Trump’s insurrection riot was one of the most significant events in American history. It’s one that we should be sure to understand thoroughly because of the wide-ranging repercussions that it will have on our politics and society for an extended period of time. We’ll focus on one aspect of it that, perhaps, few others are discussing: The implications of it being a flashbulb memory in the American psyche. As a flashbulb memory it will be well remembered; and it is vulnerable to manipulation.
As discussed before on Ye Olde Blogge, a flashbulb memory is a special type of memory that is formed when an event has significant personal importance and strong emotional content. While all of our #COVID19 milestones are important, the frequency of their occurrence numbs us enough so that they no longer have the emotional impact that they should. It stops them from being a flashbulb memory. However, the events on 6 January during the Trump insurrection riot, were shocking. Utterly shocking. They qualified on both counts to form a flashbulb memory. The fear and anxiety we all felt provided the strong emotional content and the attack on our very government and in one of the most iconic buildings in American history produced a personal significance for each and every one of us. We immediately seared the memories into our brains — literally, since flashbulb memories actually use a different neurological track in the brain to form and be retrieved as well, but I don’t think anyone really wants a deep dive into that, do they?
Another aspect of flashbulb memories that is important and relevant to us here is that they are frequently discussed and ruminated upon after they have happened. You tell me that the insurrection riot didn’t dominate news coverage for the days and weeks after it happened and come up between everyday folks in daily conversation. It helps that more video footage shot by the rioters themselves or people covering the riots keep coming out as well as first hand accounts from rioters, police officers, and members of Congress. Everytime we use a memory, we strengthen it. So the shere frequency with which we have thought about the insurrection riot has helped the memory grow stronger in our minds.
That’s good because we need to hold onto this memory. We need to hold on to the shock and outrage, fear and anxiety, disgust and distrust that it evoked in all of us. Those are emotions that we are going to need. We will need them especially in 2022 when it is time for us to elect a new Congress. We need to remember who did and said what on and about that day.
Wait! What? Our emotional responses and many elements of 6 January will remain accessible to us because of the nature of flashbulb memories. We’ll remember who we were with when we found out about it and what we were doing. We’ll remember specific moments of the riot. We’ll remember details and emotions. But, what politicians said and did afterward, maybe not so much. Those things won’t be part of our flashbulb memory. It doesn’t mean that they won’t be remembered, though. It just means that it is part of a different memory system.
What’s important here is that the energy and motivation of our emotional response to 6 January will be needed in 2022 election campaign. It will be needed to motivate us to organize, campaign, and vote. That kind of fear, anxiety, and angry are huge motivators. We will need that motivation to overcome the voter suppression efforts that the GOP is sure to enact before the vote in 2022.
The Repubes know this. And, they have a specific strategy that they are enacting right now to help blunt the impact of our flashbulb memories. It is a tried and true strategy that they have used on us many times in the past twenty years or so with devastating effectiveness.
The Unreliability of Memory: the IKEA Analogy
You see, every time you recall a memory, you unpack it from its storage containers much like you might take the parts out of an IKEA box before assembling your next bookcase, dresser, or storage unit or what have you. You then assemble the memory using those parts. They are connected and, perhaps, have something akin to instructions concerning the order of events and other characteristics of what happened. But, then, when you’re done, you restore the memories. You literally take apart your IKEA bookcase, dresser, or storage unit, and box it back up and slide it into whatever crawl space you have for those types of things. You leave it there until you need it again.
If you were to put together and take apart that IKEA bookcase a thousand times, what would happen? You’d lose screws and other attachments. The little grooves and holes would become worn and would fit less securely. You might even lose a big piece of it. And, it would certainly become damaged with scratches and dents and stuff. One day when putting together something else, you might even borrow a piece of this one. You might have to substitute something for a missing piece. Gradually, overtime, that bookcase, dresser, or storage unit would change. It would be different from when you first put it together. No IKEA unit can survive the reassembly. You can’t really ever put them together a second time, can you?
Memories work in much the same way. The emotions you feel when you recall a memory, influence it when you re-store it. Events and thoughts that you are having when you remember something influence the parts that you recall. There are subtle changes made to the memory every time it is recalled because you have to reassemble it. You are using a logic similar to, “It must’ve been like this…”
Repubes take advantage of this phenomenon. And, you can see them doing it right now in real time:
- Shifting blame: Antifa were the real perpetrators. Can you imagine anything more preposterous? We have right now people who were at the riot breaking down doors and windows, attacking police officers, and destroying government property who now swear it wasn’t them, it was antifa.
- Both side-ism: It’s the same as the Portland demonstrations or the BLM protests that resulted in property destruction. The hell you say. You can’t equate a protest and an attack on the seat of our federal government. But, yet they do. You can’t equate the behavior of protesters and demonstrators that were provoked by law enforcement or were actually provocateurs with those of rioters who were wound up by Trump, Hawley, Cruz, and other politicians through the deliberate repetition of lies about the election.
- Blaming the victim:This is what happens when you don’t listen to the concerns of people about an election. Really? You don’t think having lied repeatedly about how the election was stolen had something to do with it?
- Minimizing: It wasn’t that bad. The fuck you say? They wanted to kill Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers. They had help from specific members of Congress in understanding the layout of the building and where Nancy Pelosi was — we’re looking at you Boebert!
- The Bait and Switch: We need unity and healing as a nation. This is just code for forget what we did. They have no intention of unifying with any liberal or moderate.
Don’t Let ‘Em Gaslight You
Unfortunately, if they repeat this crap enough, enough people will hear it and it will corrupt their memory of 6 January. We cannot let that happen. Here’s what we need to do:
- Bookmark this link: Where Was the Protection? from The Professor’s Convatorium . It is a post chronicling the events of the day, It’s quite thorough and well annotated. It is just what we’ll need to help us remember what really happened and avoid the gaslighting that the Repubes will try to us on us.
- Write a letter to yourself: Take a moment right now to write a letter to yourself. It could be a tweet, a FB update, an email, an Instagram post, whatever it is that you can return to in two years to remind yourself of what happened on 6 January and how you felt about it. What do you imagine that your future self will need to know about 6 January to be motivated to vote, get out the vote, campaign, and organize against the continuing GOP insurrection? That’s what you need to put in that letter. We need to preserve the memory of what happened and to protect ourselves from this attack on our understanding of what happened.
- If the Dems were smart, they would be funding some documentarian to produce a film that could be released in 12 to 18 months about the insurrection riot just so we could all relive it again before the election.
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