Looking back at a terrible week
This past week will go down as one of the worst weeks, not only for what occurred in our nation’s capital, but also for our newspapers.
Last week we lost Mike Myer, the executive editor of the Wheeling Intelligencer, an accomplished columnist and a giant in West Virginia journalism.
He was a friend and a mentor, not only to me but to generations of reporters and editors. Anyone who worked with Mike Myer looking over their shoulder or editing their work came away the better for it. He was the dictionary definition of a newspaperman.
Mike was always full of questions. Being the eyes and ears in Charleston, he would always send me questions on what was going on down here. At West Virginia Press Association events, he would frequently lead the way on asking elected officials pointed questions and follow-ups.
He was probably one of the last thoughtful writers about public policy and he was more of a fiscal hawk than even me. He could dissect a state budget and find wasteful spending in line items I would never have thought to look in.
I learned a lot from Mike and I will endeavor to follow his example. He will be missed, but part of me is glad he didn’t see the events that happened last Wednesday.
The ransacking of the U.S. Capitol Building by an incited mob of insurrectionists last week was horrible, reprehensible and shocking. It was the culmination of four years of outright lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories.
It didn’t happen all at once. The heat was turned up slowly on the frog in the pot of water.
Politicians, instead of being honest with these folks leading up to 2016, fed their unfounded political beliefs or simply nodded their head, hoping to gain or not lose a vote. They were set up to view Donald Trump as the fighter they had always been looking for.
Trump’s words, political beliefs and actions didn’t matter: He would fight and that was good enough. That has largely carried this base through the last four years. They’ve spent the last six months or more being told to prepare for the 2020 election to be stolen. Efforts by states to make it easier to vote during the pandemic have been re-branded as voter fraud.
Trump scared his supporters away from voting by absentee, so when the votes were counted in November it looked like votes for former vice president Joe Biden were being added after the fact because Biden’s supporters voted mostly by absentee ballot. There was no fraud. States changing their voting laws was not fraud either.
Trump and Trump surrogates spent the last 60 days feeding into the conspiracy theory mindset, claiming voter fraud in public, but almost never actually using voter fraud claims in the more than 60 state and federal lawsuits they’ve lost. The Trump campaign and surrogates could never demonstrate any evidence of fraud, and the anecdotal claims they did try to present were all debunked.
When those claims didn’t hold, then they claimed a combination of Democrats, Republicans, voting machine companies and … the former dictator of Venezuela were involved with taking Trump’s “landslide” win away. When that didn’t work, then supporters tried block the electoral college certification in states where the margin between Trump and Biden was close. When that didn’t work, Trump tried to pressure the Georgia Secretary of State to find the votes he needed to win.
When that didn’t work, Trump and surrogates started agitating supporters to come to Washington, D.C., promising a “wild time.” The people that came had been lied to about the election being stolen. They were pumped up to believe that Congress and Vice President Mike Pence could throw out Electoral College ballots, even though they could not.
When it seemed clear that Pence and Congress were not going to do what they wanted, Trump told them to “show strength,” His attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told them to wage “trial by combat,” and Donald Trump Jr. told Congress, “We’re coming for you.” Rally attendees didn’t even wait for Trump to finish his speech before marching to the Capitol Building. You know the rest.
The motivations of the mob that forced their way into the Capitol Building varied. Some were simply following others, carried away by adrenaline and excitement, not thinking of the consequences. Now-resigned delegate Derrick Evans can probably be put into this category. Others — such as well-known MAGA-world social media celebrities — where there for the clicks as they ransacked offices and broke into the chambers.
On the other hand, some were there to do serious violence. Media reports have confirmed that some of the mob was looking for Pence with the intention to either detain him or do harm to him. A U.S. Capitol Police officer died after being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher. Another insurrectionist, dressed in tactical gear and carrying zip ties, was seen in one of the chambers. Was he looking to grab lawmakers?
Even now, these same people who allowed themselves to be taken in by election conspiracy theories are trying to claim the people inside the U.S. Capitol were left-wing members of Antifa. There is absolutely no evidence of that, and no law enforcement agency has claimed this. Everyone that has been arrested so far for illegal entry into the Capitol are all public supporters of Trump. Some are believers in QAnon. Others subscribe to white nationalism beliefs.
We got here because instead of political leaders choosing to lead and be honest with voters — even at the expense of losing an election — they chose to coddle and placate the wrong beliefs of voters. Coupled with social media feeding these voters exactly what they want to see and hear, the snowball grew into an avalanche. Last week is what that avalanche looks like.
Any West Virginian politicians hoping to try to keep the peace with this pie slice of voters should know that without Trump at the top of the ticket in the future, most of these voters are not coming back. Instead of telling them what they want to hear, it’s time to deal honestly with them.
Steven Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.