Thursday, January 7, 2021

Donald Trump's Putsch

For members of my generation, 1968 was the year when American society seemed to come apart. In important ways it did, with long-term consequences for the country. On the other hand, that year, that had uncovered so much that was fundamentally amiss in America, ended with a peaceful presidential election (one of the closest in history) capped by an uplifting spaceflight around the moon. Whatever feel-good moments 2021 will bring - and we are scheduled for a big one in two weeks on January 20 - the short and long term- consequences of yesterday's riot by pro-Trump thugs at the Capitol cannot be imagined away. 

What happened before the riot began was bad enough, as certain Republican senators and congressmen made a mockery of the constitutional process of counting the electoral votes with their transparently trumped-up allegations. Meanwhile the President himself was inciting his brainwashed supporters, who soon perpetrated the most serious violence against Congress and the U.S Capitol since the 1954 terrorist attack on the House of Representatives. (More dramatically, some of the TV commentators went all the way back to the British attack in 1814!)

Particularly troubling too was the apparent unpreparedness of Capitol security. After all, it wasn't as if there was no reason be be worried about possible disturbances and potential violence. Imagine if Black Lives Matter had attached the Capitol! The response would surely have been swifter and more severe - more like the violence perpetrated against peaceful demonstrators on June 1 to facilitate President Trump's sacrilegious Bible-holding photo-op. 

But the principal villain is, of course, the President himself, who has repeatedly undermined his supporters' loyalty to American institutions. Some of that extremist alienation already existed in segments of our society and certainly preceded Trump. But he and his Republican sycophants have long since successfully exploited and dangerously exacerbated it. The damage Trump and the Republican party have done to this country has been incalculable. The question right now is how much more damage will our worst president and his political party still be able to do, and what can the country do to forestall it?

It was a somber Senate that reconvened, with Mike Pence still in the Chair and Mitch McConnell (soon to be evicted from the Majority Leadership) and Chuck Schumer in their places, with much of the nation watching, perhaps remembering that this same Senate had the opportunity just one year ago to remove Trump from office and so prevent all this. The House likewise resumed its task, with Speaker Pelosi invoking today's feast of the Epiphany. The proceedings were an encouraging evocation of the resilience of our constitution and our institutions in that the debate resumed as it did and that the Congress could reassemble to carry out the task of the day. Still, imagine if no member had gone along with Trump in protesting the vote count. The session would likely have been over  and Biden duly proclaimed president already by the time Trump's thugs even arrived at the Capitol!

More to the point, there is a wide - and widening - gap between the majestic institutions of democratic governance and Trump's supporters' obliviousness to those institutions and the values they embody. As for those Trump so deplorably incited to insurrection yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic wrote: 

"We will find out shortly if today’s insurrection was also a super-spreader event. What I do know, after spending hours sponging up Trumpist paranoia, conspiracism, and cultishness, is that this gathering was not merely an attempted coup but also a mass-delusion event, not something that can be explained adequately through the prism of politics. Its chaos was rooted in psychological and theological phenomena, intensified by eschatological anxiety."

He's right. Politics is about achieving a common communal life among different individuals and different groups who have different aspirations and interests but are committed to remaining united together in one society. Trump and his supporters clearly care little for our common life and have deplorably demeaned the institutions created to keep our common life and sustain our society. 

That is the legacy of our worst president and the Republican party which has empowered him.


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