Insurrection;Outrage by
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Prompted By Good Trouble

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In 1946 George Orwell wrote, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” He went on to complain of the ways political speech had largely become “the defense of the indefensible”. After 75 years his words seem more appropriate than ever; prescient even.

While in my car, I always listen to NPR. I usually don’t drive long distances, so only hear fragments of larger conversations. One day last summer, the program had on three distinguished political thinkers to discuss the current state of affairs. Each was asked to summarize the political parties in one word. I heard political scientist Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar, emetitus at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute call the Republican party a cult. He defined cult as a group held together by a shared commitment to a charismatic leader. In an op-ed in the Washington Post on January 14, Eugene Robinson wrote, “[The Republicans are] no longer a political party, but a dangerous cult” for not repudiating Trump’s lies.

I follow news closely but my sources are the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the 6:30pm CBS newscast. By and large, I am not a cable news consumer, yet I stay informed. I was outraged though not surprised when Trump was caught on tape strong-arming the Secretary of State of Georgia into “finding” 11,780 non-existent ballots to give him a win in the state of GA. If he had done that in GA, it is possible he had done so in other battle ground states as well. We know he applied pressure in MI to certain Republican officials to not certify the votes in Macomb County, home of Detroit, which is majority Black. The Georgia phone call was an impeachable offense. It certainly violated Georgia state laws, but oh…never mind. Are you happy Susan Collins? Do you think after his first impeachment he learned his lesson and became a good boy?

None of my fellow Retrospect writers know what I do on Saturday mornings as these stories go live. When I decided to stop posting them to Facebook, I told the folks who faithfully follow along that I would email to them the morning they go live (I usually write the stories several weeks ahead). I just asked to let me know who wished to receive them. My readership has grown, as cousins learned that in some cases I tell family history, or they wanted to learn more about adult Betsy. Friends just liked my writing and asked to be added to the list. The list has grown and more than 22 people currently receive an email with the link to the story every week. Many respond and we have lively conversations.

Front page of Boston Globe, 1/7/21

On January 9, I awoke at 4:37am, stewing about what I would say in the email I would write before sending the link for the prompt: “letter to my younger self” to my family and friends. I was so upset with the week’s events. I had to comment; I couldn’t let it pass. This is the email I sent:

“This is my 222nd story. I feel I can say with some authority that WORDS MATTER. Some of you have followed these musings for years and know they are a combination of personal history and commentary, depending on the prompt of the day. I do not shy away from difficult or personal subjects.

But this week was beyond the pale. A few high school friends, a year younger than me, commented on Facebook that Wednesday brought them back to 5th grade and the day of Kennedy’s assassination. I countered that Wednesday we did, indeed, witness history, but of a different kind. We witnessed an unfit president incite the mob he invited to Washington, D.C. on Dec. 19 via Twitter, as he continued his lies about stolen elections, incite an insurrection. He told this whipped up, frenzied crowd that he would join them as they marched up Pennsylvania Avenue to go to the Capitol and end the “steal” of his overwhelming victory, which his enablers, including some sitting in the august chambers of power at that moment as they continued to assure the mob (and many others watching at home) that this deranged man had won the November election in a landslide.

Never mind that every state had certified their votes, the courts had all ruled against those frivolous lawsuits. If you repeat a lie often enough, people come to believe it. It is Propaganda 101, the basic playbook of an authoritarian ruler. Someday we need to return to the truth! Facts matter! We cannot continue to live in alternative universes where people are allowed to spout outright lies and convince millions of people that what they say is the truth when objective facts say otherwise. WORDS MATTER!

I do not watch TV during the day, and almost never watch cable news, but I wanted to catch up on the important Georgia run-offs. Warnock had been declared the winner of his, but in Ossoff’s race, though he was ahead, it was still too close to call. So after my Zoom exercise class, I turned on CNN to check in. I was delighted with the results and decided to stay to see the beginning of the Electoral College certification process. I enjoy watching history in the making. Sure enough, they only got to the third state: Arizona, when the first objection came up, the chambers split up for two hours of debate and I heard the first four speeches including Cruz’s slimy reasoning (“voters have doubts”…gee, where did those come from I wonder, after so many months of you and your co-conspirators, and the right-wing media spewing lies?) when all hell broke loose. I sat, transfixed, with horror for the rest of the day, like so many of you, I’m sure.”

I segued to the prompt for the day.

The day after the horror in the Capitol, my son David and some of his Stanford friends put together a petition to ban Josh Hawley, ’02 from their Alumni Association. My son’s was the fifth name on the petition (though it has since been arranged alphabetically) that now numbers hundreds, including their Dean of Admissions and Issa Rae. It is being spread person to person. If you click on the note below, you will be able to read the petition.

