First, the easiest and most straightforward, is criminal justice. We should continue to track known extremists, and investigate and bring to account those who commit crimes. We have the expertise and the infrastructure to do so, and to do it while preserving civil liberties. We need no new statutes, nor should we import terrorist designations that should apply only to foreign groups beyond the reach of domestic law.
But the first element will not succeed without a second, which is even more important but far more difficult: We must isolate and alienate the committed insurgents from the population. Just as Al Qaeda in Iraq depended on a much larger community of disaffected Sunnis for tacit support and recruitment, we face the prospect of there being a mass of citizens — sullen, angry and nursing their grudges — among whom the truly violent minority will be able to live undetectably, attracting new adherents to their cause.
The fantasy that the presidency was stolen from Mr. Trump, which has gripped so much of the country, will not easily be broken. The nation is in an epistemological crisis. When “facts” become untethered from objective reality, they become excuses to justify what one wants to believe. Yes, the problem is far worse on the right than on the left, but the problem is a general one.
We must establish, undeniably, what actually happened in the election. That requires neither new laws nor a thought police: It’s not something for the government, but for all of the nation. We must all earnestly engage in an effort to listen to others’ ideas, no matter how daft they may seem; to understand where such ideas come from, no matter how hateful the source; to meet assertion with reason and evidence, not counterassertion. And where our evidence is lacking, we must patiently seek it out.
Neighbor must speak with neighbor across the divide, rather than merely shunning alien views. Media figures must concede inconvenient facts, rather than tarring the other side with an emotionally satisfying broad brush. This is far from saying that all thoughts and ideas have equal validity: They do not. But truth is unavailing if not presented with clear underlying fact, and if not conveyed with respect. Success in restoring evidence-based truth as the language of public discourse is by no means assured, but lack of effort will doom us to failure.
To be sure, the nation’s fundamental and legitimate political divisions will remain. But while not all differences can be bridged, they can be tolerated. For their part, Democrats would do well to avoid the more extravagant aspects of their agenda, which might confirm the worst fears of the rural heartland. By bringing people together, we can isolate the extremists.
The final element of the plan concerns insurgency leadership. Mr. Trump’s transition from mere subversion of the constitutional order to open incitement of mass violence exposes what he has long represented to the most radical fringe of his supporters: a charismatic symbol. By shamelessly espousing the politics of white grievance and convincing so many that he actually won re-election, Mr. Trump has created the conditions necessary for the extremists’ success. They know better than to take his recent, ritualistic admonitions against violence at face value, and so should we. He will continue to be their champion, and his self-serving lies will be their most potent enabler.