The Attack on the Capitol

Did Mark Twain actually say, “it is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled?” There is disagreement. Does it matter?

True, attributing the quote to Twain adds to its catchy cachet, but it does not make the statement any the more true than it already is.

The phrase has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years thanks to the increase of deception, especially as practiced in politics.

A popular path to power is to convince a group of people that they are victims and that you are the solution to their problems. If you can fool them into thinking those two things, they will provide you with two important political currencies: votes in low turnout primaries; and cash to pay your team of spinners and election-istas, who promise to propel you into office if you will but heed their advice and pay them handsomely out of the dollars, they will happily extort on your behalf from those who have been fooled.

It is rather a good business – more than $14 billion in the recent election cycle – and it is practiced by Democrats and Republicans alike.

The latest example took place yesterday when a mob, fueled by President Donald Trump, attacked the Capitol while the Senate and the House of Representatives were meeting in joint session to formalize the election of Joe Biden as our next President.

The mob had been fooled into thinking that the participants in the joint session of Congress could overturn the outcome of the election, which their preferred candidate had lost. This, the Senators and Congressmen could not do. The fatuous battle was fought on the wrong field.

Likely, the physical damage to the Capitol was rather minor, but four people died. The damage to our country’s standing around the world was far greater, but the damage to our faith in elections and governance – a faith that might well already be undeserved thanks to prior similar political stunts – is greater still.

Americans are divided into three broad political outlooks: left; right; and “not as important as the other things in my life.”

The third group is the largest, with each of the first two hovering in the 25% to 30% range leaving almost half who pay little attention and give little money until elections near. It is the zealots who support the business.

Sadly, there is no party for the middle group, as Democrats and Republicans assiduously court their bases and even more assiduously resist the destruction of their profitable duopoly.

Try to make a distinction here. I am not suggesting that the policies espoused by Democrats or Republicans are equally good or bad. I could never carry that burden. Most will prefer one set or another (to the extent the parties actually stand for anything other than the results of the latest polls and focus groups). It is the business models that are the same, and those identical business models risk ending our experiment in republican democracy.

There is no reason you should believe my argument so let’s follow the Twain analogy and add to its credibility by attributing it (accurately and undeniably) to Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter in their book “The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy.” Here is a link to a Harvard Business Review storythat will give you the gist.

Partisans on both sides go through their lives half right. They can easily see the excesses of their enemies but are blind to the excesses of their own. Democrats see the President’s mental illness and the crimes of the MAGA mob vividly while remaining oblivious to the Speaker of the House disdainfully tearing up the State of the Union address and Black Lives Matter rioting in black neighborhoods.

Worse, it is not only the voters. Newspapers and television stations (especially cable) fearing loss of readers or viewers now serve as partisan cheerleaders for whichever political faction is supported by their target audience. They get lumped in with the enemy voters and it becomes impossible to agree on what might actually have happened. Left leaning outlets and followers reside in a different factual universe from those leaning right.

The partisans are fooled into thinking their side is always right while the other side is always wrong and, as they fall back on the accurate view that the behavior of the other side is wrong, they erect emotional defenses against the possibility that the behavior of their side is too.

Yesterday at about 3:30 in the afternoon, I was alerted to the happenings at the Capitol by a trophy friend (he’s only 60) who emailed and asked, “does today’s activity remind you at all of the Vietnam war protests?”

“What activity,” thought I, as I had been working on something else and not paying attention to outside distractions.

I turned on the television and understood right away.

Ten minutes later I replied, “some of the same look, yes. There is a difference though. There was a war in Vietnam. There is no second term presidency for Trump.”

I ended the follow up exchange with, “note to self: don’t elect presidents who are mentally ill.”

And therein lies the worst of the problems.

Today’s outrage is likely to dissipate as people move on to other things and memories fade.

You know, like school shootings.

The industry that turns rage into money for themselves, and political careers for those whose skills relate more to living with hypocrisy than to solving significant problems (to say nothing of providing leadership) will let the dust settle and go back to manufacturing outrage on both left and right.

They are correct that outrage gets attention. Newspapers and television networks will provide soap boxes for them to stand on because they fear for their own survival.

Ask yourself a question: what makes you think we drew the worst possible card on the first try?

Reprehensible as the 45th President might be, could there not be a still more unsuitable candidate awaiting us in the future?

The cycle will go on because it is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

It will also continue because it is a profitable business model for the Democratic and Republican parties.

