Once again, our country is having a powder keg moment.
Many of us have watched in horror as the ghost of Saigon reappeared in Afghanistan where the Taliban took over the country nearly 20 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks. And as our country continues to reel from a deadly global pandemic, we remain at a serious political crossroads. Many Republicans continue to promote the Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election being stolen from Donald Trump and they continue to whitewash the events that unfolded during the January 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol attack. And one comedian managed to piss off a chunk of the Internet by daring to compare the Taliban to “freedom-loving” Capitol insurrectionists.
During his August 16 monologue, CBS’ “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert panned President Joe Biden’s handling of the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers and civilians from Afghanistan but agreed with the president on ending our country’s involvement in the region.
“He’s right,” Colbert said. “Why should our soldiers be fighting radicals in a civil war in Afghanistan? We’ve got our own on Capitol Hill.”
When I woke up the next morning, I noticed Colbert was trending on Twitter. I read several tweets from conservatives who asserted Colbert was actually talking about them: Trump voters. But in reality, that assertion is a deliberate and crass oversimplification of the people who showed up at the Capitol to obstruct and overturn a demonstrably secure and valid election.
Yes, they did support and vote for Donald Trump. True. But those who showed up to participate in the insurrection crossed a clear red line that went beyond mere support or appreciation for Trump. Though they ultimately weren’t successful in achieving their goal to overturn the election for Trump, the insurrections did act similarly to the Taliban in their extrajudicial imposing of will and zealotry upon a free and fair democracy.
Indeed they are the American Taliban.
Here is another way to look at the comparison.
For years, even during the Trump administration, the far-right has clamored for a “civil war.” One could argue the insurgency we’ve seen wasn’t solely about the 2020 presidential election. Rather, it’s about their desire to “take back” a country they’re not entitled to have.
Three years ago — and it feels like a pre-pandemic lifetime ago — I was eating in a restaurant with an acquaintance I worked with on local, nonpartisan issues. They sat beside me, shared a plate and talked about everything under the sun. When the subject of politics appeared, I remember the muscles in my shoulders tightening up with heavy reluctance. Personally, I don’t shy away from political discussion or debate. But I knew this person’s politics. Their support of Donald Trump and his policies weren’t the problem. I could say, “We can agree to disagree,” and leave it at that. But this person absolutely insisted on telling me how Democrats posed a uniquely clear and present threat to their civil liberties and they needed to fight “with violence because it’s necessary.”
“A civil war is coming,” they told me.
“Ever thought of debating the issues and legislation like we’ve done in our country, say, for the last 250 years?” I asked.
“It’s too late, Aaron. They want to take our guns and homes away.”
“That hasn’t happened.”
“Oh it will,” they said with increased fervor. “They definitely will. And I’m going to take ’em on and take ’em down, Aaron.”
I remember how animated they got and how silent I became. I really wasn’t comfortable debating while they were in the throes of irrational fear and contempt for Democrats. As a registered No Party Preference voter, I completely understand people being frustrated with Democrats on foreign and domestic policy. But when the public conversation jumps the shark and people call for taking up arms for a new Civil War, they lose me. How do you expect someone like me to work with them and trust them to maintain enough decorum to help enact constructive solutions on anything?
Even in the face of a public health catastrophe like COVID-19, they continue to insist in having to fight against overwhelming medical and scientific consensus on vaccinations and wearing masks. I’ve watched countless public government and school board meetings that took place throughout the country and watched in horror as people wildly yelled and screamed over their “rights” to remain unvaccinated and unmasked being infringed upon. I’ve read disturbing threats and messages directed at nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals on the frontlines who are urging Americans to protect themselves and others. For centuries, the notion of receiving inoculation was apolitical. Now it’s been politicized. Those who politicize it are also violently opposed to it. Again, I read conversations from the far-right about “civil war” — but this time within the context of COVID-19.
I don’t want to work with those people. Not now. Not ever. They don’t believe or no longer believe political disagreement or compromise is sufficient. To them, it’s about power and control. It’s about dominating the public discourse, not listening. It’s about taking, not giving or sharing. What’s the point in trying to reconcile with them and their democracy nihilism? If they don’t believe in or support the very foundation that gives them the ability to argue their case to voters, how are they not different than the Taliban?
For the record, I strongly believe that not all Republicans or conservatives behave like them or condone those actions. But we really haven’t seen calls for accountability coming from the GOP. We’ve actually seen them double and triple down constantly. In their mind, whitewashing what happened on Jan. 6 and not forcefully denouncing white nationalism, they’re appeasing their base. Maybe they privately find the behavior of their base abhorrent. But when it comes to securing their seats, their votes, their power and stature, they will tacitly and explicitly embrace the American Taliban. I’m referring to leaders who should know better — who we elect into office to do better.
We need to vote them out. We need to vote no confidence in the kind of leadership that either ignores or condones domestic terrorism. Though we’ll likely not make any significant inroads into the American Taliban and their sympathizers, our vote still matters — even if they refuse to believe that it does.