After over a year of incessant publicity, the Capitol building incident of January 6, 2021, has taken on mythic proportions. While all myths are prone to hyperbole, not all are entirely false as the following accounting relates.
By Roger D. Harris
- January 6 was an attempted coup
According to Noam Chomsky: “That it was an attempted coup is not in question,” likening the incident to Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. However, after storming the Capitol building and taking selfies, the demonstrators simply left after a few hours. Their attempt to influence the electoral process by disruption did not and could not have led to the seizure of state power.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald points out, “after a full year of a Democrat-led DOJ [Department of Justice] conducting what is heralded as ‘the most expansive federal law enforcement investigation in US history’ [no rioters] have been charged with inciting insurrection, sedition, treason or conspiracy to overthrow the government.”
Then on January 13, eleven were charged with “seditious conspiracy,” which according to the New York Times is difficult to prove. This raises the embarrassing question for the government of how could some two thousand people conspire in broad daylight to stage an insurrection and the FBI and other agencies didn’t know about it until after the fact.
Greenwald continues, “the Department of Homeland Security issued at least six separate ‘heightened threat’ warnings last year, not a single one of which materialized. There were no violent protests in Washington, D.C. or in state capitols on Inauguration Day; no violent protests materialized the week after Biden’s inauguration…Each time such a warning was issued, cable outlets and liberal newspapers breathlessly reported them, ensuring fear levels remained high.”
What did happen is that a sitting president unprecedently called for a march on the Capitol to contest an election, signifying a breakdown of bourgeois political norms. Quite unlike Al Gore, who took a hit for elite political stability rather than contest the 2000 presidential election, Trump flagrantly broke the rules of orderly succession.
- January 6 ranks with Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of 9/11
Vice President Kamala Harris (no relation to this author) solemnly proclaimed: “Certain dates echo throughout history…when our democracy came under assault…December 7th, 1941. September 11th, 2001. And January 6th, 2021.”
According to the US Senate report, seven fatalities are attributed to 1/6: one person was fatally shot by police, one succumbed to an overdose of amphetamine, and two others died of natural causes; all were Trump supporters. In the days that followed, Officer Brian Sicknick “died of natural causes” according to the coroner’s report, contrary to false news that his passing was due to injuries on 1/6. Two other police officers died of suicide.
In contrast, 2,390 perished in Pearl Harbor; 2,977 in 9/11. The former marked the beginning of active US military engagement in World War II, which took an estimated 70–85 million people. The latter sparked the “War on Terror,” claiming an estimated 1.3 to 2 million casualties.
- Trump and his supporters are ignorant
Some suppose Trump and his supporters get by on crude cunning and animal instinct. An unfortunately pervasive left-liberal trope is that people who see the world differently from them must be “militantly ignorant,” otherwise they too would be Democrats. The self-faltering conceit is that if some half of the voting public, the “basket of deplorables,” were better educated, they would have better politics. Little wonder that Trump can play to the justified resentment to this class chauvinism.
- Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history and the world has never seen an organization more profoundly committed to destroying planet earth
Noam Chomsky, citing 1/6, made the above claim, which is partially true. The Republican Party is part of the bad cop/good cop dyad, which is the political leadership of the US empire. And that empire is the greatest threat ever to humanity. But focusing all the animus of one component of the ruling duopoly tends to render the duopoly itself – that is, the two-party system of capitalist rule – invisible. Demonizing the bad cop does not eliminate the system, but only renders the presumptive “lesser evil” more cosmetically acceptable.
How different are the Republicans from the Democrats? Perceptions of reality are mediated by perspective. For instance, very small and near objects such as a house fly appear to be moving very fast. Very large and distant objects like the stars appear to be moving not all. The physical reality is the opposite. Likewise, the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats appear great or not much at all depending on one’s class and historical perspective.
From an historical perspective, the affinities between Obama and Reagan are greater than between, say, the neoliberal Obama and New Deal LBJ. For a true-blue Democratic Party partisan, the chasm separating the parties is huge. For the Venezuelan whose cancer medications are blocked by the bipartisan US sanctions, the differences are imperceptible.