42 Responses to “The Attack on the Capitol”

Susan Weiss, January 07, 2021 at 5:54 pm said:

Happy New Year, Haven. Wonderful essay. Loved your references to Sam Clemens.

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Haven Pell, January 07, 2021 at 6:03 pm said:

Thank you Susan. Happy New Year

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Kevin, January 07, 2021 at 6:01 pm said:

Interesting read, thank you

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Jim Fitzgerald, January 07, 2021 at 6:49 pm said:

Haven,
Sadly, an accurate perspective on the state of our political class. I feel the worst aspect of all this is how disgraceful the media has been. Cheerleading for one side by protecting them and not covering anything that might be positive for the other side. The deck is clearly stacked.

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Haven Pell, January 07, 2021 at 6:53 pm said:

Thanks Jim, great to hear from you. Hope you have a chance to read the Harvard Business Review story too.

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Dee, January 07, 2021 at 6:55 pm said:

So what is the solution, if any? More education? More exposure to the mechanisms of fooling people? More understanding of the nature of politics? How do you reach the masses? And has this ever been different in history?

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Haven Pell, January 07, 2021 at 7:00 pm said:

Hi Doris, Thanks for the comment. The Harvard Business Review article linked in the story provides a couple of solutions designed to drive things back to the middle.

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Toby, January 07, 2021 at 7:38 pm said:

depressing and was all too predictable. i am not sure that my fathers favorite saying ( other than life is not a bowl of cherries) “ thus too shall pass” will work anymore.

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:26 am said:

“This too shall pass” is in trouble when powerful forces try to assure that it does not

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Dianne Warner, January 07, 2021 at 7:50 pm said:

Bravo, Haven.
Of course you’re aware Antifa did not limit their violence to ‘black neighborhoods’? You may have seen the devastation all over New York: Fifth Avenue boarded up, private armed guards etc. and there was little condemnation from politicians or the media in Portland, Seattle, St Louis, Philadelphia of looting frightening hoards. I believe that set a dangerous tone across the country.
Elections must be valid and fair. Covid enacted unprecedented mailed ballots: that must end.
Trump needs to slither away and allow our new administration to establish a sense of calm and confidence in government.
George W Bush spoke out eloquently last night. We need to move on and leave the hysteria.

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:24 am said:

Thank you Dianne,

The antifa question is addressed in another comment. The RNC reelected the Trump team to leadership roles, so it is hard to see much hope for “leaving the hysteria” there.

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Lauren Webb, January 07, 2021 at 7:52 pm said:

Indeed a very astute assessment. Thank you!

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Allan Willingham, January 07, 2021 at 8:14 pm said:

Morning Haven, I watched yesterday in absolute amazement as the Capitol was invaded/trashed with such ease and Trump’s great lies perpetuated. I even noticed an Australian flag in the threatening throng. Here in Melbourne, we are Covid free, tolerate our politicians, awaiting patiently for the Tax, and enjoying a mild summer. As well, I am in the last stages of my PhD concerning an architectural history of the tennis court. Did you know that the first tennis court erected in Boston Back Bay in 1876 (the so-called Hunnewell Court) had galleries and the dedans enclosed with wire netting. An American innovation. I fear it is something you should think about again with the new tennis court project in Washington DC. I trust you and all your friends are safe, from the combined ravages of Covid and those MAGA Red Party invaders. What Next, Haven, What Next? Lord Albert

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:21 am said:

Thank you for the comment Allan. Glad things are going well somewhere. I look forward to reading your forthcoming history.

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Armand Gilbert, January 07, 2021 at 8:40 pm said:

Yesterday was just like the BLM and Antifa protests before it, some useful idiots were ushered into just another photo opp to be used for short term political gain at the expense of our republic and reputation. Ah well, c’est la vie…
And while it is true Trump is a bloviating egomaniac, and outside of a gift for populist social media manipulation a complete fool. Biden is no prize on this front either, as he has impulse control issues due to brain damage from two anurisms he suffered in 1988 as well significant signs of cognitive decline due to Alzheimers.
That said, I’m not too worried about all the myriad failures of our current political system. As I’m sure the next one will be much more efficient; and in that context, the very difficult quandary of what to do about all this deliberate social media engendered polarization will no longer be a problem. As it will be quickly solved, when of course, the billionaire technocratic elite that are deliberately creating it today are the ones running it, tomorrow.
Thuse there is no need for education or a new political party (or any political party for that matter…) but simply better management of of the ‘free’ will of the people by the very same people we trust now with all our personal data.

