Monday, January 30, 2023


James Sasso, the senior investigative counsel for the House January 6 committee, argues in The New York Times today that the assault on the Capitol wasn't solely Donald Trump's fault:
Other political, social, economic and technological forces beyond the former president had a hand....

What my team and I learned, and what we did not have the capacity to detail with specificity in the report, is how distrust of the political establishment led many of the rioters to believe that only revolution could save America.

One rioter wondered why he should trust anything the F.B.I., D.O.J., or any other federal entity said about the results. The federal government had worked against everyday Americans for years, the rioters told us, favoring entrenched elites with its policies....

Guy Reffitt, who earned seven years in prison for leading the charge up the Capitol steps while carrying a firearm, [said in December 2020,] “The government has spent decades committing treason.” The following week, he drove 20 hours to “do what needs to be done” because there were “bad people,” “disgusting people,” in the Capitol....

Since the 1960s, political scientists have surveyed Americans and measured the steady decline of public faith in the federal government....

Mr. Trump did not appear out of a vacuum to upend democracy. His presidency was the culmination of years of political degradation during which voters watched our political institutions rust to the point of breaking.
Sasso thinks we need to get big money out of politics and make government more responsive to ordinary citizens. That would be nice -- but January 6 didn't happen because of a universal belief that government fails average people.

Pew has measured trust in government since 1958. It's a lot lower now than it was then, but it's been steadily low since 2007, and it was low early in Bill Clinton's presidential term and late in Jimmy Carter's. There were people who were violently anti-government then, but insurrectionists didn't win the approval of the president of the United States or the most powerful news organization in the country. (Carter didn't try to overturn Ronald Reagan's victory and Bill Clinton fought impeachment in the Senate, where he was supposed to.)

Also, trust in specific governmental institutions hasn't steadily declined. At times recently, it's even increased. Here's a Gallup story from January 2018, reporting on a December 2017 survey:
Majorities of Americans now rate the job performance of eight of 13 key government agencies as "excellent" or "good"; the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) again tops the list with a 74% positive rating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Secret Service trail the Postal Service as second and third on the list, respectively.

Most of the agencies received significantly higher ratings in 2017 than they did in 2014, when Gallup last asked about them. The Secret Service (+20 percentage points), the CDC (+16 points), the Department of Homeland Security (+11 points) and the Federal Reserve Board (+11 points) all saw double-digit improvements in their ratings in this latest update to Gallup's government agency job performance ratings....

The improvement in the overall ratings of most government agencies is largely the result of more positive ratings from Republicans. The greatest shift from 2014 is a 33-point increase in the positive ratings of the CDC, although Republicans now view most agencies more favorably than they did in 2014....
That's right -- Republicans liked most federal government agencies in December 2017, because their party was running the government. Republicans even liked the CDC -- 72% of them said it was doing an "excellent" or "good" job. There was a decline in their view of the FBI, which at the time was seen as engaging in an anti-Trump "witch hunt," but 49% of them still approved of it.

Cut to early 2021. January 6 has happened, Joe Biden is president, and Republicans hate government -- only 29% approve of the job the FBI is doing, only 24% approve of the CDC and Justice Department, only 38% approve of the CIA. But Democratic numbers are approximately the same as they were in December 2017 -- quite positive for most government agencies.

So January 6 didn't happen because of a generalized distrust of government. It happened because the government didn't do everything Republicans wanted done. It didn't overturn the results of the election. It didn't lock Hillary Clinton up. It didn't declare the COVID virus perfectly harmless and eliminate all public health measures. (That happened later.)

So if you want to prevent the next January 6, you can make government more responsive to the public -- or you can just give Republicans everything they want all the time. The latter would be far more effective.

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