It is possible to be simultaneously unsurprised and jolted by an event. It was one thing to know that the wannabe dictator Donald Trump and his shrinking band were going to pull some demented stunt in a last-ditch attempt to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. It was another thing to watch his frenzied, unmasked, and Confederate flag-carrying minions break into the United States Capitol, forcing House and Senate members and the Vice President to evacuate the congressional chamber while trying to fulfill their formerly routine quadrennial and constitutional duty of certifying the Electoral College victory of the nation’s next president. Some of the marauders came with zip tie handcuffs for taking Congresspersons hostage.
Make no mistake: the bloody attack on the U.S. Capitol – with a death toll of five by Friday afternoon – was the Trump circle’s handiwork. After months of disseminating baseless electoral fraud conspiracies and lending his presence to two previous violent rampages in Washington, Trump sent his Trumpenvolk terrorists over to Capitol Hill. Once the assault began, he refused to condemn it. His first address to the nation after the mayhem broke out threw kerosene on the fire by doubling down on his preposterous claim to have been cheated out of a “landslide” re-election.
The idea behind the attack was certainly to create enough mayhem to “justify” Trump invoking the Insurrection Act, declaring martial law, and canceling the inauguration of Biden. Just how far up and wide the planning of this failed coup went remains to be seen. It was an inside job, not just an outside “protest” that got too “wild.”
Did Trump really think the “wild protest” he called for three weeks ago would succeed in stopping the ascendancy of Joe Biden? Perhaps. The line between fantasy and reality is weak in his delusional mind.
Cable and network news talking heads were shocked and disgusted by the coup attempt but nobody who has followed Trump and Trumpism closely and seriously should have been remotely surprised. I have documented Trump’s proto-fascistic essence and conduct and the cult-like devotion of his most fervent proto-fascistic supporters in two recent books. Trump and his most devoted fans and allies have responded to Biden’s win victory in precisely the ways one would expect white-nationalist fascists to react to an electoral humiliation inflicted largely by non-white voters: with Orwellian denial and violence.
Certainly now the failed putsch ought to shut up the vast swath of Trumpenleft and other failed thinkers who have insisted on denying that Trump and much of his base are fascists. Last Friday’s New York Times included Paul Krugman’s obviously accurate editorial observation that “Donald Trump…is indeed a fascist – an authoritarian willing to use violence to achieve his racial nationalist goals. So are many of his supporters. If you had any doubts, Wednesday’s attack should have ended them.” (Some of us on the officially marginalized Left lost our doubts about that in 2015, when the longtime Birther nut and Central Park Five persecutor Trump declared his presidential candidacy by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers.)
Ideological classification aside, Trump has reacted to Biden’s win just as many of those who knew him from inside his circle and administration warned and foretold. In February 2019, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen told Congress that Trump would not leave office without violence. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump,” Cohen remarked, “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” (That would seem to have been a highly newsworthy comment. And yet I saw one CNN talking head after another ignore Cohen’s warning when Anderson Cooper asked them “what leapt out at you during Cohen’s testimony?” It was a remarkable deletion.)
But you didn’t need inside experience to know what was coming if Trump did not win re-election. As I wrote on CounterPunch nearly two years ago:
“Trump has already repeatedly laid the rhetorical foundation for claiming that a 2020 election loss by him will be illegitimate because of supposed voter fraud. To make matters worse, a reputable poll has shown that most Republicans would support Trump suspending the 2020 presidential election ‘if necessary to guarantee a fair election’…If Trump loses in 2020, he will encourage violence, telling his followers that the vote count is illegitimate. You can take that to Deutsche Bank. Herr Trump and his authoritarian, white-nationalist Amerikaner base pose a real creeping-fascist threat to the last shreds of ‘bourgeois democracy’…”
During the 2020 campaign, Trump refused to promise that he would honor an election outcome that didn’t go his way and repeatedly told voters that he could not possibly lose a fair election. Just a few days before the attack on Congress, the orange-brushed lunatic was caught red-handed in another one of his “perfect calls” – an extraordinary hour-long phone “conversation” in which he feloniously tried to bully Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State into “recalculating” that state’s vote in Trump’s favor.
The threats go back to the previous election. In 2016, Trump made it clear that he wanted blood in the streets if Hillary Clinton won. He intimated that the election was “rigged” against him and that it would have been stolen if he were not declared the winner.
This spring and summer, armed Trumpist-fascist militia men occupied Michigan’s state capital and otherwise menaced Michigan officials in response to the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions. Trump called the assault-weapon terrorists “very good people” and told the state’s Democratic governor to “make a deal” with them.
