Graeme Wood: What to do with Trumpists
Indeed, the insurrectionists were so unserious, they somehow got it into their heads that they could overwhelm the Capitol, take Congress hostage, and rerun the presidential election—after which, apparently, everyone would exchange congratulations on a job well done, retire to the hotel for a few drinks, and then fly home with wonderful memories and stories to tell. We know this because, like the narcissistic children they are, they could not stop talking to their phones and taking selfies and videos even in the midst of a violent insurrection.
Hundreds of people now face arrest, and most of them are shocked to find that an attack on the Capitol and the murder of a police officer will not be written off by the federal authorities as merely a self-actualizing day trip to Camp Sedition.
Consider, for example, the soul of helium displayed by Jenna Ryan, a realtor from Texas who flew to Washington, D.C., on a private jet—as one does to get to an insurrection—and who stopped in the midst of the attack to assure us all that she was, in fact, inside the Capitol and committed to victory or death, but that upon her return to Texas everyone should know that Jenna Ryan is the person who can handle even the toughest real-estate deals. The day she was arrested, the realtor-patriot went on television and said that Trump owed her a pardon.
All of this would be laughable if America were some irrelevant banana republic. But when a superpower becomes an unserious nation, it becomes a dangerous nation. A giant, nuclear-armed clown show is a menace to the life and liberty of its own people and to the stability and safety of the planet itself.
Unseriousness is not limited to Trump cultists, although they seem to have embraced it most fully. It is, like COVID-19, a national affliction. Last summer, America experienced genuine and justified rage against racism and police brutality. These protests were, at first, the embodiment of seriousness, an acknowledgment that one person’s pain affects us all. However, they were later hijacked by those who wanted to play camp-out in the middle of major cities and who looted and engaged in mindless vandalism.
Even after so many years of unseriousness, Biden prevailed in the election. Whatever his other failings, he is a serious man. Yes, he sometimes has an unserious mien, a come-on-man, no-malarkey doofusness, but he’s also a man who has experienced pain, love, tragedy, and loss—the moments that affirm to us that life is a serious business. He is a reminder that serious people do important things every day, like taking care of their children and showing up to their job ready to work. When he talks about problems, his empathy is real; when he talks about policy, his commitment is genuine.
Perhaps most important, Biden shares with his pre-Trump predecessors a visible sense of gravity about the presidency. He speaks of the office with both excitement and reverence—and maybe, too, a bit of sadness, because he knows what is to come. No man is the same after his first day as president. The office is too big, too terrifying, to rest lightly on anyone’s shoulders. Even Trump, on his first visit to the White House as president-elect, was visibly shaken, at least for a moment. (That moment passed quickly.)