My January 6 Nightmare

A woman wearing a Make America Great Again hat and a mask with a hole.
SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty

Today a group of my fellow Americans will travel to the nation’s capital, gather in large numbers, refuse to wear masks, and infect one another with COVID-19. That’s my nightmare, but it’s also a plausible reality. Outside is much safer than inside, but in close enough quarters, transmission of the disease is still possible, and a new, ultra-contagious strain is in circulation now. I fear the protesters will catch the disease, whether in the course of travel or protest; unknowingly carry it back to their scattered towns; spread it to their friends and family; and suffer mightily thereafter, whether from their own sickness or death, or the knowledge that, by attending what they were warned would be a super-spreader event, they contributed to the suffering and death of a parent or a spouse or a flight attendant or an ER doctor or the very ICU nurse who inserted a breathing tube down their throat.

President Donald Trump all but guaranteed such suffering for some of his most fervent supporters when, despite the existence of the new COVID-19 strain, he urged the MAGA masses to congregate in Washington to protest Joe Biden’s victory.

“Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" The Washington Post reports that “the District has mobilized the National Guard and will have every city police officer on duty … to handle protests of the November presidential election, which Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said may include people looking to instigate violence.”

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This isn’t a campaign rally that, whatever its risks, could change the fate of an election. Americans already braved a pandemic to cast their votes as democratic citizens. This is postelection venting that will achieve no more than stoking a lame duck’s ego at a terrible cost to many.

Counterprotesters may gather too. They may diligently don masks, and take more care with the lives of those around them than misguided anti-maskers who wrongly associate pandemic face coverings with tyranny. Still, these counterprotesters may underestimate the risk they are taking, partly because of public-health authorities’ imprudent endorsements of the Black Lives Matter mass protests this summer.

One man could have prevented this nightmare from coming true. Trump could have reduced the size of the crowd, if not totally prevented the protest, by urging everyone to keep away in light of news that Americans are already infected with the new COVID-19 variant, that it spreads far more easily, and that the exponential growth in cases it fuels could cause many more Americans to die before the pandemic is over.

He could have pointed to the daily death counts in the thousands, the overwhelmed doctors, and the full ICUs, and told supporters, “Please, stay home.” He could have said, “Any mass gathering right now is going to put police officers and Secret Service agents at much greater risk of getting sick or dying.” But he values the lives of others too little to have done so. He chose instead to feed his own ego at the price of American carnage.

Certain elites could have mitigated the impending harm too. Tucker Carlson and talk-radio hosts could have told their audiences that traveling to mass gatherings in Washington carries a significant risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. For that matter, more Republican members of Congress could have told their constituents the truth about the 2020 election: that Biden won a clear victory, that no credible claims of voter fraud exist that would change that outcome, and that no assembly in Washington will alter the result in the Electoral College.

“To knowingly pretend a lie is true is, simply put, to lie,” Yuval Levin complains in National Review. “Doing that carefully enough to let you claim you’re only raising questions only makes it even clearer that you know you’re lying. Lying to people is no way to speak for them or represent them. It is a way of showing contempt for them, and of using them rather than being useful to them. This is what too many Republican politicians have chosen to do in the wake of the election.”

After Wednesday, the death toll of those GOP lies will rise. Rank-and-file Republicans will be hardest hit.