If you are anything like me, you likely spent much of last week glued to your television. As much as I knew Donald Trump was a liar, had ignored conventional norms and undermined governmental institutions, excoriated those whom he perceived as disloyal, and was not respected by most who had worked with him, I never would have guessed that he would incite an insurrection on the Capitol of the United States. Yet we all watched it on national television.
There is no doubt that what we saw was an insurrection, nor any doubt that Trump incited it. What can be done to hold Trump accountable has yet to be determined. Reasonable people agree that accountability is necessary but disagree on how.
What is interesting is the extent to which others were complicit in what happened. All those legislators who agreed with his “big lie,” that he actually won the November 3rd election, or that he lost it because it was rigged. All November, much of December, even until the Congressional debates on the evening of January 6th, legislators who know better insisted that the will of the people should be overturned by Congress. By lying to their constituents, all those legislators can be seen to have encouraged those who attended on January 6th in their mistaken belief that attending Congress on that date could lead to Trump’s continuing in office. What consequences these enablers will face is unclear. I hope, as Mitt Romney said, that by choosing the wrong side, they will be forever branded in history for their attack on American democracy. We’ll see.
What is also fascinating is the extent to which social media companies have recognized that they too could be complicit in what happened. It’s clear that the internet has been replete with posts encouraging disinformation, violence, the use of force and of weapons to keep Trump in office. That Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter have banned Trump from their sites sends an important message. That Apple, Goggle, and Amazon have removed Parler, an alternate extreme right internet site, from their app stores is a good sign. Presumably, the internet will no longer be available to any groups or individuals violating corporate standards. Internet access to millions upon millions of readers is novel in history. The political consequences of disinformation, using violent language, and encouraging violence on modern technology has now become apparent, and social media companies have been made aware of their responsibilities. The rest of us need to understand the issue and decide where we stand.
Anyone watching on Wednesday will have been struck by the clear security lapse which occurred. That the Capitol police were overwhelmed was apparent early in the afternoon. But where were the Washington, DC police? The FBI? The National Guard? Everyone knew that Trump could influence those marching in his name. He chose not to do so. His tweets to the crowd only encouraged them to continue. The chief of police for Washington, DC said that there was no intelligence that would have alerted them to the need for greater advance security. Given the plethora of internet communications about the event in advance, that can’t be true. There were also reports that the mayor of Washington, DC had asked for National Guard assistance before the event. That request was apparently ignored. National Guard troops were available in Maryland, Virginia, and in DC itself but the federal government official responsible for giving them authorization to assist was AWOL. Clearly, a full investigation of the security lapse will be held and further culpability on the part of those responsible will be established.
The difference between security on this occasion and on other occasions, when black Americans were protesting, could not have been more clear. It is not hyperbole to say that everyone watching had a visceral personal experience of the racism which permeates law enforcement in the United States.
It has already been said that January 6th will be known as “a day of infamy” in American history. In my lifetime, it seems analogous to the assassination of President Kennedy, the Watergate scandal, and 9/11. We are still in the middle of it and don’t know how it will ultimately play out. It gives us much to think about. If nothing else, it teaches us the fragility of democracy and how we must always be alert to how our words and actions affect our polity.
***** Note that streaming of Messiah/Complex (post of December 31st 2020) has been extended to January 31st. It’s worth making a special effort to see it. *****