It’s not for nothing that ten former US Defense Secretaries recently signed an Op-Ed telling U.S. military personnel to stay out of the election and reminding that their duty is to the U.S. Constitution and not to Trump. Last November, six days after the election, Trump ominously fired former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who had incurred the president’s authoritarian wrath by refusing to deploy federal troops to crush the anti-racist George Floyd Rebellion.
The former defense chiefs became especially alarmed when Esper’s hard right successor Christopher Miller recently refused cooperation with Biden transition officials. That is a previously unthinkable development in the histories of American imperialism and U.S. presidential succession.
The former defense secretaries certainly have concerns not just with potential domestic force deployments but with possible reckless Final Days actions abroad. Trump obviously wouldn’t mind seeing a foreign policy crisis arise to give him what he could delusively see as a pretext for declaring a state of emergency and trying to suspend or cancel Biden’s inauguration.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about last Wednesday’s coup attempt was the outrageous ease with which Trump’s thugs overcame security forces and breached the deliberative chamber of Congress. This was impossible without collaboration inside the “national security state.” As Business Insider reported the day after:
The supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday to stop the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory were attempting a violent coup that multiple European security officials said appeared to have at least tacit support from aspects of the US federal agencies responsible for securing the Capitol complex.
Insider spoke with three officials on Thursday morning: a French police official responsible for public security in a key section of central Paris, and two intelligence officials from NATO countries who directly work in counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations involving the US, terrorism, and Russia…They said the circumstantial evidence available pointed to what would be openly called a coup attempt in any other nation. None were willing to speak on the record because of the dire nature of the subject.
One NATO source set the stage, using terms more commonly used to describe unrest in developing countries. “The defeated president gives a speech to a group of supporters where he tells them he was robbed of the election, denounces his own administration’s members and party as traitors, and tells his supporters to storm the building where the voting is being held,” the NATO intelligence official said.
“The supporters, many dressed in military attire and waving revolutionary-style flags, then storm the building where the federal law-enforcement agencies controlled by the current president do not establish a security cordon, and the protesters quickly overwhelm the last line of police. The president then makes a public statement to the supporters attacking the Capitol that he loves them but doesn’t really tell them to stop,” the official said. “Today I am briefing my government that we believe with a reasonable level of certainty that Donald Trump attempted a coup that failed when the system did not buckle. I can’t believe this happened.”
A law-enforcement official who trains with US forces believes someone interfered with the proper deployment of officers around Congress……It is routine for the Capitol Police to coordinate with the federal Secret Service and the Park Police and local police in Washington, DC, before large demonstrations. The National Guard, commanded by the Department of Defense, is often on standby too. On Wednesday, however, that coordination was late or absent. ‘It’s obvious that large parts of any successful plan were just ignored,” the official said. The official directs public security in a central Paris police district filled with government buildings and tourist sites.
The white supremacist hypocrisy of it all was hard to miss. The National Guard, which was deployed heavily to repress Black Lives Matter protests last summer, failed to assist the Capitol police until two hours after the attack. Millions of Americans who participated in the George Floyd Rebellion last summer can tell stories of violent police state repression inflicted against peaceful civil rights and social justice protesters. (I found myself on the wrong end of gendarmes’ batons and tear gas more than once merely for marching and chanting in orderly fashion against the police murders of Floyd and Brionna Taylor). A Black Lives Matter and “Antifa” assault on the Capitol while Congress certified the re-election of Donald Trump would have been met with overwhelming force including live ammunition leading to dozens if not hundreds of fatalities.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Pentagon was concerned about the bad optics of deploying military personnel to protect the Capitol. The Defense Department seemed to have no such worries about doing precisely that during the far less violent George Floyd protests last year.
Videos made available online showed some Capital police officers opening a barrier to permit a group of Trump terrorists advance closer to the Capitol dome. At least one white officer can be seen letting a rioter take a selfie with him inside the Capitol while protesters milled around the building unchecked.
(Police collaboration is also unsurprising. Consistent with their authoritarian personalities and fascist sentiments, white police officers across the nation have been among Trump’s strongest supporters. Many of them were certainly primed to violently suppress urban protests against an election stolen by Trump this fall and winter. The fascist head of the Chicago policeman’s union expressed support for last Wednesday’s coup attempt.)
The nation’s deeply conservative President Elect, a longstanding Wall Street and Pentagon plaything, joined in the soft response. As knuckle dragging Amerikaners were tearing up the Capitol, Biden pathetically asked Trump to “stand up” and call off the assault. He childishly reiterated his Obamanist “optimism” in unity across partisan lines and in America’s continuing progress toward “a more perfect union.”