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Tim Warburton, January 08, 2021 at 7:50 pm said:

Armand,
I fear you are too right ! (Accurate)

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:01 am said:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the two political parties would commit themselves to filtering candidates based on ability to actually do the job rather than just get the job. Whatever criteria those might be, the country can be divided into deciles from best to worst. Selecting from among the top one or two might bet better than six or seven.

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:19 am said:

It might be useful if publicity stunts were more quickly identifies as such. About two thirds of all that we think of as politics would disappear.

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Jim Green, January 07, 2021 at 10:46 pm said:

Thanks Haven. As I watched the day unfold and surfed the cable outlets one of the more disheartening refrains I heard was, in sum and substance, how unreasonable “they” are. It is always “their” unreasonableness that stymies right thinking peoples’ answers….if only “they” would listen. Apparently “they” simply don’t understand what’s best for “them.” A perpetual, interlocking, circular firing squad with little hope of disbanding. Cheers

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:17 am said:

I think you have accurately described the business model. Like cancer, it might eventually destroy the host upon which it depends.

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Bob Homans, January 07, 2021 at 11:10 pm said:

Do the respective Republican and Democratic business models include maintaining a voting system that significant segment of the electorate doesn’t trust? It seems so., because having an election system that a large segment of the electorate doesn’t trust fits right in to yur fool theory. After all, 4 years ago the shoe was on the other foot, and it was the Democrats who alleged that Trump, with the assistance of Russia, stole the election. There doesn’t seem to be much willingness by either side to fix it.

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:15 am said:

To me, election laws seem simple. Those who are eligible to vote should vote. Those who are not eligible should not. Determining which are which should be determined by criteria designed solely for that purpose. If your side thinks it can’t win under those conditions, change what you stand for in order to compete.

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Andrew Southerling, January 07, 2021 at 11:39 pm said:

Well said Haven. Many good comments from your readers. Much to think about. One thing is for sure, with an evenly divided Congress, we need to find a better way, or can expect more of the same.

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:11 am said:

Thanks Andrew, no private enterprise would exist for long at this level of dysfunction.

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Roy Raven, January 08, 2021 at 2:28 am said:

An erudite, well-reasoned and thoughtful piece, Haven: thank you. Is it just me, or was the security detail on the Capitol Building steps suspiciously ineffectual? Reports on BBC Radio 4 news say the demo was announced a fortnight ago: given the temperature of this issue, it seems distinctly odd that protestors were able to get so close to the entrance. Too few guards – and not very robust ones at that! I’ve seen rowdier Post Office queues on pension day. You wouldn’t want that lot on duty for the Harrods sale – or at the supermarket when final discounts are meted out on Christmas eve.

A very effective way of discrediting Trump – although the man needs no assistance in achieving that end.

Doesn’t look good, though; Bush’s comment about a banana republic isn’t far from the mark: Putin will surely be sneering. Very few countries where such a debacle could ensue in the heart of government (of course, I’m now wincing at the memory of an English civil servant using a narwhal tusk wrested from a wall in the Palace of Westminster to battle with an Islamic fundamentalist on Westminster Bridge).

Anyway… it just feels a bit odd. Sad that four people have lost their life.

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Temple Grassi, January 08, 2021 at 6:55 am said:

Last night ( the day after the attack) during the TV news time ( 7-9pm) , the wife and I got fed up and turned to The Golf Channel. Found ourselves trying to analyze Justin Thomas’ swing! Are we awful people? – what’s going to happen ? ( we did double lock the doors before going to bed!)

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:08 am said:

You are clearly in the middle 40% to 50%. Well done,

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:10 am said:

It would be interesting to know why the response was so ineffective. There have been resignations. Perhaps there will be enquiries.

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Peter W. Bragdon, January 08, 2021 at 9:50 am said:

It is appalling that two of the most well-educated Senators — Cruz from Texas and that newly elected fool from Missouri are purveyors of the big lie. I like to think they are done in by the events of two days ago. Thank you for you wise comments, Haven. You would have been a great teacher!

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:07 am said:

My teaching career, had there been one, would surely have been curtailed by the educational equivalent of the human resources department. Alternatively, I would have been had up for “excess candor to a parent.”

