On the storming of the Capitol, #StoptheSteal and the desperation of the American right
Last night I found myself transfixed on events that were unfolding in Washington D.C., and I am of course talking about the storming of the US Capitol building, in which far-right Trump supporters invaded the House of Representatives and the Senate in protest of the certification of Electoral College votes. What began as a protest against the outcome of the 2020 election, widely believed by the Trumpian right to have been “stolen” by the Democrats, suddenly escalated into a riot in which the National Guard had to be called in, and in which four people are reported to have died.
Many commentators and politicians of both parties were quick to call this a coup attempt, but I think this is inaccurate on the grounds that it simply makes no sense to try and overthrow a President who hasn’t even been inaugurated. Besides, if this was supposed to be Trump’s coup attempt, why would the outgoing President repeatedly tell his supporters to leave the Capitol building? At any rate, if we accept that Trump was too stupid and inept to even steal an election, why would we assume that he would even be capable of organising his own coup?
Last night’s storming of the Capitol may not represent a coup, but it certainly represents treason. From what I can gather, the people invading the Capitol were primarily motivated by the desire to stop Congress from certifying the votes of the Electoral College, so it makes sense that they would probably be after the Electoral College ballots. Had they been successful, they would have carried out the gravest crime ever committed against the American constitution. As it turns out they were completely incompetent. When they actually entered the Capitol building, they spent most of their time goofing off and taking selfies while the police were surely coming after them. As they were busy making idiots of themselves, the Electoral College ballots were quickly secured by members of staff who suspected that the rioters would seek to destroy them. If the rioters’ intention really was to overturn the result of the election by force, then needless to say it was an embarrassing failure.
Realistically speaking, it was never going to amount to much. If rioting was going to be ineffectual when BLM/Antifa did it, the same applies to the MAGA cultists desperately clinging to the fantasy that Trump would have won in a landslide were the election not stolen by the Democrats, and that Trump will win his rightful victory (the fact that nearly every judge in the country has thrown out the Trump campaign’s lawsuits doesn’t seem to deter them). It was always going to end in failure and state repression, and if the Democrats wanted to take harsh action against Trump supporters from the moment they won the election, then the rioters have given them their casus belli. Trump supporters can now be safely portrayed as traitors to their country, and Trump himself as having encouraged treason and violence, hence why Trump’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts were temporarily locked.
Regarding #StoptheSteal, if I was merely laughing at their attempts to overturn the election before, my stance turned from ridicule to contempt. For the past two months I had been hearing that there was evidence of electoral fraud (and indeed there were quite a bit of shady details, but I kept hearing there was more to come), that it was sufficient to overturn the result of the election in at least four key states, and that when this evidence came to light the Supreme Court would have no choice but to nullify thousands or even millions of votes, or possibly even demand a rerun of the election. As serious as all this sounds, there was but one problem: things didn’t turn out the way they said it would.
It has been two months and it seems like none of the more serious pieces of evidence made their way to the courts even though in some cases there has been photographic proof to said evidence. So if we accept that there is evidence of electoral fraud, regardless of whether it is enough to tip the election, but the main reason even the SCOTUS dismissed the claims by Trump’s legal team as lacking sufficient evidence, then we have to conclude that the Trump campaign assembled the crappiest legal team known to man. So incompetent were Giuliani, Powell and Wood that they either couldn’t find evidence that random conservative Twitter accounts were able to, or they did and didn’t even bother to do anything with the evidence and related affidavits, let alone present them before a judge.
Hence we should not be surprised that neither William Barr (Trump’s outgoing attorney-general) nor the majority of Republican-appointed judges were convinced of any of Trump’s claims. As time went by, numerous prominent Republicans, even those who previously entertained the election fraud theory, began to reject it. Tucker Carlson began to turn against it after Sidney Powell refused his requests for evidence. In the end even Newsmax, a far-right news outlet that pitched itself to Republican voters who believe the election was stolen as an alternative to the more establishmentarian Fox News, had to retract some of the more specific claims involving Dominion/Smartmatic.
By the time the electors met it was clear to me that nothing was going to come of Trump’s attempts to overturn the election result, and that #StoptheSteal was simply going to be the Republican Russiagate, a menagerie of increasingly insane conspiracy theories, one of which alleged that Venezuela interfered with the election. By the time the Georgia runoff elections arrived it became increasingly clear to me what the actual point of all this was. It turns out that they were never going to do anything of substance about any instances of electoral fraud, and that the actual objective of Trump and his allies was to distract his followers from the cold hard reality that right-wing populism turned out to be the real fraud all along. Trump never gave a damn about any of the concerns of the regular Americans he professed to represent, and this reality was brought to the fore by Trump’s actions regarding the stimulus negotiation.
