January 6: Remembering It, and Misremembering It

A familiar scene, at an airport ( Image Source / Getty Images)

On air rage, extremism, Simone Biles, January 6, Iran, Fidel Castro, 800 numbers, and more

I have a friend who is a flight attendant. I love to hear stories about her travels, and travelers. Also, I send her stories I see in the media. The other day, I sent her this one, from the Dallas Morning News. It begins,

An American Airlines employee is drawing praise for his calm and stoic manner after a viral video shows him kicking a woman off of a flight and barring her from the carrier after she flung an expletive at a flight attendant over a mask dispute.

My friend wrote me back, “We are in a mental-health crisis!” Hold that thought.

On Twitter, I saw this: “‘A huge rise in people just forgetting to be human’: Since restaurants reopened, customers have been ‘unbearable.’” I can imagine. (For the story in question, go here.) The temperature in America is turned very, very high, and our media have a lot to do with it, including our social media.

(You know what Barbara J. Fields calls the social media — I’ve mentioned it a few times in the past: the “anti-social media.”)

• I used to be rather defensive of extremism — hear me out. It’s not that I liked extremism. It’s just that: People were accused of extremism who weren’t extremist. I was accused of it. Maybe you were, too.

Once, I asked a famous political scientist — a professor of mine — what he thought of one of my favorite writers, a “neoconservative” (as the term was used correctly, rationally, in those days). The professor said, “He’s an extremist.” I bristled at that.

Then there was the famous line used by Goldwater in ’64: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Yes. Oh, we hated “moderation,” some of us did. Bob Michel-ism! I even l liked what Jim Hightower, the Texas left-winger, said: “Ain’t nothin’ in the middle of the road ’cept a dead armadillo” (pronounced “armadilla”).

Bill Buckley was always criticizing extremism, and warning against it. He often quoted Talleyrand: “Surtout pas trop de zèle” (“Above all, not too much zeal”). I kind of bristled when he said this. I thought it was maybe a bit “soft.” But I understand him much better now. Much better. I wish I could tell him this.

Maybe I’ll get the chance.

• “A lot of dudes who can’t even touch their toes are suddenly gymnastics experts today.” That’s what Molly Knight, the sportswriter, tweeted about critics of Simone Biles. I thought of Anna Kournikova. Young people may not remember her. She was a professional tennis player, and gorgeous. Sexy as hell, more like it. A lot of people criticized her because she had a lot of endorsement deals and had not won many tournaments. “She’s no athlete,” people said. “She stinks. She’s just a sexpot.”

I remember saying, and writing: “Some of her critics can’t even drag their fat butts off their couch. Kournikova is the No. 11 player in the world.” There were 3 billion women, give or take — Anna was the eleventh-best tennis player.

That is a fact that is absolutely dizzying. More dizzying than even the player’s looks.

Charlie Kirk, the young Republican leader, called Simone Biles a “selfish sociopath” and a “shame to the country.” He said, “We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles.”

Senator Mitt Romney, by contrast, tweeted,

I love and admire Simone Biles and our Olympians. Beyond their determination and sacrifice, they evidence the greatness of the human spirit, in victory and in defeat. I take pride in them, not so much for the medals they win as for the grace, humanity & character of their hearts.

It’s hard to think of two more different Republicans than Kirk and Romney. Last year, at CPAC, Kirk brought up Romney’s name, whereupon the crowd booed. Kirk told them, “Correct answer. Every time his name is mentioned, you should respond that way.” I’m not sure the crowd needed to be told, frankly.

Later, in an interview, Kirk said, “They should have booed louder.”

Yes, two very different Republicans, very different men.

• On January 6, after the assault on the Capitol, President Trump tweeted, “Remember this day forever!” I think that’s the last thing many people want to do — remember January 6 properly, soberly, truthfully.

• I well remember the Republican reaction on January 6. Many people were back on their heels — embarrassed, even horrified. Some longtime Trump backers had second thoughts about what they had supported. This feeling — this mortification — lasted about a week, I think.

Then the wagons circled, and the excuses were made: It wasn’t that bad. It was Antifa and BLM. It was people full of love, hugging and kissing policemen. It was like a normal day of tourism. It was Pelosi’s fault. It was the FBI.

But I remember that brief window: There were three or four days of honesty and reflection, including self-reflection. Then it was business as usual, pretty much, as is always the case, in all sorts of human affairs.

• Constantly, we are being asked to understand the anger — and the emotions generally — of Trump Nation. We need to honor the emotions of Trump supporters, especially their anger. Okay. But you know what? Plenty of people are angry — very angry — about January 6, and the excuses made for it. The whitewashing of it. Anger goes both ways.

• This is what Liz Cheney said, in her opening statement on the January 6 committee:

I want to begin by reflecting briefly on the investigation that we are launching today. Every one of us here on the dais voted for and would have preferred that these matters be investigated by an independent non-partisan commission, composed of five prominent Americans selected by each party, and modeled on the 9/11 Commission. Although such a commission was opposed by my own leadership in the House, it overwhelmingly passed with the support of 35 Republican members. It was defeated by Republicans in the Senate. And that leaves us where we are today.

