Tom Nichols makes a good point but he misses one critical thing. First, what Nichols gets right (boldface mine):
Even before January 6, 2021, I wondered about the kind of people who live the classic American paranoid life, the citizens whose politics, as Richard Hofstader described them almost 60 years ago, are a stew of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” I first encountered this mindset when I worked in the U.S. Senate as personal staff for the late John Heinz of Pennsylvania: I would field calls from constituents who demanded to know whether the senator was in league with the Trilateralists or the Bilderbergers or the one-worlders. I was barely 30 and taken aback at speaking with people who seemed to be living on some other planet.
…As I followed these [insurrection] trials, I kept thinking of a scene from the HBO World War II miniseries Band of Brothers. At the end of the European war, an American soldier named Webster is riding in the back of an open truck, watching the defeated German prisoners trudging along the road. In a fit of rage, he begins shouting at them, “What were you thinking? … Dragging our asses halfway around the world, interrupting our lives. For what? You ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?”
During the Oath Keepers’ trial, I found myself wanting to yell at the television like Private Webster: For what? The life of a great democracy was endangered why? I wasn’t doing this because Rhodes and his band were the Axis, but because, like Webster, I found it incredible that we had to interrupt our lives for a movement built on lies and political hallucinations….
And just what did the Oath Keepers intend to do had they won the day? Perhaps they expected Donald Trump to strut out onto the south balcony and declare martial law. Maybe they thought that they would march into Congress and be greeted as liberators, perhaps with medals bestowed by one of the rebel princesses. But in the end, it was a rebellion about nothing. Or, more precisely, it was a rebellion born in affluence and boredom and a desperate search for meaning in otherwise ordinary lives.
I’ve written before about the threat to democracy stemming from this profound need to feel in control, to feel important, to find some heroic mission in life. I have long been haunted by the writer Eric Hoffer’s 1951 warning that the most dangerous people in a society are not the poor and desperate but the well-off and bored:
There is perhaps no more reliable indicator of a society’s ripeness for a mass movement than the prevalence of unrelieved boredom. In almost all the descriptions of the periods preceding the rise of mass movements there is reference to vast ennui; and in their earliest stages mass movements are more likely to find sympathizers among the bored than among the exploited and suppressed. To a deliberate fomenter of mass upheavals, the report that people are bored stiff should be at least as encouraging as that they are suffering from intolerable economic or political abuses.
…Such aimless people are at the foundation of the global crisis that modern democracy is in. They believe that they are the enlightened and brave among us, because they need to feel enlightened and brave instead of confused and frightened. They need a purpose in life and they are shopping for one among the dumpsters of the internet and television, egged on by political opportunists who would gladly waste their lives—and ours—for their own advancement.
The problem is that January 6th, or, for that matter, Trump, is part of a long-standing, ongoing procession of batshit lunacy. Did the claims that ‘Sharia law’ would reign over these United States come to pass? Did gay marriage ‘undermine the sanctity of marriage’? (straight politicians seem to do their part to undermine marriage all by their lonesomes). All of the conspiracies about Bill Clinton dissolved into a tawdry affair. There is all sorts of lunacy pumped into the body politic from the right, and it never ends.
It is exhausting–which is entirely the point (boldface mine):
What stopped me in my tracks was his [Biden’s] obviously correct acknowledgment that “silence is complicity”—as a means of calling out the many Republicans who have refused to distance themselves from a former president who casually dines with Nazi enthusiasts. But the corollary, of course, is that the rest of us should not be silent, and yet I confess that if ever I have to say one more single word about Ye, Trump, Jones, Tucker Carlson, or any other racist oxygen-hogs, I will catch fire like a former drummer from Spinal Tap. My silence is not complicity, it is some combination of exhaustion, boredom, and a line-in-the-sand refusal to engage with idiots….
I can’t watch or listen anymore because every time I do, it steals a part of my soul and giving these monsters even the tiniest corner of our souls is its own violence. But maybe, in lieu of silence, we just keep proclaiming the truth: The Holocaust happened, Hitler was an atrocity, racism is real, the law matters, the former president should probably be in jail, and the fact that we spend vast swaths of our lives saying these things over and over is a tragedy.
A large part of the problem is that there is no accountability for the purveyors of these hallucinations (even Alex Jones is still pumping bile into the discourse). The same people keep doing this over and over, and the same media outlets and personalities keep treating them like they are good faith interlocutors, instead of saying at some point enough, and ignoring them.
I don’t know how to fix that last problem.