Commentary on Political Economy

Friday, 8 January 2021

FAR AND AWAY THE BEST POLITICAL ANALYSIS I HAVE READ IN A WHILE. MISS IT AND REGRET IT!

 

American mythology dies on the Hill

The only truly shocking thing about this week’s events is how many observers claim to have found them shocking. Nothing on Capitol Hill on Thursday AEDT surprised anyone who has tracked “patriot movement” chatter or pro-Trump social media since the US election, seen the scale and passion of the President’s rallies, witnessed 1000-car “Trump trains” or watched protesters converging on Washington this week.

One woman, Ashli Babbitt, was killed in the afternoon, allegedly shot by police inside the Capitol building as protesters ransacked House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, rampaged through the rotunda, below the Capitol dome, broke down the door to the chamber and occupied the Senate floor.

More may be murdered overnight, since (if last year’s pattern holds) the hours of darkness — when police pull back to protect public property, protesters and counter-protesters clash, and arsonists come out of the woodwork — are the most dangerous.

But several myths also died this week. One was the complacent notion that “it can’t happen here”. On the contrary, Thursday looked a little like the opening move of a colour revolution, as seen in Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia or the Arab Spring.

Such revolutions often begin with massive peaceful protests over a contested election. These lead to violence, which triggers a government crackdown, which provokes insurrection, international condemnation and, often, regime change.

Protesters storm US Capitol

Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: Police officers in riot gear line up as protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol. Picture: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP
Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
WASHINGTON: Pro-Trump supporter gather in the nation’s capital. Picture: Samuel Corum / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
US President Donald Trump arrives to speak to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. - Thousands of Trump supporters, fueled by his spurious claims of voter fraud, are flooding the nation's capital protesting the expected certification of Joe Biden's White House victory by the US Congress. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
US President Donald Trump arrives to speak to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House. Picture: Brendan Smialowski / AFP
Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: Police officers attempt to push back a pro-Trump mob trying to storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump. Picture: Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP
Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalised in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress. Picture: Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: Members of congress run for cover as protesters try to enter the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress Picture: Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: Members of Congress evacuate the House Chamber as protesters enter during a joint session of Congress. Picture: Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: Protesters supporting U.S. President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol. Picture: Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP
Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
WASHINGTON: U.S. Capitol Police detain protesters outside of the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress. Picture: Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: A protester sits in the Senate Chamber. Picture: WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)
TOPSHOT - A supporter of US President Donald Trump sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as he protest inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
A supporter of US President Donald Trump sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Picture: SAUL LOEB / AFP
Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP)
Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol. Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. Picture: Saul LOEB / AFP
Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: A protester is seen hanging from the balcony in the Senate Chamber. Picture: Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP)
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Pictuire: Joseph Prezioso / AFP
Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol Building. Pictire: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP
Crowds of people gather as US President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. - Thousands of Trump supporters, fueled by his spurious claims of voter fraud, are flooding the nation's capital protesting the expected certification of Joe Biden's White House victory by the US Congress. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)
Crowds gather as US President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House. Picture: MANDEL NGAN / AFP
Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election
WASHINGTON, DC: Trump supporters gather in the nation’s capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. Picture: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP
TOPSHOT - Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)
Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol. Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. Picture: ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP

A decade ago, political scientists Philipp Kuntz and Mark Thompson noted that stolen elections — or the perception of them, which amounts to the same thing — are some of the most common triggers for revolution. Roughly 74 million people voted for Donald Trump; a mid-November Rasmussen poll suggested that 75 per cent of them believe Democrats stole the election. That’s 55.5 million people who believe a Biden administration is illegitimate; if only 3 per cent of them decided to act on that belief, that would be 1.66 million people, a sizeable base for revolt.

How things develop in the next few days, as thousands of National Guard troops and police confront Trump supporters with tear gas and flash-bangs on the streets of the capital, will shape the ultimate outcome.

But the notion of an inevitable, peaceful democratic transfer of power is dead.

Another myth that died this week was the idea of Trump supporters as a spent force. Since the election the Trump campaign has mounted four dozen lawsuits challenging the outcome. All failed. (Though, to be fair, Trump supporters point out that few were considered on their merits, with many thrown out on procedural grounds or never heard.) Likewise, many protests fizzled and a proposed truckers’ strike never happened.

Wall Street Journal6:48

When Rioters Stormed the Capitol: How the Day Unfolded

A congressional exercise in the peaceful transfer of power devolved into deadly chaos when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol. Hours after the riots, Congress reconvened and certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

But what was obvious to anyone tracking the chatter on Parler, Gab, Telegram or BitChute — apps where Trumpers landed after being banned from Twitter and YouTube — is that the President’s supporters have been holding out for a last-minute reprieve.

By last week, even the diehards realised nobody was coming to save them. And it turns out that far from being a spent force, the populist right simply has been keeping its powder dry.

Another myth that Trump’s enemies and, weirdly, Trump himself seem to believe is that the President is a Pied Piper, inciting extremists when he wants to, then calling them to heel. Thursday revealed him as, instead, the sorcerer’s apprentice: able to turn the violence on but not off. After spending the morning rallying supporters, Trump launched them on the Capitol. But when hundreds proceeded to break in, vandalise the building and shut down congress, which was in the act of deciding the election, he called — lamely, and far too late — for nonviolence and urged his supporters to stand down. They ignored him. Indeed, many on the extreme edge of the movement he unleashed have outgrown or even come to despise him.

The last myth that died on Thursday was the conception of American politics as a two-way fight between Democrats and Republicans. This week showed the contest as a three-cornered conflict among left-wing populists, right-wing populists and an establishment that includes elites from both political parties. Each of the first two groups has its peaceful political players, its mass street activists and its violent extremists.

theaustralian.com.au0:57

Biden calls Capitol protests 'one of the darkest days' in US history

US President-elect Joe Biden calls the storming of the Capitol by supporters of US President Donald Trump "one of the darkest days in the history of our nation".

The split is not between the parties — many prominent Republicans rejected Trump’s attempts to overturn the election and have strongly condemned Thursday’s violence. Trump certainly doesn’t see it that way: listen to five minutes of his speech on Thursday morning, or any rally, and you’ll notice that he almost always refers to Republicans as they or them, not us.

Rather, if there is a fundamental divide in American politics, it is between those who still regard elections and political parties as legitimate institutions capable of solving the nation’s problems, and those (on both right and left) who no longer see the point of peaceful politics. The discovery and controlled detonation of improvised explosive devices at Republican and Democratic national committee headquarters on Thursday shows that both traditional establishment parties are targets for this latter group.

In this three-way split (establishment versus left-wing and right-wing populists) the media is not neutral; it is part of the elite. Thursday’s protesters showed they have noticed this, too, smashing TV cameras and sound equipment outside the Capitol and hounding any media they could catch as “traitors”.

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