The stories now come out; more will surface I’m sure. Some are horribly disturbing. New member of the House and QAnon follower, Lauren Boebert (R, CO) tweeted at the beginning “Today is 1776”. The terrorists (ignorant as they are of history) think of themselves as patriots (which is what Ivanka called them in a now-deleted tweet). They don’t know that the American Revolution began in 1775 in Lexington and Concord, MA when the first shots were fired and we rose up against King George III to become a new nation, even if the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776. This was the first invasion of the Capitol since the British stormed it in 1814 during the War of 1812. Yeah, real patriots. Ms. Boebert evidently live-tweeted Speaker Pelosi’s location to the mob during the invasion, putting her in grave danger. Photos recently surfaced of Boebert on the steps of the Capitol with a group, including some who were part of the insurrection, the day before the event. Five people wound up dead as a result of the invasion.

The mob chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and erected a gallows to do just that, egged on by Trump tweeting derogatory things about his VP. Pence has been the most loyal lackey to Trump and though he went several days without speaking to his boss, refused to invoke the 25th Amendment, for fear of damaging his own political future with these deranged followers.

The “Stop the Steal” organizer of the “rally” says he coordinated with Congressmen Mo Brooks (R, Al), who spoke at the rally, Paul Goser (R, AZ), and Andy Biggs (R, AZ), who all helped to plan this “rally”.

The Democrats, joined by ten Republicans, one week after the violent attack on the Capitol, impeached Trump for inciting an insurrection. On the day of the attack, Trump, after much prodding, asked his mob to go home, told them he loved them and that they are very special. Days later, perhaps aware there may be legal consequences to his actions, belatedly called for calm during the inauguration. He lit this fire and now cannot put it out. He sat in the White House while the mob attacked the Capitol, enjoying the spectacle (he always loved World Wide Wrestling – wasn’t this the same; reality TV on steroids?), only remarking that those looked like low-class people. He didn’t like that.

Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (D, NJ), a combat veteran posted a message on Facebook Live on January 12 that she noticed several members of the House giving unusually large group tours on January 5, which she called “reconnaissance”. She and many other members of the House have called for an investigation. Since the Coronavirus pandemic, admission into the Capitol has been restricted, with limited tours. So not only were members of the House complicit with their speeches and votes, it appears they aided and abetted the insurrection. When I was a kid, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. and visited with our Congressman. I assure you, he did NOT give us a personal tour of the Capitol.

1965, visit with our Congressman, William Broomfield in the US Capitol.

The perpetrators, including Congressmen and Senators must be held accountable to the full extent of the law. Our democracy truly hangs in the balance.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Thank you, Betsy. You have wonderfully encapsulated not only some of the key events of these despicable riots, but the outrage that we truly “law and order” citizens do or should feel about them. (And, oh, the irony and hypocrisy!) Indeed, reading your story made me angry all over again — though in a good, cathartic way.

    Incidentally, and apropos of your 1965 visit (cute photo — as always), when my older daughter was acting as an aide to Rep. Nita Lowey after college, she took me on a tour of the Capitol — the same one she gave from time to time to “distinguished guests.” It was fun and fascinating, but I remember that we joked about how many of the rooms in the building she had to tell me “You can’t go in there.”

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. Outrage was the currency of the day for many of us. I couldn’t keep silent. Thank you for sharing your story of your VIP tour, given by your daughter with all the “You can’t go in there” warnings. I wonder how many of those GOP House co-conspirators, who gave tours to the insurgents on Jan. 5 “went there”…like showed where Speaker Pelosi’s office was?

  2. Excellent reflection on the insurrections, Betsy. Your point of view about all this is very much like my own, so I can’t find anything to challenge you about, or even to ask you about. Your writing is wonderful. I’m so glad I’m one of the recipients of your Saturday morning email alerting us to your new post. I look forward to that email almost as much as your new Retrospect piece each week. This is another great column, and one for that book I hope you put together of the best columns you’ve written for Retrospect!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Betsy, by using your voice to inform people of the truth, you are definitely making good trouble. Remaining silent is as bad to me as participating in the cult of Trump. Thanks for sharing a concise and factual recounting of the attempt to overthrow our government on January 6. It was truly horrifying, and I hope all involved, including members of Congress, are held accountable.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Laurie. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but was really happy when I heard Amanda Gorman say Words Matter the other day, knowing that I had written it on Jan. 9. Not a unique thought (Michelle Obama said it years ago), but we must say it loudly and often! I, too, demand accountability.

