All the president's yes-men

All the president's yes-men
Comment: Let us not mistake political necessity for courage. Republicans who should have spoken out long ago are partly to blame for the violence in Washington, writes Imrul Islam.
5 min read
08 Jan, 2021
On Wednesday Trump supporters violently attacked the US Capitol [Getty]
Four years after newly elected President Donald Trump vowed to stop "an American carnage", a violent mob rallied by his lies stormed the US Capitol, apparently in an attempt to overturn the result of the November election. 

On Wednesday, January 6, while Congress was preparing its largely ceremonial certification of President-Elect Joe Biden's November victory, Trump urged his supporters - many flying
flags emblazoned with hate speech - to march up to the Capitol in order to "give our Republicans the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."

And so, they did.

On the day
Raphael Warnock - pastor of Dr King's church - was elected Georgia's first Black Senator, a white mob stormed the US Capitol intent on "taking back power". They did so at the call of a president who has repeatedly lied about election results, and stirred a slurry of paranoia, white supremacy and populism since his first campaign speech. 

There is no doubt who we must blame. But in thinking about responsibility, we should cast our net wide, if only to glimpse the depth of the problem. Since 2017, Republicans have exhibited a distinct lack of a backbone in the face of Trump's antics; marching in lockstep to oppose impeachment, failing to condemn his endorsement of white supremacist violence, and backtracking on previous promises to oppose pushing through a Supreme Court nomination within months of a election. In so doing, they  offered Trump the privilege of demagoguery. 

These are the very same people who for four years stood guard in defense of the indefensible

Overwhelmingly, the president has been allowed to act with complete indifference to inclusive governance, and a dictatorial disdain for opposing viewpoints. For the last four years, he has taken policy prescriptions from a rotating cast of far-right ideologues. Night after night on Fox, through Twitter, across airwaves dominated by alt-right mouthpieces, Trump's cabal of conmen echoed the President's message - telling white America that they were under attack. Yesterday's chaos was completely predictable.

Once lawmakers had been escorted to safety, some Republicans took to social media to condemn the violence. And yet, these are the very same people who for four years stood guard in defense of the indefensible.

When the President fraudulently claimed victory on election night, it was the same lawmakers who refused to speak out. When Trump continued to lie brazenly, and his legal team suffered ignominy after ignominy, the same "leaders" stood behind him, or cowered in silence. By the time the riots were being planned, these Republicans' action (or inaction) meant that almost 62 percent of Republicans did not believe Joe Biden won the election.

Let us not mistake political necessity for courage. Mitch McConnell attempting to put the genie back in the bottle does not negate his mollycoddling of autocracy. At best, this is a Republican party that has located the remnants of its backbone.

Read more: Trump's portrait of America is a monument to its racist past

Some compared Wednesday's events in DC to conflict in the Middle East, or political upheavals in the Global South. They are wrong. Unlike in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Venezuela (the list is endless), there are no foreign forces instigating violence in Washington DC. This is all our own doing. This - terror marinated in that great national tradition of structural racism - is as American as it gets. Exceptionalism must not cloud our judgment of what was allowed to occur in the nation's capital.

And if we must look for individual perpetrators, we need not look far. The main instigator of this senseless, completely unnecessary chain of events has a verified Twitter - albeit now suspended - account. He lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He thinks the mob that has overrun the Capitol is "very special." 

In DC, by sunset, the National Guard had been mobilised, a curfew imposed, and the mob dispersed. By late evening, lawmakers reconvened, and by early morning they had formally recognised Joe Biden's victory.

But not without hiccups. In the very chambers assailants had invaded earlier in the day, where a woman was shot and killed just hours before for a seditious assault on democracy,
147 Republican lawmakers raised their objection to certifying the results of November's presidential election.

Mitch McConnell attempting to put the genie back in the bottle does not negate his mollycoddling of autocracy

This, in many ways, is the story of America's past four years; a caustic distillation of our new political normal. Here, after a day of far-right terror, the likes of Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn can continue to spew conspiracy theories that directly challenge the very Constitution they were elected to uphold. Here, the likes of Matt Gaetz can stand in Congress and shamelessly claim antifa, not Trump supporters, were behind the current carnage. Here, the difference between rioters and a minority gang of Republicans seems increasingly tautological.

In DC, when the dust settles, Democrats will control the House, the Senate and the presidency. But for now, across the District there is an eerie sense that Pandora's Box is wide open. As calls for accountability mount, American democracy remains a negotiation with chance.

Imrul Islam works for the Bridge Initiative, a research project on Islamophobia at Georgetown University. His research focuses on minority rights in South Asia. 

Follow him on Twitter: @glumphish and the Bridge Initiative @bridgeinit

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author's employer.