(attribution unknown for ‘A Squirrel in the Neighborhood’)
“We’re flanked, and we’ve lost the line.” This statement is an emergency communique from a Capital policeman on January 6, 2021. What is obvious in the recording of this moment is the fear in the policeman’s voice. He had enough training to understand the danger around him, and he understood the bloodlust he was seeing. He was borderline panicked, and who would blame him? Anyone there at that time would have understood the danger the rioters posed. For anyone who sees the situation from the point of those hunted, at that moment, something in our 200+ year democracy broke. There is a terrible sadness in this.
It probably does not to be said, but people are often not at their best in mobs. In the 1700’s the woman seeking bread because their children were starving devolved into a screaming mob out to kill any person from the aristocracy, and the men who rampaged through Tulsa killing African Americans in 1921 are excellent examples of mob consciousness. No, we are not at our best in mobs, gangs, hoards. All ability to think appears to disappear.
There is a photo that I have always liked is of a large group of men saluting Hitler with the Nazi salute. There is one man in the crowd who is not saluting. I have often wondered what happened to him. His stance, at that point as Hitler’s cult swept Germany, was a dangerous one. The person who refuses the cult, the hoard, the mob is often in grave danger. History proves this over and over. But history does not happen instantly. It is not necessarily prescient. It takes time, like an old-time photo developing, only eventually presenting the complete picture of what happened.
It has been immensely frustrating to watch as the slow-moving coup swept through the true believers, the people that believed in Trump, PizzaGate, the Democrats as pedophiles, and more. It was frustrating because it was so evident for so long that this was coming. The January 6 coup was inevitable. Trump had been signaling his desire for his base to prevent the democratic process from occurring for months. These true believers were vulnerable, angry, and gullible. Trump is a good con. He has been doing it for years. The likelihood of him doing what he did could have been predicted (and was by a few) years ago. He has been refining his desire for power and his con for at least thirty years. So how in the world did the pundits and the media, not understand that this would happen? What drug had they taken?
Now the stance is, “Isn’t this amazing and horrible?” Well, no, it is not. There were people who saw what was coming. Tim Snyder wrote “Tyranny” before Trump became President. Did no one read this? It is a good book, well written and concise. It is not difficult to understand. It appears that many of the media commentators did not read it. Snyder is clear about what happens when a democracy collapses. All of this is still true. Because the desired coup did not take on January 6 does not mean we are through with this.
People are either stating that they are astonished that this violence occurred or are saying, “See our democracy held.” Well, no, it did not. More than a third of the U.S. voters still believe the election was ‘stolen,’ and most Republicans are still moving in lockstep with Trump even though he is no longer President. For our democracy to have held, the Republicans supporting him would have had to have come out clearly and unequivocally against Donald Trump’s propaganda and lies. The vast majority of Republicans would have condemned these lies long before January 6. They are still not speaking out clearly against Trump and his dictator dreams. Many are denying that the storming of the Capital was “that bad,” or that Trump incited anything, or that he had been up to no good for months. These senators and congress people co-signed the risks to the U.S. democracy. These people, who knew Trump was lying, had an investment in power. They burned the democracy. Ultimately, they were willing to see Pelosi and Pence die.
No, the democracy did not hold. The democracy was compromised in November and December. The set up for this was in bias, rallies, and hate being spewed by Trump from the very beginning. The set up was in Trump getting away with housing children in cages, Muslim bans and an assault of the environment. It has culminated in the likelihood that Trump will not be impeached. Those same Republicans who are wedded to power will see to this. Immediately after the Capital Police were overrun, Trump tweeted the video of his speech, “Our country has had enough. You have to be strong.” His allies urged Trump as the rioters overtook the Capital, to speak out to stop the riot, ask for more police support, pleaded that Trump issue a statement for the rioters to stop. He did not do any of this. So essentially, the democracy did not hold. The coup did not take because the rioters were not well enough organized, and others eventually acted to send in more police. Had things gone slightly differently, the United States would now be in Trump’s second term and an autocracy.
Trump is a dangerous squirrel. Why anyone was “freaked out,” as has been said, is beyond me. He wanted to stop the certification of the electoral results. That simple. He wanted to be Fuhrer. He wanted the almost unimaginable power of a Hitler, a Pol Pot, a Idi Amin, and many more.
The overrun of the Capital happened in a democratic republic. From what several have said, because of the unique vulnerabilities of a democracy, it is easy to flip it to a dictatorship. In older democracies, we most likely forget the dangerous realities of being in a regime run by an Idi Amin. We grow complacent. We believe it cannot happen to us. No matter how incompetent Trump may have been in orchestrating a takeover of the government, he remains dangerous. He may be a squirrel with only one focus-nuts, which in his case is money and power, but he is not finished. Trump has shown the way for the next would-be dictator to proceed. As I am writing, someone is figuring out what Trump did wrong and why he did not win and what he or she will do to win.
He got the con right. That is, he knew how to leverage the aggression and fear of middle-class American men. These men, and the women in their thrall, are afraid of losing the perceived and actual power they have. They like being on top. For the most part, they fear change, and they do not have the education and insight to see what might benefit them in the changes that are on the way. The status quo has worked for them. It is not confusing. The changing demographics of the United States and the changes in attitudes are threatening and confusing. These changes disturb the people who have benefited from being at the top of the social heap. Most of the people in the January 6 mob were white, middle class, and male. This is no accident. Trump had played them, and he had stoked their resentment and grievances for years. They reacted as he wanted them to. He harnessed their resentment to achieve greater power. Trump does not value them. They were a tool. That is the nature of being a con, the use of people. And those played are not without responsibility.
No doubt the next Trump will be more intelligent and here is the problem with this. Unless Trump is impeached and held accountable for his behavior, the message is communicated, “You can get away with this. You can support, orchestrate and urge on a coup.” For the Republicans who are scribbling in their notebooks during the impeachment trial, or for those doing their best to dissociate or excuse what happened, they are as dangerous as Trump. They guarantee, with a vote to not impeach, the success of the next dictator. The chaos and coup are not over unless it is profoundly and intensely condemned by impeaching its instigator.
As a kind of postscript, I do not believe this will happen. Fascism is a long slow process of fear, bias, propaganda, and a desire for the inevitable changes in countries and populations to stop. But, fascism does not happen overnight.
Fascism is driven by the desire for power, a continuation of the status quo, and resistance to perceived changes that will upset the powerful.
The Capital insurrection was targeted at the murder of all the politicians next in the line of succession to Trump. He wanted to clear the field. He convinced most of his supporters that the democracy is not democratic but illegitimate. He paved the way for the next smarter, brighter, more sophisticated wanna be Hitler. And the Republicans are ready to vote him or her in.