How did the Left go from defending the free speech rights of neo-Nazis to demanding censorship, falsely accusing their opponents of being fascists, and seeking their incarceration?
When Donald Trump became president, Democrats predicted the worst.
“Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy,” David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker the day after the election.
Trump, Remnick said, was an authoritarian who disdained civil liberties and whose election was “surely the way fascism can begin.”
Wrote legal scholar Laurence Tribe on Twitter in 2019, “I’m not saying Trump is becoming Hitler, so don’t bother tweeting the distinctions. But the physical and behavioral resemblances aren’t altogether irrelevant. No prior president even suggests the comparison.”
Last month, Crown published a new book by Rachel Maddow that compares Trump-supporting Republicans to fascists.
Trump had little respect for the First Amendment, Democrats claimed.
He attacked freedom of speech and of the press, striking at our fundamental rights.
After January 6, 2021, the liberals who had been skeptical about anti-Trump hysteria became convinced that the hysterics had been right all along.
In 2018, legal scholar Cass Sunstein suggested that Trump would not bring authoritarianism to the United States. Then, after the Capitol riot, he changed his mind, saying that American democracy was indeed under threat from Trump and his supporters. “The events of January 6, 2021, made me think I was actually quite wrong on that,” he said.
But Friday’s release of the first tranche of January 6 tapes confirms that Trump’s actions paled in comparison to the steps Democrats have taken to defeat him and his supporters.
The tapes corroborate Public’s previous reporting and show that the Democrat-driven narrative of an insurrection was highly misleading. Democrats used this narrative to demonize tens of millions of voters, to justify their censorship efforts, and to weaponize the justice system against their political enemies.
It’s true that the tapes show rioters forcefully entering the Capitol, and some scenes on the tapes are not peaceful. It’s also true that Trump’s rhetoric has, at times, been inflammatory and illiberal.
But what the tapes do not show is a coup attempt. Rather, they show many scenes that contradict this narrative, like January Sixers walking calmly down the hallway, Capitol police appearing completely unphased by these supposed insurrectionists, and Capitol police giving the trespassers handshakes.
Despite the evidence that law enforcement at best permitted this “coup” to take place and at worst facilitated it, January 6 judges have handed down extremely harsh sentences.
What’s more, the January 6 tapes show scenes that are far less violent than Black Lives Matter riots, which were investigated and prosecuted with much greater lenience, even in cases of arson and assault.
Above all, the newly released tapes demonstrate that the Democratic party’s claims to be fighting for democracy and staving off authoritarianism are a sham and that it is the Democrats who have, in their persecution of Trump and his followers, done more to undermine democracy than Trump ever threatened to do.
Elites in the Democratic party and in the mainstream media, through their efforts to subdue a populist backlash, have eroded First Amendment rights and have politicized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Democrats became everything they once said they feared in Trump: censorial, totalitarian, and corrupt. Their years-long clampdown on dissent and criminalization of political opposition was a systematic attack on liberal democracy. Worse, they became everything that liberals during the 20th Century warned Americans about.
The Democratic party and the Biden administration have become precisely what liberals said Trump would be, and they have attacked the foundational principles of our democracy in the name of protecting them.
There is a reckoning to come and it should be bipartisan and championed by liberals on the Left and Right alike.
Over time, the share of Democrats who want to expand censorship must decline.
Whatever the case, the last 20 years make clear that the most sickening moment for the US commitment to liberal democracy came not in the election of Trump but in the Left’s betrayal of fundamental liberal principles.