Words matter, and the ones being used for this insurgence are flat-out wrong.

By Laura Norkin
Jan 06, 2021 @ 5:33 pm
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I think I first heard the word “coup” when I learned the history of Napoleon. Or maybe it was Franco, and eventually I connected it to that of Pinochet. But I am a words person and I mostly have used it lightly, to mean a spicy takeover — how you’d talk about a designer sliding into a fashion house and really shaking things up, but it’s cool and no one’s getting hurt. That is not what that word means anymore. 

Another definition has been slipping out of our grasp for the past four years. The word “patriot” has been co-opted by Right-wing, MAGA-spitting Trump supporters who hate civil liberties unless it’s the one to not wear a mask; hate freedom of religion unless it’s the one that controls women’s bodies; hate counting votes unless the tally says they win. That is not what patriotism in the United States of America means. That is not what this country was founded on nor a representation of the ideals that, hopefully, will carry its people through to the post-January 21 future. 

Ivanka Trump Called Capitol Terrorists “Patriots” and That Is Not What That Word Means
Credit: Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon a group of domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol building to lay waste to our democratic process. Senators were set to certify Joe Biden’s election to the presidency, and an organized mob of armed Trump supporters scaled walls and smashed windows to enter the building. Shots rang out in the chambers as members of the legislative branch were evacuated into a safe room. At least one woman was wheeled out on a stretcher, reportedly having been shot in the chest while wearing a Trump flag, and maternity jeans. 

Ivanka Trump Called Capitol Terrorists “Patriots” and That Is Not What That Word Means
Credit: Bloomberg

“American Patriots,” the president’s daughter Tweeted at the insurgents. “Any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful,” Ivanka Trump wrote, in a characteristic attempt to distance herself from her father’s strong rhetoric but not really. Patriots. She wrote that after the very process of certifying our democracy was put on hold, so people working to protect it could literally run for their lives. She wrote it after guns had been drawn and bullets flew. She wrote it and then she deleted it. Patriots — that is not what that word means. 

It means fellow countrymen, sure, so it can literally mean citizens of the same land. It also means folks who love their country. And it is long past time to name the Trump administration and its roiling militia the toxic, abusive, destructive hegemony it is. That is not love. That is not what that word means.

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About an hour after her Tweet, Donald Trump shared video remarks with yet more confusion over the L-word. He...loves...the people storming the Capitol with Viking helmets and face paint and guns? “This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you, you’re very special … I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.” Love you. Like he was signing off an especially earnest late night chat group dispatch and not speaking, for some reason, directly to a group of terrorists attempting to demolish his Capitol. 

Ivanka Trump Called Capitol Terrorists “Patriots” and That Is Not What That Word Means
Credit: Saul Loeb/Getty Images

By this point in the day many had been covering the revolt as a “protest,” which is how most would describe the Black Lives Matter movements of the summer. Remember, those throngs of marchers who sang songs and wore masks (to protect one another while crying out for basic humanity and, yes, love)? Ivanka’s father used the utmost of his power to tamp them down. He called in the National Guard. He ensured a military response, and that protesters were met with tanks, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some tragic cases worse. If today’s events are a “protest,” and protests are something that need to be shut down rather than a form of conversation under our democracy as it was intended, where is the protection?

As the novelist R.O. Kwon tweeted, “these are terrorists & this is an attempted coup, language is important, name what this is.” On CNN, Van Jones emphatically pointed out, "This is treason. This is rebellion. This is insurrection. Period." Later, Wolf Blitzer said he would not refer to this group as protestors on air ever again. Finally.

Protest can be patriotic. So, even, can rebellion, revolution — when you love your country and want to help change it for the better. But not when you burn it to the ground (metaphorically; at this point the Capitol is still standing). There is no destruction in love. There is no harm in patriotism. And terrorists committing violence rather than accept a loss is not inspiring — of anything but more violence and destruction. So let’s call it what it is. And know that not only did the president call off the only forces who could’ve prevented this destruction, he all but called for it. “Stand back and stand by,” remember? He blurted that out at a debate against Joe Biden, whose very victory his Proud Boys are here to tear down. We all heard it, and we knew what it meant. Even, you have to assume, Ivanka.