After the Democrats lost the presidency in 2016 to as repugnant a figure as Donald Trump, they conjured up the alibi of Russian interference in the election and milked that for four years. Now the Democrats can no longer plausibly claim that Vladimir Putin is the pulling strings in the White House. So, the January 6th incident has become the ruse of convenience for retaining the presidency and congressional majorities without offending their donors by doing anything significant for their voter base. As candidate Joe Biden assured his wealthy supporters, “nothing would fundamentally change” if he’s elected.
- White supremacy is on the rise
Part of the perception of growing white supremacy is a commendable increased awareness and reporting of this national blight and a growing movement in opposition. A KKK bombing in the late 1960s of an Historically Black College in Mississippi where I was a junior faculty did not even get into the news. Earlier this month, seven Historically Black Colleges received bomb threats and that made national headlines. The successes of anti-racist efforts like the Black Lives Matter movement, which mounted the largest mass demonstrations in US history, should be recognized.
It also should be recognized that white supremacy didn’t originate with Trump, nor will it end with his departure, but is deeply embedded in the national DNA. Ask a Native American, whose ancestral lands were expropriated by the European settlers as part of a brutal process of displacement and extermination. Ask an African American, whose forebearers were brought here as chattel slaves and upon whose labor much of the wealth of the nation was accumulated. Ask a Japanese American about the internment of the West Coast Japanese, which was the project of the arguably most liberal president in US history.
As Ajamu Baraka of the Black Alliance for Peace comments: “fascism is nothing new for us, a colonized people, people who have been enslaved. It has typically been called fascism only when white people do certain things to other white people.”
Listen carefully to “our” national anthem, which celebrates: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
- What is happening today is the same as Germany in the 1930s with Trump as the new Hitler
Analogies of Trump to Hitler can be misleading. While material conditions for many Americans are distressing, they are not as dire as Weimar Germany, following its economic collapse. Nor do the Proud Boys and company approximate the hundreds of thousands of trained and armed paramilitaries under Hitler’s direct command. Most important, the mass working class Communist and Socialist parties in Weimar Germany were positioned to contend for state power, while trade unions and third parties challenging bourgeoise rule are in decline in the US today.
Under fascism, the capitalist class voluntarily cedes a degree of economic decision making to a dictatorial state in exchange for guarantees of public order and promises to keep their profits. As long as any serious challenge to their power is absent, the US ruling elites have little incentive to resort to such measures.
The charges that Trump is “power hungry” are likely true, though that does not necessarily distinguish him from other politicians. But the force of even his big ego is insufficient to win over a sufficient faction of the bourgeoisie to support a fascist dictatorship when the theatrics of the two-party system are working so well for their interests and billionaire fortunes are skyrocketing.
But that does not mean that they need not prepare for the contingency of fascist rule, which is where the present danger resides. January 6 is being used to justify further expansion of the security state, which has and will continue to be used against the left.
- January 6 is symptomatic of a body politic polarized as never before
Polarization is the meta myth that overarches all others. According to a Pew poll, “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.” This dysfunctional disintegration takes place in the context of a body politic lurching to the right. One side of the political duopoly blocks progressive change; the other uses the excuse of the blockage for failing to make progressive change.
The palpable polarization of the Republican-Democratic hostilities serves as a distraction from the bedrock elite consensus on matters of state (i.e., which class rules) and economics (i.e., which class benefits).
The smoke of the wrangling over the minutia of Build Back Better obfuscates the fact that a world record “defense” budget, greater than even the Pentagon requested, passed in a heartbeat. The squabble over masking distracts from the failure of the world’s richest nation to provide universal health care in a time of pandemic. The issues that truly affect the future of humanity – militarization and global warming – are obscured in the fog of cultural wars that divide working people. Meanwhile state security and surveillance measures become more pervasive, with the nominally more liberal party of the ruling class championing the FBI, CIA, and NSA.
There are fault lines of class and fault lines of partisan politics. For now, those fault lines do not coincide. The narrow positing of the threat of the right around what happened on January 6 omits the larger issues of militarism, the surveillance state, welfare for the corporations, and austerity for working people. On these fundamental issues and despite sharp contention on other issues, there is a fundamental consensus between the ruling Republican and Democratic leadership.
Roger D. Harris is on the state central committee of the Peace and Freedom Party, the only ballot-qualified socialist party in California.