Less than a week has passed since the Capitol riot, and the Democratic Party, the establishment media, and Big Tech now present it as axiomatic that President Donald Trump incited the mob for the purpose of preventing the electoral vote certification and, presumably, grabbing dictatorial powers. Republican Senators Pat Toomey and Lisa Murkowski have joined the calls for Trump either to resign or face a second impeachment, and even Ted Cruz has said that Trump’s rhetoric “certainly contributed to the violence that occurred.” But before the lynch mob gets the noose ready and hangs the president from the nearest tree, it would be useful to step back and make sure that he really did what everyone seems to be sure he was guilty of doing: incite the crowd at the Capitol to violence for the purpose of staging a coup.
Trump’s speech that supposedly incited the mob is here. At the end of it, he said:
So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I want to thank you all. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you all for being here, this is incredible. Thank you very much. Thank you.
The attentive reader may have noticed that there is nothing there, or in any other part of the speech, calling upon the crowd to storm the Capitol, or to overthrow the government, or to do anything but walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and encourage lawmakers to support the president. The case for the claim that Trump incited the mob rests on the proposition that he didn’t have to spell out what he wanted them to do; when he detailed his reasons for believing that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, that was enough to inflame them sufficiently to storm the Capitol.
However, assuming that the crowd would have remained peaceful were it not for Trump’s criticism of the election is to embark upon an extremely dangerous path. To take for granted, as so many do today, that Trump incited violence by criticizing the election, is to commit the classic logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, after this, therefore caused by this. It opens the door for criticism of anyone or anything to be labeled dangerous and inciting of violence, and silenced accordingly. Tyrants and would-be tyrants can silence criticism of their rule by claiming that their opponents, by engaging in that criticism, are inciting and inviting violence.
The path that the Democratic Party and Big Tech are taking leads straight to the silencing of the powerless by the powerful, and the criminalization of political dissent.
And so all Americans should these days be insisting: where and how, exactly, did President Trump incite the mob? Where did he say that the crowd should storm the Capitol and disrupt the electoral vote certification? If he didn’t say this, then he is not guilty of incitement, and to claim that he is threatens the very foundations of America as a free society.
There is an important precedent for this insistence on specific evidence. On May 11, 1846, President James K. Polk told Congress that Mexican troops had “invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil.” The soil in question was actually between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers in Texas, which at that time was disputed territory. And so a young Whig congressman named Abraham Lincoln introduced into the House the “Spot Resolutions,” taking issue with Polk’s claim that Mexican forces had killed Americans within the United States and asking the president to specify at what spot they actually did so. Lincoln found the support for Polk’s claims wanting, stating that the president could not deny and had not denied that the American troops had actually been the aggressors, and declared that “the war with Mexico was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced.”
Lincoln’s resolutions were ignored. And another future president, Ulysses S. Grant, who fought in the Mexican War, stated in 1879: “I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.” In 1885, he wrote that the Mexican War was “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”
That war started in a frenzy of righteous anger that was so strong that no one bothered to check, as Lincoln requested, to see if the claims upon which it was based are true. Now Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are planning to impeach and remove Trump in the waning days of his presidency, and thereby, they hope, stigmatize and marginalize both him and his movement forever, but it is useful again to ask: when and how exactly did he do what they accuse him of doing? Grant thought that the Civil War was divine retribution for the injustice of the Mexican War; in likewise rushing forward without concern for niceties such actually proving their case, Pelosi and Schumer are taking us down a path that could have similarly calamitous results.