Yesterday, January 6th, 2021, a violent mob of fascist protesters incited by the President of the United States stormed the United States Capitol to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power. The event was broadcast live on major news networks, and leaders of the mob livestreamed their takeover of the building. I watched it all from my phone screen, my tv, and my laptop. You probably did too. It was not a new or peculiar kind of violence in this current America. It looked like when armed protesters stormed the Michigan Capitol. When far right extremists descended upon Charlottesville. It looked and sounded like something we’ve grown desensitized too, the extreme and violent rhetoric of the president and it’s many instances of turning into real life violence.
There is now a major anti-democratic movement in this country, one that seeks to overturn a free and fair election and whose principle idealogy is one of white supremacy. It has the support of 147 members of congress, but many more Republican politicians bear responsibility for fanning the flames of this movement. Donald Trump has been Donald Trump this entire time, and anyone who stood by his side the last four years as he built this movement of conspiracy, fear, racial and ethnic hatred, and violence helped bring us to this moment.
The United States of America, economically savaged, with hundreds of thousands dead after a failed pandemic response, and with democracy and the rule of law nearing collapse, is at a precipice. Even if Trump is deposed (a national security necessity), the movement he unleashed will continue. Trump did not create white supremacy, far-right extremism, or the extreme asymmetric polarization that threatens our country, but he exploited it, and metastasized it’s influence. A substantial faction of the Republican Party no longer believes democracy is legitimate. They are joined by millions of Americans in that belief.
It is not clear that the sane members of the GOP or the leadership of the Democratic Party realize how deep the crisis goes. After sheltering in place in the besieged Capitol, congress reconvened to finish certifying the election results and then went on recess. There was still blood in the capitol halls. The mob was allowed to disperse into the streets of Washington D.C. They succeeded in interrupting the peaceful transfer of power and got away with it.
Democratic leadership, on the eve of full control of congress and the presidency does not seem to recognize that millions of Americans will not believe that the new government is legitimate. When congress reconvened after the putsch it was an opportunity for a moment of moral and civic clarity. Instead it revealed how fragile our democracy has become, how deep the purchase of far-right extremism has taken hold of our government, and how close we are to a breaking point. Congress completed it’s job of certifying the electoral votes, but the symbolic victory of an overrun capitol belongs to the movement that wants to see our democracy overturned.
Was yesterday a denouement or an escalation?