I interrupt my regularly scheduled posts, a short series on words we use poorly, to write some words about the events of yesterday here in the United States of America. Ironically, the next post on misused words is on the use of the words “political” and “politics.” The events of yesterday are symptomatic of our failure to truly live politically in the sense we should.
After every presidential election, Congress comes together on January 6 to fulfill their Constitutional duty to formally count the electoral votes and certify the election results. This event is presided over by the Vice President of the United States who is addressed here, per the Constitution, as the President of the Senate. Although it is a sacred event in terms of American Constitutional democracy, it is never newsworthy. It is a formality. The People have already voted, and the states have individually, through meticulous processes, certified those results. The electoral votes are declared and counted in the presence of the Congress and certified by them in this formal process.
January 6, 2021, by stark contrast, was exceptionally newsworthy. But to understand what happened yesterday, let us back up a little bit.
It does not take a professional psychologist or psychiatrist to observe that Donald J. Trump lives in his own world in which he is always the best and he never, ever loses. His language on everything, without exception, is always to the extreme. Examples of things he has said: no one loves women more than he does. No one has ever done more for black people that he has. He knows war better than all the Generals or “no one is bigger or better at the military than I am”. No one loves the Bible more than he does. On any number of topics his achievements are the greatest in the history of the country. Trump always must be the best of the best. He alone, he has said, can fix the system because no one understands it better than him. Here is a small sampling of what anyone who has been listening has heard for the past 4 plus years.
So, in his mind, losing is impossible. As Trump is also known to repeat himself constantly, claims of voter fraud are not exactly new. After winning the electoral college in 2016, he made sure everyone knew he could not lose the popular vote unless there was illegal voting:
Even after winning the election to become the President, in his solipsistic alternative reality he could not accept having lost the popular vote. It could only have happened if he was cheated.
Also in the run up to the 2016 election he said, “The only way they can beat us is if they cheat.” Likewise, in the 2020 election campaign he said that the only way he would lose is if the election is rigged. As far as I am concerned, this is a kind of grooming; a grooming to which far too many people in the United States are disposed to succumb. Theodor Adorno published the book, The Authoritarian Personality, in 1950 about this phenomenon. The book was a massive study, drawing methods from several disciplines. In the 2019 republication of the book, Peter E. Gordon noted in his introduction that in the original introduction, Max Horkheimer (a colleague of Adorno), wrote that a certain kind of psychological disposition, consumed with its own individualistic notions of independence will “submit blindly to power and authority.” Trump groomed thousands who have this sort of disposition. There is no doubt in my mind.
It came as no surprise, then, that after the election Donald Trump cried foul. The election, he said, was rigged and fraudulent. There is no evidence for the claims he made. Court after court dismissed cases because of the lack of evidence. His own Attorney General acknowledged no evidence for massive voter fraud existed. Yet non-legal hearings were held that continued to make these false claims and Trump himself continually claimed he had been cheated because of a rigged election.
Up against this backdrop came January 6. The day designated in our democracy for Congress to certify the election results. A cornerstone of our freedom is the peaceful transfer of power. Yet Trump refuses to concede standing stubbornly is his claim that he won “by a lot.” While his Vice President was discharging his Constitutional duty, Trump held a rally wherein he told his mob that if they do not “fight like hell” they would not have a country. Trump told them to march on the Capitol and that he would be with them (he was not).
Americans and much of the world then watched in horror as a violent mob of insurrectionists breached the Capitol. This was not a protest protected by our Constitution. It was an insurrection. Calling it what it is, the invasion of the Capitol during the Congressional certification of a presidential election was a fascistic attempt to overthrow that election. It was an affront to everything our democracy represents. It was an attempted and, thankfully, failed coup. It was not patriotism. It was not a fight for freedom. It was sick. Moreover, it is a culmination of the kind of rhetoric and behavior Donald Trump has exemplified for years and should not be surprising. This mob violently stormed a building that is symbolic of our democracy on a day that is itself a symbol of our democracy and all it represents. These people are domestic terrorists and should be treated as such.
After inciting the violence, Donald Trump did not formally at any point address the nation. He has never been “presidential.” Instead, he posted a video on social media essentially telling everyone to go home because the election had been stolen and was a fraud. He told them he loved them. Donald J. Trump, while in the office of the U.S. presidency, incited a violent insurrectionist attack on the Capitol building. He endangered his Vice President and attacked him openly for not doing what he is Constitutionally unable to do. Donald J. Trump, by whatever legal means available to authorities, should be immediately removed from office. His actions are those of a seditious traitor to American democracy.
Yesterday, January 6, 2021, is the closest in our history that America got to fascism. Fortunately, however feeble and imperfect it may be, the wall of American democracy stood strong against those who would seek to breach it. Breach the Capitol building they did. Breach our democracy they did not.