At one point in the classic movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,
” Butch is challenged for the leadership of his gang by an ambitious underling. A knife fight is proposed to settle the issue.
Butch agrees, then asks: “What are the rules?”
His opponent laughs scornfully.
“Rules?” he says. “There are no rules in a knife fight.”
Butch delivers a sudden and solid kick to his groin, kicks him in the face, and walks away victorious.
It appears that what we have now on the floor of the United States Congress is another knife fight without rules. To me, that’s the most concerning element of the whole Jan. 6, 2021 fiasco.
Butch Cassidy and his gang did not represent civilized society. Congress does, at least in theory.
Even Watergate was different. Some Republicans initially defended Richard Nixon after the burglary of a Democratic office building was revealed, either maintaining that the president was innocent or contending that he didn’t realize his employees would go that far on his behalf.
This could have been the rationale that Donald Trump’s
current Congressional defenders employed. Yes, he was mad (or said he was) about how the election turned out. Yes, he gave an inflammatory speech on the day the Capitol was invaded. But he never told his followers to take those heavy-handed measures to stop the installation of his presidential opponent.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end with that. Apparently counting on the mists of time that often obscure logic, a significant portion of the Republican Party is now saying that breaking into the Capitol building, rampaging around inside it, menacing members of Congress, and threatening to hang the vice president were all just a reasonable part of the political game.
It reminded me of a Warren Zevon song titled “Excitable Boy.” As the song progresses, the violence perpetrated by the boy in the title continues to escalate. Nevertheless, the people around him keep shrugging it off by saying: “He’s just an excitable boy.”
Sure, the mob of Trump supporters got a little out of hand on Jan. 6, but they had reasons to act that way.
This says that we no longer have a common baseline in this country for appropriate conduct. The inverse is called moral relativism, and it means that what someone does is not as important as what side they are on when they do it.
Many Jan. 6 apologists point out that the media did not become outraged when urban rioting broke out after George Floyd was ki ed. That’s a valid point, but it does nothing to justify what happened at the Capitol. Rather, It should be a given that group violence is unacceptable, whatever the trigger might be.
Moral relatively is a glitch in human nature, not just an American failing, and it isn’t new. When Indian tribes attacked settlements and killed women and children during the 1800s, they were described as “savages.” When American calvary troops stormed Indian villages and killed women and children, those acts were said to be necessary.
Our laws can be bent at times, and plea bargains (not to mention presidential pardons) can appear to thwart justice. But even when they bend, they never break. A person committing a murder doesn’t get off because nobody likes the victim.
The fact that some people disagreed with the 2020 election and worshipped Donald Trump did not justify a mass action that ended in several fatalities and significant damage to our most cherished government building. Similarly, the injustice of George Floyd’s death did not justify ransacking the businesses of people who had nothing to do with it. It’s not an either/or argument — both are wrong.
Interpreting our laws through a political lens puts us on the road to anarchy — or autocracy.
Darrell Laurant is a veteran journalist who previously worked at the News & Advance (Lynchburg). He published over 7,000 pieces in three decades. Darrell has covered papal visits, the Olympics, American sports, and political issues in Virginia. He has also written a variety of books, including "Inspiration Street: Two City Blocks that Helped Change America."