Think about the reason why Trump lost the Presidency, and why Republicans have now lost control of the Senate. Four weeks before the general election, Trump tweeted that he was no longer interested in the stimulus negotiations, changing his mind only after it became clear that this might actually cost him the election. Even Trump’s own supporters couldn’t stand for that. Seven days before the Georgia runoff elections, as the #StoptheSteal circus was still ongoing, the then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a Senate vote on a stimulus package passed by Congress which contained $2,000 stimulus checks for Americans, which outgoing Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler actively opposed until it became clear that their re-election chances were tied to it. The fact that Trump, Perdue and Loeffler were so cartoonishly corrupt that it made a mockery of any pretences of representing regular Americans didn’t help matters.
To distract their voters from all this, the Republicans were more than willing to make a national spectacle maligning the integrity of the election results (after they condemned the Democrats for doing the same for the past four years), and in so doing they have actively intensified a widespread public distrust of the democratic process which all the mainstream bourgeois outlets, whether liberal or conservative, had already spent decades fomenting. In a desperate attempt to hold onto power, they exploited the fact that most people (especially their own supporters) don’t trust a media apparatus that has been consistently lying to them for decades and took advantage of a thoroughly discredited liberal press to, ironically, promote their own conspiracy theory.
When all else failed, Trump called on his supporters to march on Capitol Hill, and then they did just that and much more. Although officially he told his supporters to stop what they were doing, his response to them was ultimately quite weak, and there are reports that he was actually quite gleeful at the sight of chaos in the capital. In defending last night’s actions, people on the right pointed out how liberals and leftists defended rioting during the summer when BLM and Antifa were causing chaos on the streets. Whilst that’s true, only a fool could believe there is any equivalence between BLM, Antifa and the MAGA rioters apart from their mutual contempt for the rule of law. The great irony in all their defences is that they spent the summer positioning themselves as the party of law and order, and yet for pure partisan opportunism they have ultimately excused the exact same sort of behaviour they would condemn when they see it coming from the left. In that sense, how are they any different?
All this, in my view, highlights the desperation of the American right. Trump, after all, was their last chance at the kind of political relevance that could secure them the Presidential office. Had he not arrived on the stage of the Republican primaries to give voice to the actual thoughts and grievances of the Republican base, the party would most likely have run a boring establishment conservative like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, and they may well have lost to Hillary Clinton. The core problem with the American right was that before Trump it remained wedded to the kind of free market fundamentalism that has kept candidates like John McCain or Mitt Romney from the Presidency. If they stay in this direction, they will be doomed to minority party status, and had things gone differently America could have become a dominant-party system much like Russia, Hungary or Japan, overseen by the Democratic Party.
This is ultimately the reason why they accepted Trump as their leader and tolerated his antics, even if they hated his willingness to deviate from Republican orthodoxy on free market economics and interventionist foreign policy. In practice they used him as a figurehead with the power to appoint conservative judges while Reaganite ghouls like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan largely determined the actual policy direction in favour of the Republican establishment. It was also because Trump was so instrumental to his success that they were willing to do almost anything to keep him in power as long as it didn’t involve actually helping people or improving their lives, hence why they cynically hopped on the #StoptheSteal bandwagon and encouraged the conspiracy theorising until it lead to this point. To them it’s just another plank of the culture war that they can use to keep the public divided against one another instead of united against the people who have screwed them over.
In the end, however, what did all of that achieve? Biden is still going to be the President of the United States on January 20th, and now the Senate is effectively in Democratic hands. If the aim was to stop the ascendancy of an embittered and vengeful progressive liberalism, if anything the amount of time wasted on this may actually have helped those liberals win. The violence committed in the name of defending the integrity of the election, which some on the right have defended, has ensured that Trump’s supporters will now be branded as traitors, and there are now renewed calls for Trump’s impeachment and/or removal from office under the 25th amendment, and this time they might actually succeed.
Worst of all, the Republicans have legitimised every violent tactic of the depraved radical liberal. Now when they riot again, and conservatives complain, the radical liberals can say “where were you when the far-right rioted in D.C.?” and they will have no convincing counter with which to defend themselves. All this may even make the job of opposing social progressivism even harder, since it will be even easier for the establishment to portray any sort of opposition as a sign that you are on the side of far-right terrorists. So yeah, thanks a lot Trump. Your antics over the past two months are much appreciated. America and the world will be all the poorer for it.
As much as I’d like to think this will be the end of Trump, I don’t think he’s done just yet. For starters, he is still very popular amongst rank and file Republicans, and he has loyalists in Congress and the Senate willing to defend him and continue his legacy. Secondly, despite the facts, Trump supporters will continue to believe that Trump would have won a landslide if not for Venezuelan interference (some of them honestly believe that California actually voted red in 2020), as they do with other crazed conspiracy theories peddled by the President, and thus the effects of #StoptheSteal will reverberate through the next decade, and we should all be careful for the next time Trump and/or Trumpism tries to return to the Presidency.