Welcome to 2021! Remember folks, 2021 is the new 2020. And you can tell after the latest attempt to kill our democracy by the Kooks of Hazzard on January 6, after Boss Orange Hogg and his sheriffs invited them all in to the Capitol building to overthrow the proceedings. And they’ve promised us more to come on January 20th.
If any of you dear readers were surprised by this insurrection, you shouldn’t be. I certainly was not. More fascinatingly, some Republicans at least appeared to be genuinely surprised by this bullshit, and that is some major head-in-the-sand avoidance right there. You can’t go around stirring up white nationalists and telling them that, on the one hand, if Democrats win, their country is lost, and on the other hand, “Oh, by the way, the Democrats stole this from you” without some kind of blowback. And in the meantime, these yahoos go around winking at conspiracy theories like Q-Anon as though, yeah, we know the Democrats are totally eating babies and having sex with kids. What the FUCK did they think was gonna happen?
Seriously, we have a long history of white people burning down black people’s houses and ENTIRE TOWNS and dragging black men out of jail so they can have a lynch party all because the guy was REPORTED to have looked at a white woman funny. You think these people are gonna mess around when you tell them that baby-eating monsters have taken over their government?
And it’s not just the fringe crazies we’re talking about here. Trump’s support increased by 10.1 million voters during a badly-handled pandemic and an economic downturn. His share of black voters increased by 8 percent. So it’s not just the racists. A number of white people who would tell you they aren’t racist (even though they probably are) have become radicalized because they are suffering economically. The media likes to pretend it’s all racism, but the fact is that the American standard of living has been in decline for a long time, and white people believe firmly and insistently that THAT is not supposed to happen to them.
The Washington Post profiled some of the DC rioters in an article on January 10th, and while many white nationalists and other assholes were certainly present, a significant number of people were there because this pandemic — which they refuse to believe in — has pushed them into poverty. For example, a well-known anti-masker from Midland, Texas who participated in the riots “openly discussed buying ammunition and a coming revolution.” Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed during the melee, ran a small business that was suffering. Lindsey Graham of Salem, Oregon owns tanning salons, gyms, and a hair salon that were shuttered during the lockdowns. Of course she has campaigned against the mandates. As she put it, “It has become a passion since my rights were taken away in March. Before this, I had nothing to do with politics.”
Our government could have alleviated some of this pain, but they have largely refused to do anything. Nothing radicalizes people like hunger and utter financial ruin. Just ask Marie Antoinette and Franklin Roosevelt, who openly admitted to saving capitalism by providing relief to the very angry American masses. And no one knows how to take advantage of this tinderbox quite like a fascist demagogue like Trump, who will tell them that “those people” over there are to blame. And it’s not like there are new enemies here. Black people have been political scapegoats in this country since day one, and it’s not a stretch to add in any other nonwhite group. If you’re wondering how so many Germans could be persuaded to sell out their neighbors, now you know. Hitler did not invent antisemitism.
So now an assortment of white supremacists, Evangelicals, and other adherents of authoritarianism have joined forces with these other disenfranchised white people who, make no mistake, consider themselves victims, have assaulted our government and our democracy. And a lot of folks, mostly white liberals, have finally noticed that white protesters get treated differently. Well, hallelujah, Captain Obvious! Ya think? If black people had simply SHOWED UP in the street and stood there looking quietly at the Capitol building, the cops would have tear-gassed them, beaten them, and probably shot more than FIVE people. But when the white folks show up screaming and armed, they’re like, “Come on in!”
My son is 12, and he watches a lot of Youtube videos. Sometimes he comes across blatant right-wing talking points, and then we disabuse him of those notions. The other day, he said that a lot of the Black Lives Matters protesters were also violent. We explained that, while some MAY have been violent, most were peaceful, and the violence was carried out by white nationalists and cops (but I repeat myself) who were trying to make the protesters look bad. He, like many reasonable people, like to think that the media is not lying to them in any form, so I had to explain how fascist propaganda works. The perfect example is the Reichstag Fire in Weimar Germany, which allowed the Nazis to seize power.
The Reichstag was Germany’s parliament building, and it got torched four weeks after Hitler took power. The Nazis blamed their enemies: the socialists and communists on the left. In the ensuing fracas, civil liberties were suspended, and Hitler assumed full control of the country and began to prosecute or just outright kill his political enemies. Of course, the socialists and communists did not set fire to the Reichstag: the Nazis did.
The moral here is that fascists fuck with your head. That is the entire purpose of their propaganda: to confuse and obfuscate to the point where no one knows what’s really going on, but everyone feels off balance all the time. Sound familiar?
If we look at our media ecosystem today, though, there is an obvious divide, and as I explained to my kid, the left-wing media is not without its problems. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and even MSNBC are purportedly left-leaning, but every one of them put a big target on Bernie Sanders’ back when he was running for the Democratic nomination. And the New York Times in particular practically single-handedly normalized American neo-Nazis after 2016.
So here’s the thing, and this is why these redneck terrorists are not done with us yet. Both sides of the media have the same goal: to maintain and further the status quo, in which the rich people get richer, and the rest of us barely get by. Who funds their campaigns? Rich people and corporations. Sometimes those folks fund BOTH SIDES, which is cynicism defined right there. So the left is invested in maintaining our corporate nightmare by doing nothing to reign it in, while promising that at least they’ll honor diversity. And the right is invested in gobbling up even more wealth while demonizing marginalized folks as scapegoats. And if the left hates the right, and the right hates the left, then the people are neatly divided and will never join forces to confront the real problem: corporate oligarchs who hoard all the wealth and operate as global mafia dons.
