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Minnich: Patriotism without reason is twisted into treason | COMMENTARY

Samuel Johnson said it first, according to his biographer, Boswell: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Caesar was a patriot until he crossed the Rubicon, which was perceived as a grab for populist power that threatened the good order of the Empire. He was dispatched by other Roman leaders who considered his grab for power an act of treason.

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We’re a little more restrained; they stabbed Caesar; we impeach our dictators.

Still, Julius Caesar had his fans. History does repeat itself, and over time the story of strongman excesses backed by supporters with grievances has played out time and again, leading to unspeakable acts including genocide and world war. Passions rise and reason falls by the wayside.

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And now we have apologists for the invasion of the Capitol downplaying the gravity of that event, even claiming that there was never any intention to do any damage to the building, the people inside it, or overthrow the government that won the recent election.

Some revisionists are spinning the angle that the assault on Jan. 6 was just a case of ardent patriots losing control and having fun after years of frustration with leftist elitists. They would have us ignore the visuals of violent acts and the audio of the words calling on the assassination of elected officials and the hanging of the vice president as mere hyperbole.

We’re supposed to forget the humiliating bullying of elected officials and government employees by a mob of followers of a bully — “hang Pence” — whose actions resulted in deaths.

We have been seeing letters to the editor, columns and emails from some of who say it is the liberals’ fault — the media and everyday citizens who “hounded” Trump. They double down in their belief that the election was stolen by voter fraud, despite all the proof to the contrary. They would rather believe the lie than accept the truth, because to accept to the truth requires life-altering self-analysis.

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Samuel Johnson knew that words matter and could be either salve or poison to a culture. Founders and crafters of our Constitution were wise enough to know that a balance had to be maintained between free speech and incitement to violence: That to criticize government action is a practice of liberty, but to attempt to overthrow the will of the majority by force is, plain and simple, treason. Criminal action with consequences.

In a just world, only true words or fact-based opinions matter, but lies last longer, and are often more consequential than fact because emotional appeal works best when the purpose of the argument is to play on anger and misinformation — or ignorance — to justify extremism or the suspension of law.

Time and reason better serve our political system than violent actions or rhetoric. Now we are learning that the former president, desperate after failed efforts to get state governors and honest public servants to do his bidding, was working on firing the acting attorney general of the U.S. so he could conspire with another absolutist denier of the election results to pressure Georgia officials to overturn the results in their state.

Republicans would like the impeachment to just go away. Most elected Republicans likely are glad that Trump was defeated, but many fear the bile of his most deluded worshipers.

The hearings are going to happen; the more we learn, the more obvious it becomes that the nation can not ignore how close we came to allowing a power-hungry tyrant to stoke the coals of discontent into a firestorm of anger that would destroy America as it was conceived and defended for generations.

Arrests are being made, investigations will be continuing for months, longer; life-altering actions will go into the records.

Meanwhile, most of us are relieved to see signs of a return to some rational discussion of issues. There are signs of give and take and a dampening down of the rhetoric that has dominated the past few years. Civility seems possible again.

Politics will continue to be confrontational because the system was built and maintained for years to accommodate differences and encourage negotiation with balance, negotiation, and votes, not brutal force.

Dean Minnich has been a reporter, managing editor, and awarded columnist and lives in Westminster. His column appears Thursdays. His email address is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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