I’ve studied conservatism for years and I think I understand it better than many of my fellow liberals do, and certainly a lot better than I used to. So I know just how wrong it is for “conservatives” to defend the use of violence against a democratically elected government by claiming to be patriots acting in the spirit of the American Revolution. They show that they understand neither conservatism, patriotism, nor the Revolution.
The justification for the Revolution was that there was no democracy. The point of democracy was to make political violence unnecessary — and therefore, political violence became unjustified.
That’s the difference between the American Revolution and Shays’ Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and the Confederate rebellion that started the Civil War. Those who took up arms in the latter three were not fighting for freedom, they were fighting against democracy.
That’s why the Revolutionary firebrand Samuel Adams, who might have been expected to sympathize with the Shays rebels, instead said they should be executed: because they had used weapons instead of the readily available democratic tools of peaceful organizing and the vote.
George Washington was more temperate, but also saw Shays’ rebellion as a serious threat to democracy. He wrote this in a letter to Henry Lee (a Revolutionary War veteran and the father of Robert E. Lee):
“You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once.”
As President, Washington led troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
And Abraham Lincoln, of course, knew he had no choice but to stop the Confederate rebellion. His view of “mob law” was clear more than 30 years before. In his 1728 Lyceum address, Lincoln said this:
We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us… If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide… There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.
Democracy made all of those uprisings not just unpatriotic, but anti-patriotic.
The Trumpist rebellion is in the same disgraceful tradition.
This is why despite all the political arguments that can readily be raised against it, Trump should be impeached, or otherwise removed from office. And his fellow seditionists like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and the rest, should face proceedings for censure, expulsion, disbarment, or whatever other remedies apply.
Even if all such efforts fail, if we believe in democracy, we’re called to defend it when that matters, not just when it’s easy.