Trump “stand up” (Biden) for decency? Seriously? The nation and world are in the middle of a deadly pandemic that the malignant president fueled and fanned across the nation, turning the United States into COVID-19’s leading Sanctuary State. As new U.S. coronavirus death records have been set regularly in the aftermath of the election, the fascist beast in the White House has criminally avoided the historic public health crisis while advancing the preposterous election fraud narrative, playing golf, and arranging pardons for war criminals and his favorite cronies. The third post-election proto-fascist Washington rampage he sparked included a coup attempt that led to at least five fatalities.
Sloppy Joe should have demand that Trump stand down, that is, resign immediately. But such a reasonable was never going to issue from the lips of a fascism-appeasing conservative firmly in the Hollow Resistance Clinton-Obama mode, Biden couldn’t begin to utter such a demand.
A frequent keyword from the Democratic media and politics establishment is reconciliation. It’s a dangerous and foolish aspiration. There can and should be no patching up of differences with fascists, whose “grievances” reflect maniacal bitterness over any checks on white supremacy, male supremacy, xenophobia, vengeful nationalism, military barbarism, and eco-cide.
The better word for the Democrats’ approach is appeasement. “And if history teaches us one lesson about dealing with fascists,” Krugman had the decency to note two days ago “it is the futility of appeasement. Giving in to fascists doesn’t pacify them, it just encourages them to go further…So far, the lesson for Trumpist extremists is that they can engage in violent attacks on the core institutions of American [so-called] democracy, and face hardly any consequence. Clearly, they view their exploits as a triumph and will be eager to do more” if they go unpunished.
Numerous administration officials and Republican Senators and Representatives have tried to distance themselves from a fascistic presidency they had long enabled. Their belated resignations and standdowns from Trump’s absurd fraud charge were transparent attempts to cover their complicit asses and save careers. The claims of shock and disgust, as in “we didn’t sign up for this” (Nick Mulvaney) were disingenuous. The attack on the Capitol was the natural outcome of presidential conduct and rhetoric that vicious right-wing Senators like Mitch McConnel (R-KY), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have embraced and encouraged for years. Their and other top Republicans’ claims to be shocked and disgusted by Trump’s mob assault are not to be taken seriously. If a coup had been successfully pulled off – something far beyond the capacity and competence of Trump and his comrades – Hawley, Graham and other Republican elites would be applauding the outcome and gearing up happily for four more years of Trumpism-fascism.
Let us never forget the craven idiocy of the “moderate” Republican US Senator Susan Collins. Collins infamously rationalized her vote against convicting the president on impeachment charges last February by moronically claiming that the tangerine-tinted Antichrist had “learned his lesson.” The opposite was the case: Trump’s “exoneration” told him for the umpteenth time that he could continue to get away with horrific abuses of his power.
We should also never forget that 140 House Republicans and 6 Republican Senators despicably held to their absurd challenge to the Electoral College tally even after the disgusting and deadly assault on Congress.
The Democratic establishment falsely claims that “democracy” survived the failed putsch. This ignores the fact that the United States was a corporate and financial oligarchy subjected to an unelected dictatorship of concentrated wealth and Empire well before Trump’s ascendancy. This pre-existing capitalist-imperialist authoritarianism was critical democracy-delegitimizing and populace-demobilizing context for the rise of Trump and Trumpism-fascism. The radical right danger will survive the eclipse of Trump, congealing perhaps around a more competent and disciplined Dear Leader, set to feed off mass disillusionment with the likely capital- and Constitution-imposed failures of the neoliberal Biden administration and the coming bare majority Democratic Congress.
Meanwhile, nearly half of Republicans polled by YouGov approved the demented attack on the Capitol. A majority of Republicans “blame Biden” for the assault! Those are the people Joe Biden wants to “reach out across the aisle” and join hands with to build “a more perfect union” – this while constructing an administration hostile to progressive Democrats who advocate policies most of the populace supports and that might fascism-proof this nation.
Trump still receives approval from 4 in 10 Americans even after sparking a demented ph
However it all plays out, we on the Left would do well to keep our distance from the liberal charge of “treason” against the supposedly virtuous nation. “In reality,” Refuse Fascism’s co-founder Sunsara Taylor recently wrote me, “it is the nation — the history and roots and ongoing functioning of the system of capitalism-imperialism in the United States, with its roots and foundations in slavery and white supremacy and all the global plunder and exploitation which is its life-source in an ongoing way — that is the SOURCE of this fascism. …Condemning [the Trump coup attempt] as…’treason’…feeds people into the maw of …Biden’s calls for ‘uniting’ and ‘healing’ the country… [and into] seeking some kind of reconciliation.” There is no meaningful reconciliation to be found with those who assault partially democratic institutions and laws and norms under the influence of a malignant world view that combines, in Taylor’s words, “white supremacy, the hatred of women, the glorying in denigrating and torturing immigrants, the hatred for science and facts and masks and vaccines and the media and anything that suggests anything is more important than ‘me, me, me.’”