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Garrard Glenn, January 08, 2021 at 12:34 pm said:

Here is a link to a very informative article that touches on what Haven has been saying for sometime.

https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/american-crises-capitol-assault

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Tim Warburton, January 08, 2021 at 8:07 pm said:

Garrard,
Thank you!!
This is a first rate piece of work – Thank you for suggesting it.
Rare to see the competing pieces so well positioned to allow for an intelligent framework with which to see the dynamics at play. The decline of regional politics due to the party primaries as well as the decline of local political writing due to the collapse of local journalism is eye opening and obvious when so well depicted.
Again my Thanks,
T/.

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 9:57 am said:

I agree. I had planned to post the piece myself but I welcome Garrard’s beating me to the punch.

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:04 am said:

Thank you for posting this. A story unto itself

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Allison Pell Shea, January 08, 2021 at 3:00 pm said:

I had not heard or seen anything about “Antifa rioting in black neighborhoods”. So I just did a search and all I could find was a reference to an episode at a restaurant in Rochester where diners were chased away. Can you share your most trusted links to what I am missing?

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Haven Pell, January 09, 2021 at 10:02 am said:

Electronic media are more easily fixed than print. Unfortunately, that can make a comment like Allison’s seem a bit odd. I wrote the words “antifa rioting in black neighborhoods” and bear responsibility for them. I have since changed “antifa” to Black Lives Matter.

Along the way, I learned more about the notion of antifa. It appears to be intentionally disorganized and ephemeral. I believe it exists, but it appears difficult to blame it for much.

I can’t explain why the President and those who lean right choose the word antifa over Black Lives Matter. Perhaps the latter opens the writer to accusations of racism?

There is a second aspect of Allison’s comment that is challenging. “Most trusted links” will not be thought credible across the board. Indeed, that is a significant component of what divides the country.

In any event, here are some links that might be informative on the topic of antifa. I have learned from them and thank Allison for prompting me to do so.

https://www.csis.org/analysis/who-are-antifa-and-are-they-threat

https://www.kgw.com/article/news/local/protests/antifas-history-and-current-status-in-portland/283-8a9d1048-69e9-4baf-879d-b59d1c93c41a

https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/regular-americans-arrested-during-protests-not-urban-antifa-docs-show/2568234/

https://www.wsaw.com/2020/09/03/neenah-man-arrested-at-green-bay-protest-has-ties-to-antifa/

https://www.wsmv.com/news/antifa-activist-talks-about-rioting-arson-at-nashville-historic-courthouse/article_85f33d3e-c540-11ea-a28f-ff644b47c1cc.html

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Armand Gilbert, January 10, 2021 at 11:56 am said:

Not exactly ephemeral. It has been around since the 1920’s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifaschistische_Aktion

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Haven Pell, January 10, 2021 at 6:00 pm said:

The seem to like to stay under the radar, perhaps so they don’t get blamed for specific actions.

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Arthur, January 11, 2021 at 10:47 pm said:

I must begin with a sarcasm disclosure. It’s the only way I could approach this topic. I experienced many feelings while watching the ” worst open house ever ” which was held at our nation’s capital last week. Anger, disbelief, shame and sadness topped the list. Then I reminded myself that this should be one of the last episodes of the horrible reality show airing for the last four years. The lack of security was embarrassing and on purpose. For the BLM protest in June the National Guard had the capital building secured. A mosquito could not have gotten through. Last week was an open house. One thing that really got my attention was that none of the trespassers seemed at all concerned about being held accountable. They were in selfie heaven! They even stayed between the velvet ropes. What a polite revolution. I did not see anyone in that crowd that scared me. I thought that a few Wal-Mart’s were missing their customers that day. I’ve heard of more violent revolutions occurring when they ran out of Jello pudding at a Country Time Buffet restaurant. I will pause the sarcasm. Five lives were lost during this sideshow. This cannot be allowed to continue. At this point it doesn’t matter what your affiliation is. What is happening is wrong. It’s time for us to work together to heal both the internal and external damage done over the last for years. If after last week anyone thinks the emperor has clothes on, get your eyes examined immediately.

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Haven Pell, January 12, 2021 at 2:44 am said:

Thank you for a provocative comment, Arthur. If there were ever political norms, they are long since broken. And, since “norms” are simply softer “rules,” they should apply to all and should apply precisely equally. Neither side gets to defend its attention getters. Likely the most effective means of ending the violence has already been suggested by some of America’s largest corporations. Cut off all political funding to all politicians and parties. When political funding eventually phases back in, the donors would serve us well to call out the enablers and make public the reasons they are not being supported. Until severe pain is felt at the top, the situation is unlikely to change.

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