Welcome to 2021, or 2020.2
Be there, be wild! – Trumpus
I beat the socialist! – Joe Biden
This election will not be over until the Bidens move into the White House. Prior to that event, with its possibility of bringing some degree of calm, two main events occurred. The first showed us who we might be, while the second reminded us of who we are.
Georgia: A victory over racism
Trumpus brazenly tried to force Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to flip the election results. Was Trumpus, knowing that the conversation was being recorded, unconsciously attempting once again to destroy himself? In another example of a broken clock being right twice a day, Raffensperger refused, instantly becoming a hero to liberals. Greg Palast, however, reminds us that Raffensperger had been at the very center of massive voter suppression, “misleading a federal court to keep 198,000 Georgians from voting” in the run-off. Palast also points out that the Georgia Repubs were working directly with provocateur extremists who went on to lead the riot in Washington.
But the faithful found themselves in a bind (one that Black people are very familiar with): if the other side had stolen their democracy, was there any point in voting? Trumpus helped out (“We’re all victims here.”) The night before the election he told a Georgia crowd, “The deck’s stacked against you. They’re cheating and stealing it. Go vote anyway.” Marjorie Taylor Greene, congresswoman for Northwest Georgia and noted QAnon sympathizer, was equally vocal about the “fix.” The result? Her heavily Republican area became the worst-performing area of the entire state. Perhaps there is a God.
Once again, people of color saved the day. But there was a deeper issue to be learned from this madness. Throughout the campaign, Biden and most the leading Dems had steered clear of any possible accusations of “socialism.” Then came December and the debate over pandemic stimulus checks. Keaton Weiss writes:
Enough voters realized that, because House Democrats backed Trump’s $2,000 proposal and Mitch McConnell didn’t, that they would need to elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock if they hoped to see more stimulus money…Then, as election day drew nearer, Democrats made their promise of $2,000 payments central to their closing argument…The GOP incumbents held a small but steady lead until it was made entirely clear to Georgians that they would receive more government assistance if they voted blue.
The lesson? Just as in the general election, when moderate Dems usually lost and almost all progressive Dems won, people get excited when politicians listen to people’s needs and promise to redistribute the wealth for the greater good. It’s called democratic socialism.
The real winners? My inner idealist says: Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris and the people of Georgia, of course. My inner cynic says: Joe Manchin. You haven’t heard of him? He’s the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. Sensing the moment, he came out against the proposed $2,000 stimulus checks to his own suffering people in West Fucking Virginia. This was a personal message to Biden: You are going to have to come through me to get anything passed in the Senate. As the swing vote in a perfectly divided body, he will be the new Mitch McConnell.
Washington: A victory for racism
Let’s be clear about what, several days later, still isn’t obvious to the mainstream media.
First: This was a riot of white supremacists led by members of well-known hate groups who, compared to almost any BLM activists, enjoyed the privilege of gentle treatment by law enforcement (82 arrests as opposed to hundreds).
Indeed, many of the participants were off-duty police and military who flashed their badges and ID cards as they entered the Capitol building. The mob included at least six Republican officeholders, one of whom later claimed to have no regrets for having attacked the Capitol. Another resigned after posting video of himself.
Second: Responses by the various security agencies in this most-surveilled city in the world were shamefully slow. This was despite the fact that right wing websites had publicized their plans for the event long before Trumpus incited the crowd and retired to his tent party to watch it on TV. Afterwards, with hundreds of videos available, the FBI, in an insult to the entire nation, claimed to require public assistance in identifying them.
The Metropolitan Police Department claimed to have had “no intelligence” suggesting “there would be a breach of the US Capitol.” The Capitol Police knew about the threat days before it took place, but reportedly rejected offers of help. Officials explained that they wanted to avoid using federal force against Americans! Mayor Muriel Bowser requested support before the rally, but the Pentagon limited the local National Guard to managing traffic. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan tried repeatedly to send his state’s National Guard, but the Pentagon would not authorize it. When the Capitol Police finally requested aid early Wednesday afternoon, Defense officials held back the Guard for about three hours before ordering it in.
I suppose it’s possible that some of the leadership were truly naïve about the intentions of the fascist leaders, well-publicized as they were. But more likely, both their lack of preparedness and their tepid response are evidence of a deeper problem that some of us have been noting for two decades: the infiltration of police departments by white nationalists. No centralized recruitment process or set of national standards exists for the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. Since at least as far back as 2006 the FBI has been aware of the term “ghost skins,” used among white supremacists to describe “those who avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.” It has also known that skinhead groups have encouraged ghost skins to seek employment with law enforcement agencies.
It’s much worse when leadership shares their values. “You don’t get to ransack the Capitol for hours, then calmly walk away, unless law enforcement and its command share your views,” wrote Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America. “What we saw yesterday was tacit approval of the rioters.”
Who exactly was responsible? Federal officials who still supported Trumpus, or local officials (a few blocks away) who knew very well how tenuous their control over their own racist cops actually was? Or were even these leaders complicit? Consider for example New York City’s profoundly racist Police Benevolent Association with its 24,000 members and its leader who endorsed Trumpus.
