Yesterday’s analysis of the diversification of emojis and the relationship of such frivolity to self-censorship finds an interesting continuance in today’s critique of the Lincoln Project’s most recent exercise in propaganda. On Friday, the sixteenth of April, the Lincoln Project released a video in which footage of Brian Sicknick’s much-publicized funeral is juxtaposed against the printed names of seven American politicians– Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Rick Scott, Kevin McCarthy, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz—with the concluding message stating simply that they “did this”. In other words, the Lincoln Project believes that these individuals are responsible, directly or indirectly, for the death of Sicknick.
The death of Brian Sicknick continues to stupefy the few of us who have sought to understand it for the past three months. The United States Capitol Police have declared only that Sicknick was “injured while physically engaging with protesters” during the riot of January 6th before he finally “succumbed to his injuries” and died. On the basis of this nebulous information, the New York Times created the myth that a protester (who had apparently seen the film Irreversible one too many times) brutally beat Sicknick to death with it. No one has ever identified this homicidal hooligan, but then again, the details don’t really matter: as long as we believe that Sicknick died in valiant defense of American democracy, we can remember him as one of history’s finest patriots.
The manipulative strategy is similar, perhaps even identically so, to that which was executed in the aftermath of 9/11. We are witnessing another effort to compel our patriotism, which is to say: our allegiance to the official narrative. The official narrative of 9/11, which stated that poorly-dressed peasants in foreign countries detested Americans for their “freedoms”, was assembled to justify an authoritarian reimagining of government. The official narrative of the Capitol riot, which makes a murky statement about the sanctity of “American democracy”, has been pieced together for the same reason. We will remind ourselves to investigate the supposed qualitative decline of this type of propaganda in the future.
In the meantime, we must recognize that the modern propaganda is failing. Even if we disregard the patent imbecility of the official narrative of 9/11, we recall the sense of unanimous patriotism that was compelled in its aftermath. Americans really did develop a sense of affection, however misguided, for their country. That unanimous reaction or effect has been conspicuously absent in the aftermath of the Capitol riot. Twenty percent of Americans polled believe that the Capitol riot was justified, which is to say that the real number of Americans who condone it is probably much, much higher. We do not see left-wingers and right-wingers alike waving the stars and stripes to express their contempt for the rioters; instead, we have Stephen Colbert scolding people who don’t watch his show.
We should not suggest that the propaganda has failed only those who condone the Capitol riot. We can disapprove of violent protest generally without resorting to hysterics, yet the Lincoln Project is compelling the most hysterical interpretation conceivable: namely, that those who agreed with the rioters in their skepticism of the official results of the presidential election were complicit in the death of Brian Sicknick—which, incidentally, has been interpreted as the murder of Brian Sicknick. Apparently, disagreeing with the establishment in this single instance, regardless of the reasoning involved, was quite literally tantamount to homicide.
And so, the Lincoln Project has accused the aforementioned seven politicians of participating in a capital killing. This is the escalation of the argument, prominent throughout the past several years, that one who votes for Trump is “complicit” in every single immoral thing that Trump proceeds to do in the future. Alternatively, the most dogmatic of the so-called progressives alleged that one who voted for Biden would be “complicit” in every single immoral thing that he will proceed to do as President of the United States. I myself was guilty of such intolerance, or something very close to it, but then again, I think that all of us were.
Many of us continue to be here, and it is here that I think the Lincoln Project becomes relevant as a forebear of the intellectual authoritarianism to come. Their attempt to criminalize a difference of opinion is not abnormal in this relentless political climate, and I suspect that we will see the Biden Administration take preliminary steps to codify this practice. Certainly we will see increasingly active suppression of thought when Kamala Harris runs to succeed him, as the media will not allow her campaign to be derailed by those who would counter the official narrative—especially if she happens to be running against Trump himself.