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America, Step Back

There’s a direct line between what went on since the November elections, and the political violence that shook Washington, D.C. on January 6

(Photo: AP Images)



here’s 9/11, and now there’s 1/6.

Yesterday’s scenes of lawlessness in the US Capitol, with lawmakers sheltering in Congress’s plenum, anarchists posing beneath the Senate rotunda, and one protester glassy-eyed as she died in a corridor, will scar a generation of Americans.

The display of mob rule in the beating heart of US democracy gladdened America’s foes from Beijing to Tehran, gave Democrats a sense of vindication, and left millions of Trump supporters — including in our own community — shaken and speechless.

But we don’t need the op-ed pages to explain what went wrong; the words we’re looking for were uttered thousands of years ago. “Ilmalei mora’ah shel malchus” Chazal said. “Were it not for the fear of authority, a man would devour his fellow" (Avos 3:2).

These timeless words should be a wake-up call, both for parts of our world, and wider America, to step back from the brink of lawlessness. Because there’s a direct line between what went on since the November elections, and the political violence that shook Washington, D.C. yesterday.

When more than 70 million Americans, including the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews, voted for Trump last year, they did so based on his policies. Both on the domestic and foreign fronts, the president pressed reset on an era of attacks against traditional morality at home, and American weakness abroad. Reviled by the left as a warmonger, he emerged as a Middle East peacemaker. Yes, there was a disturbing coarseness to his public rhetoric, but that was matched on the left — and on balance, the choice was obvious.

Post-election, that calculus changed. MAGA world seethed with claims of massive voter fraud, but nothing stood up in court. As the weeks went by, Trump’s lawyers sounded increasingly embarrassing, talking of “releasing the Kraken” and of massive, though traceless vote switching. The courts were cowed, we were told, and Republican electoral officials engaged in a cover-up.

So when President Trump urged Vice-President Mike Pence to set aside the results, thousands of hardcore Trump ultras got the message: democracy had been suborned, and they were the last defenders against an anti-Trump coup. To translate Chazal’s idiom into what we saw yesterday: when you delegitimize fragile authority structures enough, lawlessness isn’t far off.

In the rise of mob rule, parts of the left are guilty as well. Throughout the summer, BLM protesters destroyed America’s cities while Democratic mayors stood by, in some cases expressing understanding for the violence. We are yet to hear a serious mea culpa for that assault on the rule of law.

Yet as vulnerable Jewish communities that have suffered our share of violence even in secure America, the eroded fear of authority should concern us, wherever on the political map it emerges.

So on behalf of the vocal minority in our community who have supported the conspiracy-theory driven descent into political instability, we have to say al cheit. And to the rest of America, we have to say: step back from the brink — because mob rule is good for no one.

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