Third: Most of the day was performative rather than goal-oriented. Yes, many people were hurt and five died (including a woman carrying a “Don’t tread on me” flag who was trampled to death). But once the cops allowed the crowd into the building the violence dissipated. Then it quickly became clear that almost no one had any political agenda other than Confederate flag-waving, petty theft, vandalism, posing in outrageous costumes for journalists, smearing of graffiti and feces, exploring of government computer screens, selfie-taking (in at least one case, with a cop), racist slogan-shouting and live-streaming of their exploits. Supporters of Israel displayed anti-Semitic T-shirts. “Blue Lives Matter” fans pissed on symbols of authority. It appeared to be a party atmosphere reminiscent of tourists at Mardi Gras, frat boys at Spring Beak, live action role-playing games, or a twisted version of Burning Man.
From a psychological perspective, this release of inhibitions was an example of Freud’s phrase, “the return of the repressed.” Mythologically, it was an expression of what Robert Johnson called “low-quality Dionysus.” For much more on this issue, see Chapters Four and Ten of my book, or my essay, The Dionysian Moment. Trump Lets the Dogs Out. There is a profound, and profoundly dark potential in this story, as I acknowledge in Part Seven:
Here I must confess to a certain naiveté. In much of my writing I’ve tended to see the return of the repressed as a good thing, as in liberated sexuality, as the return of the Goddess or as political revolution. And I still think that way – in the long run. But perhaps I’ve been ignoring my own text: What was a human impulse can become monstrous.
And one of the most welcome – and most dangerous – characteristics of demagogues from Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler to Reagan to the architects of the Rwandan and Armenian holocausts to Trump has been their ability to “lift the burden of individual responsibility” from their followers, to dissolve their isolated egos. It is to grant them permission to let out the dogs of their most repressed, violent fantasies that had previously been held in control by superficial notions such as goodness, fair play, tolerance, rationality, justice – and democracy.
But curiously, it was Trumpus who helped out again, this time by inciting the riot in the first place and making it easy (once the danger passed) for even thugs like Lindsay Graham to emerge from their thick cocoons of hypocrisy and denounce him. This ensured that the Presidential confirmation vote would flow smoothly – precisely what the mob had been trying to stop.
Fourteen Republican senators had announced they would object to counting the certified votes; in the evening count the number dropped to six, most notably Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. But in the House, 138 Republicans, more than half the Republican caucus, doubled down and stuck with Trumpus, even after the riot.
For five years the Repubs and their corporate owners have allowed Trumpus to serve their interests by letting the dogs out, but they may have painted themselves into a corner. Now it appears that they are divided into two groups. One is composed of true believers in various versions of the Trumpus / QAnon narrative – none of whom hold any real power in the party.
The second, the great majority, are absolutely non-ideological, lying con men who have utilized the first group as their useful idiots. Here’s a rule of thumb: the higher the visibility and influence, the less sincere their rhetoric. This group includes several Senators and Congresspersons vying to lead the last-ditch effort to derail the election results. It is obvious that none of them give a damn about Trumpus. Aside from the money they continue to fleece the true believers out of, this has been nothing other than a PR stunt (one that resulted in five deaths). Their only motivation is in building brands that might identify them as inheritors of his base. Trumpus has taught them well – their first principle is how can I take advantage of this?
Even if Trumpus keeps his own candidacy alive (to grab more money), each of them wants to be the best-known right-wing loony when and if the boss retires (or goes to jail). This has nothing to do with 2020 and everything to do with tactics regarding 2024. Some of those tactics involve low comedy. Cruz tweeted that Biden was not working hard enough to “bring us together or promote healing” and that “vicious partisan rhetoric only tears our country apart.”
Others took the opportunity to claim the high road and denounce Trumpus. Some (including the rulers of Facebook and Twitter ) waited as long as possible to drop off his money-raising tit, as did Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos, who resigned from the Cabinet (possibly to avoid having to vote on deposing him under the 25th Amendment).
Speaking of con men (and women), most Evangelical leaders, watching which way the winds were blowing, initially kept quiet. Eventually, most expressed mild condemnation of the riot, without acknowledging their own complicity in creating the conditions that led to it. Some put out false equivalencies about BLM events. Most avoided linking Trumpus to the attack or criticizing him personally. By the end of the week, with the political winds becoming clearer, they, like many of the GOP leaders, began to distance themselves from him.
At this point, absolutely anything that any Repub official has to say, whether pro-Trumpus or anti-Trumpus, is about 2024. One poll indicates that 45% of Republicans approve of the storming of the Capitol. Another poll claims that Trumpus is the most admired person in America. And regardless of Democratic talk of impeachment, he still has ten days – and beyond – to lurch through our nightmares like Frankenstein’s monster. And it’s a serious question whether his thugs will go away once he does. As Richard Seymour writes,
Trumpism is not an aberration, but a mass phenomenon. Trump greatly expanded his base between 2016 and 2020, adding more than 10 million votes to its total. He expanded into places and demographic constituencies thought to be closed to him. No other Republican presidential candidate could have done this. And it was achieved precisely through the same means that led to the spectacle in the Capitol. To hope that Joe Biden can defuse this by restoring civility and bipartisanship to Washington would be unforgivably complacent.
First as farce, then as tragedy. But this week let’s remember Georgia.