This is not the most important observation that one might make after what happened last week, but it’s one that stands out to me: A lot of people seem very keen on litigating whether the attack on the Capitol was worse than last summer’s rioting. That says something depressing about political polarization in this country.
Both of these events were horrific, with consequences that will last for years. Must we really assign points to see which side “wins”?
In one corner you have riots — connected to protests against police violence, especially the appalling death of George Floyd and the more complicated shooting of Jacob Blake — that destroyed businesses in cities across the country. This caused upwards of a billion dollars in damage, and if past is precedent, the places that suffered the riots will take years to recover economically. About 25 people died. In response, some media outlets ran stories about how effective rioting is, and a liberal data analyst lost his job for tweeting a study finding that riots are actually politically counterproductive. As for the cops’ reactions, there are images of officers kneeling in solidarity with protesters, but also examples of unjustified aggression against peaceful demonstrators, and police killed a man armed with several guns in Las Vegas.
In the other corner, you have a storming of the nation’s legislature, which interrupted the counting of Electoral College votes, on the false grounds that the election was stolen. Five people died and the building was ransacked. And things could have gotten much worse: Two explosive devices were found nearby, and some rioters had zip ties. The president himself urged his supporters to walk to the Capitol and failed to aggressively condemn the assault as it took place, but few journalists, on either side of the political spectrum, made excuses for what happened. There’s abundant video of the crowd assaulting police officers, and the cops used tear gas and killed one woman as she climbed through a window to the Speaker’s Lobby — yet some videos appear to show cops opening doors for the invaders and taking selfies with them, and by all accounts law enforcement was disturbingly outmanned.
Sure, you can have a scintillating late-night dorm-room discussion about how to weigh the rioters’ purported political motivations, the damage they did, the respective police responses, and the behavior of elites who should have known better. But in the end, these were both failures at all levels, and our first priority should be to make sure neither happens again, rather than to score partisan points.