By Roger D. Harris
January 11, 2021
The right-wing demonstration turned violent riot at the US Capitol on January 6 was a spectacle, complete with Confederate flags and a QAnon shaman in red-white-and-blue face paint. The Venezuelan government stated: “With this unfortunate episode, the United States is experiencing what it has generated in other countries with its policies of aggression.”
Some half of the active electorate voted for Trump, who believed the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. The other half of the active electorate was abhorrent about what happened in Washington on January 6, speaking with semi-religious reverence about the desecration of sacred institutions. They believed, in contrast, that it was the 2016 presidential election that was stolen. The Russians were the culprits then and, for the last four years, they supported politicians ever vigilant against détente breaking out with the second most powerful nuclear state.
The meme, “Due to travel restrictions this year, the US had to organize the coup at home,” went viral. Rather than a coup, as claimed by many in mainstream media, what happened in DC was a riot. “There is a huge difference,” observes Glenn Greenwald, “between, on the one hand, thousands of people shooting their way into the Capitol after a long-planned, coordinated plot with the goal of seizing permanent power, and, on the other, an impulsive and grievance-driven crowd more or less waltzing into the Capitol as the result of strength in numbers and then leaving a few hours later.”
Whether Trump intended to stage a coup was secondary to whether he could do so. The institutions of state power were aligned against him, as indicated by the last ten secretaries of defense who admonished no go. Too much attention has been wasted obsessing about what was, at best, a delusion.
The myriad maladies of the American body politic did not originate with Mr. Trump and will not terminate with his departure. He was unique, but not exceptional. His style was all his own, but the substance of the reign of 45 revealed a dreary continuity with his predecessors. And when Trump made feeble attempts to deviate, as with ending endless wars, the Democrats and the permanent state slapped him back into line.
In fact, Trump may not go away. And for that he will have the liberals to thank. Just like some Trotskyists have made a career of exorcising the specter of Stalin, who died in 1953, liberals will be doing the same with Trump.
Even if Trump wanted to gracefully bow out of public life – an unlikely outcome – liberals would keep on flogging his dead horse, for Trump has been their greatest asset. And well the liberals need to hold on to the ghost of Trump, as being “not-Trump” is their defining character now that liberalism is dead. Their agenda consists of simply carrying forward the same basic program of neoliberalism at home (but with diversity) and imperialism abroad (but with responsibility to protect) as Trump, only with more finesse.
How unfathomable it is that a blowhard, paunchy, septuagenarian with a dyed hair comb-over could lead a right-wing cult movement. Far more bizarre is that person is also the president of the US, who in the 2020 election received more votes than any candidate in history except for his successful challenger. Arguably a white supremacist, he garnered 58% of the white voters but also 18% of the black male voters and 36% of the Latino men. That 83% of those who felt the economy was a prime issue chose Trump is an insight into why someone so repugnant could attract so many votes.
In short, the system has not been meeting the needs of its people, its naked dysfunctionality is bare for all to see, and the ruling circles are experiencing a crisis of legitimacy. The response of the rulers to mass discontent is not to address the root causes but to step up suppression as the trajectory of neoliberalism lurches toward fascism. The aftermath of the events of January 6 has precipitated blowbacks by the ruling elites, such as proposed anti-domestic terrorism measures, in anticipation of popular resistance to the intensifying contradictions of the US imperial project.
The drama played out on January 6 reflected the distress generated by historical developments in late-stage capitalism: globalization and automation-induced job losses, accelerating wealth and income inequality, reduced access to educational opportunities and health care, food insecurity and hunger, and the threat of becoming homeless.
The system’s unresolved contradictions are increasingly visible to its victims in both progressive (e.g., Black Lives Matter movement) and reactionary forms (e.g., the Trump phenomenon). Neither of these tendencies are likely to fade away because the conditions that precipitated them will only be exacerbated. Nativist and white-supremist elements – long an undercurrent in the American polity – have been given oxygen by Trump. The Democrats dismiss the right-wing insurgency as a “basket of deplorables.” The left needs to both resist the growing right-wing presence and neutralize them, if not win them over to understand the true source of their discontent.
The Capitol building riot is being spun to distract from the failure of the neoliberal state to meet the needs of its citizens. Suddenly forgotten are urgently needed reforms like Medicare for All and a stimulus that benefits working people. Instead, the incoming administration of Joe Biden is pushing extensions of the authoritarian state under the guise of combatting domestic terrorism. But thanks to the Patriot Act, for which Biden takes credit as its prime writer, and other such repressive legislation already on the books, the state has already too much power over its citizens.
These extensions of the coercive power of the state have been and will be used to suppress popular movements and need to be resisted. Beware, the mania for censoring so-called hate speech is a tool for silencing any dissent to the ruling powers. The price of cutting off Trump’s rants on Twitter and Facebook is the ascendence of monopoly corporations that are so powerful that they can even muzzle an elected president. Commonplace is the new normal of unchecked private corporations collecting data 24/7 on our most intimate activities.
Because the ruling class cannot solve the maturing contradictions of global capitalism, their response to their crisis of legitimacy is to increasingly rely on repression. We cannot rely on the Democrats, who are now backed by the so-called moderate Republicans and underwritten by finance capital, because they are the ones cheerleading the descent into accelerating authoritarianism, as they champion censorship and the oppressive security state measures.
Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad warn of three world existential crises: nuclear annihilation, climate catastrophe, and neoliberal destruction of the social contract. The ruling class is preparing for a real insurrection and, given the alternative, the people may not disappoint them.
Roger D. Harris is on the state central committee of the Peace and Freedom Party, the only ballot-qualified socialist party in California.