’ political constructs of left and right.

What do people get out of participating in this cycle of outrage? No one’s life is made better for it. To the contrary, it seems to make people feel more stressed, fearful, and angry, and it is certainly making our country more divided. Progressives seem attached to the cycle of outrage because it gives them a smug sense of superiority over their opponents and, in this instance, a feeling of victory for their side.

My coworkers derisively deconstructed the events following the protest last week the same way they would the outrageous antics of a reality television show. They indulged in a mocking tone that has become common in the cultural script for assessing political events, a tone that prevents engagement with the other side’s ideas in any meaningful way. Our politics is entertainment, simply another reality show to watch on television.

To my blue state cohorts, conservative Americans provide comedic relief as people too stupid and backwards to see the supposed truth of progressive thought. If a red state American disagrees with a progressive idea, it is because they are too provincial and uneducated to know better or because they are simple-minded bigots. There is no acknowledgment that their different viewpoints could be the result of different values and lifestyles that are equally valid as those borne of coastal, urban life. This worldview is reinforced by the fact that many of the conservatives that we are exposed to in the media are provocateurs who make their fame and fortune by being outrageous and offensive.

This attitude of superiority filters through the news media companies, which are centered in major blue state cities like New York and Washington, D.C., and pervades the news product in the selection and portrayal of news stories and players. As financially struggling news media companies increasingly capitulate to progressive employee and audience demands to be on the right side of “truth,” the problem has gotten worse and the news perspectives more condescending and homogeneous. It is no wonder that conservatives and independents are flocking to alternative media where they can at least get some validation of their values as well as some diversity in perspective.

Progressives are only inflicting injury on themselves and the country by being dismissive of the sizeable portion of Americans, including half of Republicans and 30% of Democrats according to some polls, who believe that the election was stolen. That is tragic, and we should be ashamed at laughing off such a large portion of the population feeling politically disenfranchised. That is a dangerous idea that undermines our very #democracy and should not be written off as the rantings of people too stupid to see the facts. Such dismissiveness will only lead to more “insurrections” down the road.

That so many people believe the election was stolen is indictment of the state of politics and news in this country. The people who believe the election was stolen are not the problem. Online media trafficking in conspiracy theories are not the problem. Trump, though he fanned the flames of the conspiracy, is not really the problem. The actual problem is that there is no longer a universal standard that all Americans trust for reliable information.

The news media and tech companies have lost people’s trust by their choices in recent years. Their obvious promotion of a progressive narrative to the exclusion of all others and their censorship of information and opinion that does not fit the narrative stripped them of their status as objective purveyors of information. Now they are standard-bearers for the Democratic cause and are seen by many as mere propagandists who are trying to shape the way Americans think. Further #censorship, besides being illiberal and anti-democratic, only exacerbates this problem. Rather than changing how people think, it radicalizes them more.

We need more freedom, not less. We need more diversity in viewpoints and more rigorous discussion. It is only when Americans of different political stripes feel that their voices are properly represented in the media landscape that they will also feel a sense of political efficacy.