For the current committee — the select committee — Kevin McCarthy nominated five members. Two of them, Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, Speaker Pelosi rejected. Whereupon McCarthy yanked the other members.

Was Pelosi right? Should the likes of Jordan and Banks serve on such a committee? I think the question can be answered in a number of ways. But let me try something out on you.

Think of the phrase “house of representatives.” Jim Jordan — leaving Banks aside — is certainly representative. Of his own district, yes, but also of tens of millions of Americans. He is a pure Trump congressman, a pure Trump Republican. In his final days in office, Trump gave Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (He gave it to Devin Nunes, too. McCarthy did not nominate Nunes for the committee, which I find surprising.)

“You go to war with the army you have,” people say. You also do politics with the parties you have. And Jim Jordan is a lot more representative of the Republican Party than Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger is, that’s for sure.

• McCarthy called Cheney and Kinzinger “Pelosi Republicans.” They strike me as solid conservatives, who won’t participate in Trumpian lies, schemes, and obfuscation. Is there room for such people in the Republican Party?

On Twitter, John Bolton showed pictures of Reagan, Cheney, and Kinzinger. “They all look like Reagan Republicans to me,” he said. I would add: They act like Americans, not party hacks or zealots.

Elise Stefanik, who replaced Cheney in the House GOP leadership, called Cheney a “Pelosi pawn.” As I see it, Cheney is a woman with a mind and a conscience. She risked burning up her entire career in order to stand for something she regards as important. I wonder whether the Stefaniks could ever understand.

• Kevin McCarthy speaks of “a failed committee and a failed report. A sham that no one can believe.” Quite possibly, this is wishful thinking.

• “Back the blue,” people like to say. Often, this slogan ought to have an asterisk after it. People can be awfully selective about the blue they back. It depends on the people the blue are defending the public against.

• One of the Capitol Hill cops from January 6 is Aquilino Gonell (an Iraq War veteran and a naturalized U.S citizen). About Gonell’s testimony before the committee, David French said, “Those who minimize the violence and malice of that day should listen to every syllable.” Yet they won’t. Testimony such as Gonell’s is too disconcerting.

I don’t think I know any outright January 6 deniers. But minimizers, lookers away, and sweepers under the rug? Oh, yes.

• A writer for American Greatness magazine labeled one of the testifying cops a “crisis actor.” (This is what people do to victims of school shootings, too: label them “crisis actors.” It is an InfoWars tactic, for example.) How many people think this way? I think the number is surely in the millions. But how many millions?

• In her opening statement, Liz Cheney said,

The question for every one of us who serves in Congress, for every elected official across this great nation — indeed, for every American — is this: Will we adhere to the rule of law? Will we respect the rulings of our courts? Will we preserve the peaceful transition of power? Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution? I pray that that is not the case.

I don’t know.

• Turning to the Middle East, check out a headline from the Times of Israel: “Iran says armed Mossad cell arrested over plot to provoke clashes at protests.” The article is here. The subheading is, “Tehran claims to seize guns, grenades, ammunition to be used by Israeli spies to carry out ‘urban riots and assassinations’ during demonstrations over water shortage.”

Haviv Rettig Gur — a Times of Israel writer — had an apt remark on Twitter: “When Khamenei starts uncovering ‘Mossad cells’ behind the protests, it means the protests are starting to worry him. That’s how antisemitism works: Jews are the secret instigators of whatever ails you.”

Yup. A longstanding — millennia-old — nasty trick.

• A friend of mine wrote me, “Much to my surprise, my alma mater is going to do the right thing — and without a lot of pressure.” On the wall of a cultural center, Penn State has a quotation from Fidel Castro — something about justice and equality for all. The Castro thing will now be removed. See an article here.

So — a little victory for truth and good.

• All of my life, I have seen churches — church buildings — turned into something else. It is so good — so unusual, so refreshing — to see “something else” turned into a church. Here is an Associated Press report from Alaska:

A popular strip club that once beckoned customers off a busy highway leading into Anchorage is now a church offering salvation — instead of temptation — thanks to a daughter of a former exotic dancer.

The complete article is here. Such good, such heartening news.

• A few days ago, I had to call an 800 number and heard the usual message. I want to ask you this: When was the last time you called an 800 number and did not hear that the company was getting more calls than usual, resulting in longer wait times? This message has become — de rigueur.

• Maybe we can end on some language. Earlier this week, my colleague Judson Berger wrote to me, “Damn skippy.” I said, “Judd! I think I learned that expression in 1988. I’m so glad that someone as young as you knows it!” He answered, “I think my generational slice is called a ‘cusper,’ between Gen X and Millennial — with a foot in each. Young enough to craft a career around computers, old enough to hate them still.”

Have a great weekend, everyone. I’ll see you later.

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