I woke up this morning to the sounds of my housemate shouting “they’ve stormed the White House!”
While factually inaccurate, it was a pretty wild way to be brought back into consciousness. “My God”, I thought, “has it actually happened? Has America actually collapsed?”
As it turns out, that was not the case, but it wasn’t far off. The Capitol building, home to the House of Representatives and the Senate, had been flooded by angry, flag-waving “patriots” who rushed through the police lines to take up seats in the symbolic offices of power.
The predominantly white, predominantly male group of masked extremists knew the eyes of the world were upon them and chanted claims straight from the Twitter feed of Donald Trump.
Twitter, incidentally, has now made the unprecedented move to lock the President’s account after he tweeted a video during the siege claiming, “we had an election that was stolen from us” with no attempt to condemn the actions of his followers.
There is no doubt that the actions we saw today are the climax of the slow progression of right-wing antagonism and division sowed by Trump over the past four years. They are scenes we have seen over and over, with groups of heavily armed militias surrounding and even occupying official buildings and democratic initiations across the country.
Witnessing domestic terrorists lay siege to the Capitol building in what can only be described as an attempted coup, is an escalation unthinkable just a few years ago. It marks a dark and disturbing culmination of the Trump Presidency and signals the severe difficulties and division America now faces.
I Never Thought Leopards Would Eat MY Face!
'I never thought leopards would eat MY face,' sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People's Faces Party.
— Adrian Bott (@Cavalorn) October 16, 2015
This is a phrase I have returned to over and over watching the videos of angry Trump supporters confronting Republican congressmen and women. Ted Cruz, one of the architects of the chaos we saw unfolding, took to Twitter to condemn the violence he played no small part in orchestrating. It’s hard not to think that the Republicans have been dabbling in dark politics they may not quite have fully understood, and are now reaping the rewards of their inability to condemn Trump’s behaviour.
Ted Cruz is an American hero and patriot! On January 6, we’re both going to be fighting for freedom! pic.twitter.com/cwyBfJEhex
— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) January 2, 2021
Those storming the Capitol need to stop NOW.
The Constitution protects peaceful protest, but violence—from Left or Right— is ALWAYS wrong.
And those engaged in violence are hurting the cause they say they support.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 6, 2021
Tomi Lahren, the conservative media personality all over TV and radio convinced conservative voices are being silenced, posted on Twitter telling “patriots” not to act like “thug Liberals” and that conservatives are the law and order party. Well, not quite.
Luckily patriots were made for this. If the Left thinks they’ve won, they’ve silenced us, they’ve taken this country…they’ve got another thing coming. This was the wake up call we needed and we will never allow this to happen again. 🇺🇸
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) January 6, 2021
Trump supporters, DO NOT act like thug liberals. We are better than this! We respect law enforcement and we respect property. Do not become them.
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) January 6, 2021
The bigger story here is the fact that the far-right in America, having been emboldened over years of Trump rallies and rhetoric, have swelled to frightening proportions, dragging the Republican party with them. It’s not a force easily contained and will likely not go quietly when Biden assumes the presidency.
The blame however cannot lie solely with those in power. Social media has fostered these groups of right-wing activists, in the same way, it does for all opinion points, by feeding them in echo-chambers disconnected from the real world. Facebook is where much of these protests are organised and Facebook groups are where they embolden each other. Though Twitter and Facebook have both made moves to attempt to purge their platforms of extremism, it’s far too little, too late.
It’s hard not to compare the protests we saw in June following the killing of George Floyd, where people were tear-gassed, beaten, and lost their eyesight from close-quarter shots of plastic projectiles from police, to the scenes we saw this week.
Across social media, videos of the police appearing to collaborate and encourage the Trump supporters emerged, leading many to question just whose side law enforcement is on. It’s hard to imagine some of the most heavily guarded buildings in the world being “overwhelmed” by a few hundred protestors waving flags.
It’s also hard to imagine that if the protestors had been prominently black, and not given the consent of the President, that they would not have faced much more serious, potentially lethal, opposition.
What Do We Do Now?
It’s a question being asked across America but nowhere more so than within the Republican party itself. Trump has lost them the Presidency, the House of Representatives, and, with the election of two Democratic Senators from the historically red state of Georgia, now the Senate too.
how it started how it’s going pic.twitter.com/4rESiIXMpC
— Joshua Badge (@joshuabadge) January 6, 2021
Trumpism does not seem like a way forward for the Republican party. While the past election was not a round condemnation of the politics of the last four years, neither is it going away any time soon. Republicans have the option to either double down on the Trump approach, something that seems likely to fail without the “charisma” of their orange leader or reject it and move the party in a new direction.
But what direction could that be? To move left would be heavily opposed by many within the party, and a return to “traditional” conservative values may appear regressive. Republicans may spend some long years in the wilderness trying to figure out the point and purpose of their party beyond attacking “Liberals” and “wokeness” and giving rich people even sweeter tax breaks.
As for the near future, Trump looks unlikely to back down on his claims of election fraud and a stolen second term. It’s likely his whinging will continue, dragging the narrative of the country into a protracted debate about Biden’s legitimacy. It goes without saying that having large portions of the population believe the President to be illegitimate is not a good thing for democracy.
On a more positive note, Biden and the Democrats now control the Presidency, the House, and The Senate. With all three, they are now far more likely to get policies through government and effect change. Obama’s terms in office were stymied by Republican blockages left, right, and centre, meaning he often had to govern through Presidential decree.
Biden now has the authority and the mandate to effect progressive, lasting changes to America without being hampered by the Republican party. And with a groundswell of progressive supporters from the Bernie and Warren camps beneath him, and a Vice-President committed to progressive change, things could very much turn a corner, at least institutionally, in America for the next two years.