When I boil water in my tea kettle, the steam builds up until the whistle blows. If the steam had no outlet, the steam would keep boiling up until the kettle exploded. The American kettle has been heating up since the overdose death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020. It had a full head of steam on 3 November when the presidential election took place. The kettle has finally whistled with the storming of the US capital building on 6 January 2021 by angry Trump supporters.
I’m not arguing that rampaging through the US Capital building is a laudatory action. Conservatives are the party of law and order, and breaking down security barrios and smashing windows are not lawful acts. There appear to have been at least some Antifa infiltrators in the group, but legitimate Trump supporters as well. While these actions are not right, they are not surprising. They represent a release of the steam that has been building up for months.
It began with the riots in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd, and continued in city after city: Portland, Seattle, Kenosha, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, St Louis, and others. We saw similar riots in the 1960s, and in some years since. There were riots over the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. There were riots over the arrest of Rodney King, and then after the exoneration of the officers who beat him. Always, however, the press reported on the mayhem in saddening detail, the police struggled to restore order, and politicians of both parties condemned the violence. Now, however, only media on the right report on the extent of the damage to our cities. City governments order the police to stand back and allow the looting and burning to continue. And leading Democrat politicians continue to insist that Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM) are engaged in peaceful protest. On 5 January, just a day before the storming of the capital, Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, said that he didn’t believe that Antifa and BLM were violent groups.
Then came the election on 3 November. There were a series of concerning anomalies. Counting in several battleground states stopped simultaneously, then resumed with large jumps in votes for Joe Biden. Republican poll watchers were excluded from counting centers in Philadelphia and Detroit. In Fulton County, Georgia, voting stopped, the poll watchers were sent home, and then counting resumed. Georgia’s Secretary of State made a secret agreement with the Democrat Party to relax the rules for signature verification. In Pennsylvania, the State Supreme Court imposed its own rules for voting, overriding the legislature. Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State ignored an order from the United States Supreme Court to segregate ballots that were undated or came in after the deadline.
None of these concerns were addressed, despite mainstream media insistence that these complaints were determined to be baseless. The case in Pennsylvania challenging the novel election rules was dismissed on the grounds of “laches,” not having filed the case soon enough. Trump’s case in Georgia challenging illegal votes has not yet been assigned a judge. A Georgia suit by attorney Lin Wood was dismissed for lack of standing. The Supreme Court case filed by multiple red states for dismissed on the same grounds. In Maricopa County, Arizona, the Board of Elections refuses to comply with the legislature’s subpoena of its election machines. Conservative voters have been assured that the election was valid, but have been denied the proof. In a democratic republic, it is essential not only that elections are honest, but that they be seen to be honest. Voters who wanted to see the evidence, to have the evidence weighed, were dismissed out of hand. The steam continued to build.
Meanwhile, in many states, citizens are on lockdown, cut off from ordinary interactions with friends and family. Social isolation has been shown to foster aggression. It also does nothing for our social skills. We are out of practice with civil discourse. Homebound Americans have become increasingly nervous, angry, and impatient. The steam continued to build.
Finally, on the 6th of January, the tea kettle whistled, and some steam was released. The kettle continues to boil, however. Millions of voters still want to see an honest examination of the vote. They want to see fraudulent election practices ended. They want to see those who broke the law punished. Most still believe in law-and-order. They want to see rioters punished, not selectively, but in every city where they threaten life and property. They want to see the media cover the violence that has been occurring virtually every night in Portland for months now. They want to see Democrats denounce all violence, not just that perpetrated by the disfavored.
The pressure has to go somewhere. Telling people to ignore the ongoing violence in the streets, to accept it, won’t work. Telling them to accept on-the-fly election rules and judicial disinterest in legal procedures won’t work. Telling people to listen to CNN and accept what they are told won’t work. Releasing the pressure in cathartic but ultimately counter-productive violence won’t work, either. That energy should be channeled into demanding election reforms in every state, and electing officials who will uphold the law for everyone. Recall or primary those officials who won’t. If that doesn’t work, well, maybe that pressure needs to be released by beginning the process of a peaceful, legal separation into two countries that can pursue their increasingly incompatible political visions. The pressure needs to be released, somehow, or the tea kettle may explode.