On the night of the attack on the United States Capitol building, my local public radio station scheduled a program with the theme “Time to Come Together?” It was hard to stay on topic given the day’s events, but they tried.
No, it’s not time to come together. Eventually, yes. But not anytime soon.
There is a lot of blame to go around concerning how we got here. The Republican “southern strategy” which has now borne its strange and rotten fruit. The assumption on the part of right-wing media and internet platforms that the devotion to freedom of expression does not involve a parallel commitment to truthfulness. The fecklessness of establishment Democrats, who have insisted on playing nice with an opposition that is emphatically not “loyal” and which considers them the enemy rather than colleagues in governance. The double standard for stringently policing the attempts of those who wish to hold the republic to its professed standards of freedom and equality while turning a blind eye to white neo-fascists who wish to obliterate those standards. The persistence of income and wealth inequality and its neglect by Republicans and Democrats alike. The badly repressed racism and sexism among “good, moderate (neo)liberals” as well as its overt and exuberant expression by self-professed “conservative patriots”. This list could go on and on and on.
But make no mistake: what we saw on 6 January 2021 was the advancing front of the home-grown fascism that Sinclair Lewis warned us about in the 1930’s, wrapped in the American flag and carrying a cross. Acknowledging the significance of this event is priority-one, and addressing it with all deliberate speed and intensity must follow.
This miasma did not begin last Wednesday. After the reports of children in cages, children separated from “missing” parents, and forced sterilizations, I have been pretty much unmoved by the “grievances” of Trumpists, whether justified or not (mostly not). If you are cool with the explicit agenda of Trump and Trumpism, and cool with the coup attempt (and that is what it was), then I am not prepared to “come together” and deliberate with you, holding hands, singing and swaying to “Kumbaya.” Trumpists and their fellow-travellers have shown, by action and omission, that they have no idea what Liberal Republican Democracy is, no loyalty to the sort of ideals to which the United States could embody, even as it has usually claimed to honor these ideals with a wink and crossed fingers behind its back.
None of us should be eager to “come together” just yet, whether one is a leftist, liberal, centrist, or a never-Trump conservative. Last Wednesday was clear evidence that hardcore Trumpists are hellbent on replacing Liberal Republican Democracy with an ethno-nationalist oligarchy, which will elicit their love and allegiance because they are white, straight, cisgender (largely) males of various economic strata and religions — as long as their ideal polity is Christian and preferably Evangelical-Protestant.
I can share no sense of citizen solidarity with any of them unless they admit to the peaceful transfer of power when they lose. The opposite was in evidence last Wednesday. Those who supported, or were complicit-in, or silent-about this putsch need to be fought tooth-and-nail at the ballot box. Trumpists’ lurches toward power must be met with determined resistance and protest. And if the “saner” wing of the Republican party doesn’t disavow them, by pushing for the invocation of the 25th Amendment or Impeachment, they likewise must be voted out and face the loud and ceaseless music of majority public opinion, which is not with them — as the election of 6 November 2020 demonstrated. They know very well that the outcome of this election was a defeat for the present regime. If they say otherwise, they are bullshitting us, and bullshitting themselves.
The attack on the capitol was not a protest, or even an insurrection. It was a coup attempt, a putsch orchestrated by the President and the Executive branch against the Legislature — and his own Vice-President, whose life was in imminent danger. One can anticipate Donald Trump’s apologists disingenuously arguing that he never actually said the participants in his rally should break into the capitol building to intimidate and/or overthrow the government. Ignore, for the moment, that “inciting” does not necessarily require giving an explicit command: when Henry II said of Thomas à Becket “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” his knights knew exactly what he intended. But one need not scrupulously parse the words of the President himself to see what the ambitions of “The Rally to Save America” implied, and why immediate removal from office is necessary.
As long as Donald Trump remains president, he retains the power to grant Federal pardons. One of those whom it can be safely assumed will be pardoned is his lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, who, was even more incendiary in his remarks to the crowd than was Trump. He exhorted the crowd to settle the dispute over the election through “trial by combat.” That’s about as explicit as you can get: no “plausible deniability” there. He should have been arrested and charged with sedition already. Since he wasn’t, it’s imperative for Trump to be removed so he cannot torpedo the need for those like Giuliani to be held accountable. If he isn’t removed, and Trump pardons Giuliani, this is the logical equivalent of Trump admitting that he was indeed leading a putsch, as well as “America’s Mayor” escaping justice. Note also that Giuliani was not the only one at the rally speaking along these lines.
We are now hearing calls for “unifying the nation”, for healing, coming from the incoming Biden administration as well as a number of Republicans who are latecomers to this cause, such as Marco Rubio. This is an admirable aspiration and medium-to-long term goal. But in the short term it is sheer folly. It is seeking reconciliation without truth or accountability. The incoming administration needs, first and foremost, to deliver an ultimatum to the Republican party: disown and remove those within your ranks who have demonstrated their contempt for Liberal Democratic Republican practices, institutions, and norms, or we will do it for you.
The Democratic party needs to win hearts and minds through a bold, progressive agenda that addresses, head-on, the disgraces of voter suppression through gerrymandering, a turbo-capitalist economy designed only to advance the fortunes of the already-rich and well-off, a eviscerated public sector that disastrously handled an epidemic that required from its start a response that was the moral equivalent of war, the militarization of policing, and most importantly the persistence and omnipresence of racism and xenophobic idolatry and exceptionalism in our national political culture. (In summary: if the Biden administration ignores the advice of the progressive, Sanders-Warren-Squad wing of the party, history will repeat itself a second time, and not as farce.) But before this agenda can be enacted, the incoming government needs to be clear that prior to coming together in unity, we need to stand in opposition. We need to acknowledge, in the face of the attempted coup, that the clichéd “this is not America!” rhetoric is destructive and delusional nonsense. It is America, or part of America. And it is the cause that the radical, white-nationalistic, authoritarian cadre of Trumpists have advanced from the beginning. They have, from the start, portrayed anyone not in their ranks as “the enemy.” To which the only proper and measured response is: as you wish.
In After Virtue, his important and influential book on modern moral philosophy, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre quipped that “modern politics is civil war by other means.” His argument, an ironic reversal of Clausewitz, was that the rational resolution of moral and political problems was impossible because there is no shared moral vocabulary in modern social and political orders, making impossible any vision of and commitment to the common good. As is often the case with MacIntyre, he overstates his case, vastly exaggerates the genuinely negative aspects of modernity, and is blind to the real if incomplete achievements of modern societies in fostering the common good. But here in the United States of America circa 2021 at least, his point hits home. Trumpist autocracy versus Liberal Republican Democracy is civil war by other means. It would be delusional to think otherwise. We must hold Trump and his minions accountable before it decays into civil war by the usual means. But we would be deceiving ourselves to think that “coming together” is something that will follow automatically by good intentions alone.