What the hell just happened? Chickens came home to roost.

Posted: January 7, 2021 in Political musings
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

What just happened? Nothing more nor less than the inevitable outworking of what started five years ago, at the Republican primaries before the last election.

American “democracy”, such as it is, allowed Trump – a convicted wrongdoer who does not believe in democracy to begin with, except insofar as it can advance him personally – to hijack the Republican primary process with pure, mindless populism fuelled by constant lies, conspiracy theories and nonsense.

He appealed to the basest instincts of those who felt disenfranchised by the political elite in Washington and elsewhere, which was epitomised in the 2016 general election by an infinitely more qualified and stronger candidate, Hillary Clinton. No lie was too great, no untruth beneath him and his enablers, many of whom sat in the House and the Senate. In due course, the electoral college, an antiquated institution long past its use by date for protecting the interests of smaller states, then delivered him an underserved and bogus victory. (As far right Republican Rand Paul said today, Republicans need to defend the electoral college because “otherwise Conservatives will never win a Presidential election again”.) There was hardly a peep of protest.

Once the fix was in and Trump had lied and cheated his way to power – with the enthusiastic social media support of America’s most pressing enemy, the Russians – he then proceeded to continue to poison the body politics with at least 20,000 proven lies to the American public over four years.

He exhibited the same ruthless obsession with bare-faced lying in the run up to the 2020 election, declaring the only way that he could lose was for the election to be fixed. Again and again he told people he was winning when clearly he was consistently ten per cent behind Biden. Again and again he told lies about the Biden family, about Biden’s mental competence, and about unproven (and subsequently dismissed by over 100 judges) corruption at State level. And again and again he was facilitated and encouraged by those who knew better.

Today, when the Congress met to confirm the electoral college votes that would throw Trump out of office – and back, incidentally, into a morass of State-level court cases, many of which could see him jailed – Trump egged on a “protest rally” of armed extremist supporters to overturn the election result on his behalf, despite the fact that the election result is in and decided, the Congress vote is simply a formality and the Congress has no power to reject the decision.

“And after this, we’re going to walk down there, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down … to the Capitol and we are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” Trump told the crowd. “And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

The president told the crowd that the election had been “rigged” by “radical democrats” and the “fake news media.” 

And then he added a further measure of defiance mixed with a call to action.

“We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” Trump said. “Our country has had enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.”

He further said: “You’re the real people. You’re the people that built this nation. You’re not the people that tore down this nation.” And he added in a bit of irony: “Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy.” This despite that as had been patiently explained to him by his hand-picked Vice president, Mike Pence, that Congress had no ability to do so.

In the end, the lunatics in the crowd assaulted the Capitol, driven mad by a genuine sense of being deprived, as he must surely have known they would all along. Because this was the ultimate triumph of a process that started a long time ago, and which far too many Republicans and media commentators winked at for far too long.

Despite two tweets calling for respect for law and order – which surely revealed either his mendacious insincerity or his utter detachment from reality – he later seemingly justified the violence, occupation and besieging of the Capitol with this social media missive: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Twitter duly labeled the tweet as follows: “This claim of election fraud is disputed, and this Tweet can’t be replied to, Retweeted, or liked due to a risk of violence.” Later it banned him from further tweets temporarily. Unheard of, and some would say, far too little too late.

Trump told the rioters that he loved them. “We love you. You’re very special.” He told them to go home. Needless to say, they utterly ignored his disingenuous and weak plea and waded into the Capital with weapons.

With poles bearing blue Trump flags, a mob that would eventually grow into the thousands bashed through Capitol doors and windows, forcing their way past police officers unprepared for the onslaught. Lawmakers were evacuated shortly before an armed standoff at the House chamber’s entrance. A woman was shot and was rushed to an ambulance, police said, and later died. Canisters of tear gas were fired across the Rotunda’s white marble floor, and on the steps outside the building, rioters flew Confederate flags.

All this morass of misunderstanding and distress, though, was utterly inevitable. This writer and many others have warned of it repeatedly. As the magma grows in a volcano so the pressure must burst through somewhere. And in that, today’s events are not, in and of themselves, so shocking. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

But let us hope ALL Americans – indeed all people in mature democracies all over the world – now seriously step back and ensure that Trumpism and all the movements that ape it is and are crushed.

With violence? No.

Populism (which is wildly different from popularity, of course) must be contested with facts. With knowledge. Everywhere. Every time. And also with courtesy for those who disagree with us.

Because be warned: this did not end tonight. And it will not end with the shocked looks and fine words seen from those in Congress, now that it has reconvened.

The fire that has been lit by Trump and his enablers will not be extinguished so easily. After four years of collective insanity 70 million Americans were still prepared to continue to support a known conman and virulent anti-democrat, aided and abetted by those who sought to ride to power on his coat tails, despite the consistent evidence of his failings presented to them in the media and by their friends and neighbours.

Why? Because the media itself had been utterly sidelined as “MSM” (mainstream media) by the Trumpists. As if mainstream media was something to be scared of, or automatically to be mistrusted. How far we have traveled.

No amount of bleating from the media that it was only presenting facts for consideration has ever made it through to the cult members, because they had long ago willingly closed their minds. They chose to believe they were being lied to.

And belief is a powerful thing. It easily and comprehensively replaces rational thought, which is tiring and tedious.

And the disbelief stretched right across the spectrum, so that even rabidly right-wing outlets like the Murdoch-controlled Fox News (itself long responsible for much of the worst Trumpist fake news and apologia over the years) has now joined the mistrusted. Fox’s unforgiveable sin? Accurately calling Arizona for Biden.

That is why this is not over.

A proportion of those 70 million will continue in their delusions, taking their “news” from stations and outlets that don’t even pretend to be purveying news, rather than opinion. And some of them – a tiny minority but big enough to wreak misery and chaos – will continue to make pipe bombs, and to assault legislatures and civic offices and personnel, and there will continue to be physical attacks on individuals and worse, right up to an including assassinations. To be sure, these things have tragically always bedevilled democracy, and American democracy especially. But the wilful dumbing down and manipulation of American politics has now made it worse than ever before. It’s not like America hasn’t had plenty of warning in the past decades. Oklahoma? Charleston church massacre? Pittsburgh synagogue shooting? El Paso? Threats against sitting Govenors?

The trend has long been perfectly clear. For example, the Anti-Defamation League reported that white supremacist propaganda and recruitment efforts on and around college campuses have been increasing sharply, with 1,187 incidents in 2018 compared to 421 in 2017, both far exceeding any previous year. Another example: a June 2020 study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reported that over 25 years of domestic terrorism incidents, the majority of attacks and plots had come from far-right attackers. The trend had accelerated in recent years, with this sector responsible for about 66% of attacks and plots in 2019, and 90% of those in 2020.

The failure of the leaders in society, specifically on the right, to confront the forces of un-reason more trenchantly is ultimately to blame, just as was the under-estimation of the pain of the disenfranchised that led to first the Tea Party and then Trump in the first place.

And yes, there have been examples of violence on all sides, and that should be freely admitted.

But the violence has been unequivocally shown to overwhelmingly come from the right, and been facilitated by the weak-kneed response of the right in the media, and the body politic. It’s time they owned it.

American democracy has not failed, yet, but it is still perilously close to failure.

The survival of Congress today should not be celebrated, other than for the fact that it is the starkest of wake-up calls for a country that has long been sleepwalking towards chaos.

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