  4. Marian says:

    We can’t say it often enough, Betsy, that words matter. You’ve done an incredible job of recapping the events of this month. And thank you for beginning with the Orwell quote, which I wasn’t familiar with. It is absolutely prescient.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I was thrilled when I saw an interview with BRILLIANT Amanda Gorman this week and she said “Words Matter” too! I stumbled on the Orwell quote in an essay from a (now former) Boston Globe columnist, who has started his own platform on Substack (the au currant place to be). The proverbial light bulb went on and I knew that was how I would start this essay. Glad you liked it as much as I did, Marian.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    Another day that, as the years pass, we will all have to remember where we were.

  6. Thanx Betsy for the very painful recap of the last two weeks in America, but thank goodness the Inauguration went so smoothly and so beautifully, and how wonderful that a 22 year-old poet stole the show!

    And after we all watched the Georgia race with bated breath and sore fingers from hundreds of postcards written, how sad that Warnock and Ossoff’s win was overshadowed by Jan 6th.

    Now hoping for a Senate conviction – if Trump’s actions aren’t impeachable, what is?

  7. I join the others in appreciation of your comprehensive recap of recent events, Betsy. Of course words do matter, and your passion rings loud and clear in yours. You must be proud of David’s action in signing that petition…please keep us updated as to the results, although it would seem to be a slam dunk based on SAA’s own Code of Conduct.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Barb. I did ask David about the petition recently. He said they got some mumbo-jumbo from the university’s administrator’s. Stanford has a progressive student body, but regressive administration, so it may be difficult to push them to do the right thing. I’ll let you know if anything happens. I hope there are serious consequences for Hawley, Cruz, Johnson and the perps in the House. Those in the House who actually provided tours should be thrown out post-haste.

  8. Suzy says:

    Wonderful recap, Betsy, as others have said, and an important reminder that WORDS MATTER! I’m glad you used this prompt to talk about the bad trouble the insurrectionists engaged in, such a stark contrast to the good trouble we were thinking about. And kudos to David and his Stanford friends for their petition, although I suspect that Josh Hawley would not be too upset to be banned from the Stanford Alumni Association. I would like to see him banned from the Senate – that would show him that his actions have real consequences!

  9. As sometimes happens, you were the second person this week who brought the Orwell essay to my attention. (The other was one of my nephews.). With both of you endorsing it, I plan to reread it (I remember it from college).
    Thanks for this recap. Do we believe these seditionists think they are making “good trouble?” Do they believe their own lies about the stolen election? Or are they just using any excuse to reconstitute a different kind of society, one in which the wealthy masters have all the power and there is death, disease, and misery for the rest?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Unfortunately, Dale, I think they believe the lies they’ve been fed by Trump, many of the Republicans in positions of power and the media bubble in which they dwell, including the strange spaces of the web. I am not sure how we ever get them to face the facts, since people like Hawley and Cruz (or Trump, for that matter) won’t acknowledge the truth. Pathetic; shameful.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Marcia. I am becoming increasingly outraged that those who, a mere three weeks ago, were in fear for their lives are now saying it is not constitutional to proceed with impeachment and want to let Cheeto walk away with a clean slate. Ridiculous! They were the ones who slow-walked this thing, wouldn’t act while he was still IN office; MANY Constitutional scholars say he CAN be impeached (the crime was committed while he was president), there are real-life ramifications for him going forward (loss of pension, secret service details for himself and family – he’s had the nerve to request coverage for his adult children, which is unusual), not to mention being barred from future political office. But they have put their fingers in the breeze and see their constituents love the Monster and don’t want to be hounded out of office, so won’t stand up and do the right thing and tell the truth to THEIR people. He LOST the election, told lies for months and brought this on them and to the Capitol itself. They should also deal with the traitors in their midst.

  10. Again, I’m right there with you!

  11. Apologies for the late response, Betsy, but here I am, eager to underscore your resolve that words do matter. And certainly, words is what we do here, Ms [Pfau], a favorite line from a ripe but vigorous episode of “Law and Order.” Delighted to see that you’ve developed a homegrown following for your thoughts and words, both of which are vital and significant.

    As with most of us, I’m stunned by the events of January 6 and was also watching as the certification process deteriorated into a tour and then an assault. Beyond those events, I am reeling from the rapidity and chaos of what has transpired in Congress since that Wednesday, and grateful to see Biden take on the job of generating forward momentum in what aspires to become a new New Deal.

    As I’ve said before, your anger often comes through in your writing and I salute you for it.

    Write on!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Chas. As I responded to one on my email list, “I write rage well”. I agree, it is disheartening to see how quickly the Republicans can go from cowering in terror to “nothing to see here” business as usual when they put their fingers in the wind and discover their voters still believe the Big Lie (because none of those gutless wonders have disavowed it) and still love Cheeto. But it is reassuring to have Biden in control and no more crazy tweeting!

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