It was the incorrect answer to a politically correct question. On Wednesday, ABC Radio National Breakfast presenter Sally Sara interviewed New York-based Anti-Defamation League vice-president Greg Ehrie. The ADL is a leading anti-hate organisation, profoundly opposed to white supremacist groups and other extreme domestic ideologies.
Discussion turned on the decision of Twitter and Facebook to ban Donald Trump following the riots at the US Capitol on January 6. Sara ran a recording of acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack comparing the storming of the Capitol with “those race riots we saw around the country last year”. She asked Ehrie, “what’s your response to that comparison?”.
Ehrie replied: “Certainly, it’s very hard not to compare. They happened almost contemporaneously, one after another. And there were a lot of similarities — other than the ideologies — involved with the genesis. How they formed and how the crowds …”
At this stage Sara interrupted: “Hang on, this is storming the Capitol building …” The message was clear; Ehrie had given a response Sara did not want. As it turned out, he went on to condemn the January 6 riots. All he had said was that, in this time of social media, the strategies adopted by rioters of various ideologies were similar.
It is true Trump’s “Save America” speech, delivered in front of the White House, was designed to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election as determined by the vote in the electoral college. Trump lost narrowly to Joe Biden in 2020 as Hillary Clinton had lost narrowly to Trump in 2016.
It was a Trump-like rambling but captivating 75-minute address. At about the 18-minute mark, the US President said: “We have come to demand that congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been fully slated, lawfully slated. I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Clearly, Trump called for a peaceful demonstration. However, in view of the dynamics of the rally, his overall comments were irresponsible. There are such phenomena as unintended consequences, and they took place with a vengeance on January 6. But they do not make Trump a terrorist, as some of his political opponents now assert.
Trump has reason to query the predominance of mail-in ballots in the 2020 election, conducted at a time of pandemic. In November 1960, Republican candidate Richard Nixon had reason to query the validity of some ballots in Illinois and Texas, which led to Democratic rival John F Kennedy entering the White House. Nixon accepted the decision with little dissent; Trump chose another tactic. On Wednesday (US time), Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives — with about 5 per cent of Republican members supporting the unanimous Democrat turnout led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It remains to be seen if he will be convicted by the Senate, but this seems unlikely.
To win elections, Republicans need their traditional voters plus lower-income Americans, including those of African-American and Latino backgrounds, whom Trump got on board. That’s why it will be difficult for the Republican Party to distance itself from Trump and his supporters if it wants to win in 2024.
In recent times, Australia has had its own violent political riot, when left-wing demonstrators attempted to break down the doors of Parliament House in 1996 as part of a protest against John Howard’s recently elected Coalition government. The story is well told by Tony Thomas in the current issue of Quadrant Online. Fortunately, the Australian Federal Police was better equipped to repel rioters in 1996 than was the case with Capitol police in 2021.
It should be remembered that during the period of the Trump presidency, demonstrators invaded the Capitol building in 2018 while protesting over the President’s decision to nominate Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. They also demonstrated outside the court.
Previously, Trump had succeeded in getting another conservative, Neil Gorsuch, appointed to the US’s superior court. In March 2020, leading Democrat senator Chuck Schumer declared at a left-wing rally: “I want to tell you, Gorsuch, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released a whirlwind and you will pay the price.” An irresponsible statement, to be sure.
Obviously, the overwhelming majority of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump were not present at the “Save America” rally. And the overwhelming majority of those who were did not storm the Capitol. Even so, many of the wealthiest and well-educated left-liberal types despise so many of their fellow Americans.
We are familiar with Clinton’s 2016 reference to the Trump-supporting “deplorables”. In the wake of January 6, CNN presenter Anderson Cooper sneered at the demonstrators, violent and peaceful alike. He told viewers: “And they’re going back to, you know, the Olive Garden and the Holiday Inn that they are staying at.”
The Holiday Inn in Washington DC is a three-star hotel. Olive Garden is a moderately priced dine-in and takeaway food chain. Cooper is a left-wing multi-millionaire, born to the Vanderbilt family. Like so many contemporary left-wing journalists, he expects everyone should agree with him. In the event, the Americans making most sense in recent times were the likes of Ehrie, who got the correct perspective, and VicePresident Mike Pence who did his constitutional duty in ensuring an orderly transition to the Biden presidency on January 20.