The reason that only one-fifth of the Capitol police force was working during the DC riots, even though everyone should have known what was coming, is because it was a state-sanctioned action. When a “protest” or march occurs that furthers the state’s agenda, it’s not a problem. This is why the Tea Party was celebrated in the right-wing media. They weren’t tear-gassed or beaten. The Trump administration and a number of Republicans in Congress were totally on board with this. No need to bring out the big guns here. Every MAGA conspirator in DC was doing exactly what was wanted of them. Republicans only became alarmed when some of the crowd began looking for THEM.
By contrast, Occupy Wall Street, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and Black Lives Matter are authentic movements, and those scare the shit out of the elites and the state. When a genuine movement erupts, we see what happens: people are abused, arrested, killed, or worse. The military brings out the big guns. Protesters are kidnapped on the streets by federal agents in vans. The last thing the state wants is for the movement to catch fire and threaten the status quo, and the wealth and power of the few.
With that in mind, it hardly needs to be said that the MAGA crowd in DC last week are nothing but pawns in a bigger game. Trump, who said he’d walk with them, of course did no such thing. He headed back to his comfy bedroom in the White House to watch what he’d unleashed on TV. And still, the Republican party as a whole has done practically nothing to condemn him, because they know that to the protesters, he is God Emperor of the United States. I’m not making that up. They call him GEOTUS on the alt-right forums, where they air their grievances against the rest of us and plot to take over the country by force, if necessary.
Just like Hitler and Mussolini, Trump is the figurehead of their fascist movement. Hitler is STILL a figurehead for his followers, even though he’s dead. Trump’s kids are more than eager to bear the standard going forward, so it’s a mistake for anyone to think that January 6th will suddenly make him irrelevant. Fascists love nothing more than martyrs, because they see themselves as victims, so they sympathize with that.
By enabling Trump and echoing his calls of victimhood, the Republican party is completely autocratic now. There is nothing they won’t do to keep power, no matter what nice speeches Mitch McConnell suddenly finds himself making on the Senate floor. And as I’ve said before, white nationalists and Evangelicals are one and the same, and they have embraced this movement as their own.
As the old saying goes, when Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. There were many flags at the DC riots, including Confederate and Christian flags. When a rioter attempted to replace the American flag at the Capitol with a Trump-Pence flag, his action told us all we need to know. The swastika flag, representing the Nazi political party, replaced the Weimar flag during the Third Reich. Their allegiance is not to America or its ideals, but rather to an exclusionary, hateful autocracy that elevates Evangelical Christianity and its white adherents over everything and everyone else.
So now liberals and moderates are wondering how to reach these people. We should not assume that we can. I saw an interview with Derek Black, a former white supremacist whose father founded Der Stürmer and whose godfather was David Duke. Of his past, he said, “We believe things because it’s what our community believes.” And that is exactly right. When you grow up in an insular community, such as an Evangelical one, you are surrounded only with mirrors of the group beliefs. This situation is far worse now than when I was a kid. Nowadays, Evangelicals send their kids to conservative Christian schools for indoctrination. Many of them never see secular movies or TV shows or even listen to popular music. Thanks to the effects of segregation, which still impacts every community, many never know a person of color, much less people who adhere to a different religion or no religion at all. It is the perfect bubble.
In this world within a world, children grow up believing every racist trope that their parent learned: that black people are lazy and not as capable of white people, that they are more likely to be criminals, and, often, that black people aren’t even full human beings. Many a white supremacists think of black people as the children of Ham and as “mud people.” When you dehumanize entire groups of people, genocide becomes so much easier.
Hannah Arendt, who wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism, put it like this:
Tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by “a world of enemies,” “one against all,” that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man.
But fascists never stop there. Once the purges begin, eventually new enemies must be found. As Arendt notes in her book, “new objective enemies are discovered according to changing circumstances: the Nazis, foreseeing the completion of Jewish extermination, had already taken the necessary preliminary steps for the liquidation of the Polish people, while Hitler even planned the decimation of certain categories of Germans.”
You could see that dynamic in play during the riots, when folks literally went hunting for Mike Pence. What they would do if they caught him, I will leave to your imagination, but I’m guessing that Gretchen Whitmer, who was the target of a right-wing plot to kidnap her and “put her on trial,” has a few ideas. Violence and terror are what propels the fascist regime, and new victims must be found to keep it running. If you’re not with us, you’re against us, and although you may have been an ally yesterday, you can be sent to the camps today. If Trump himself were deemed to be untrue to the movement, they would turn on him, too. There is always a new demagogue waiting for his chance.
We are not out of the woods. For one thing, there are enough wealthy and corporate actors encouraging this madness. You should ask yourself what they have to gain from this: complete unaccountability? The ability to pollute the environment and use labor as they see fit without government oversight? If the pandemic shuts down a large number of small businesses, who will step in to reap the rewards? Giants like Amazon and Walmart, of course. Rebekah Mercer, whose father made himself a billionaire with hedge funds and who called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “a mistake,” has invested untold amounts of money in Steve Bannon, Breitbart, and founded the right-wing social media site Parler. What do people like this have to gain from stoking this fire? Clearly quite a bit.
I sincerely hate to say this, but if we’re not careful, 2021 may turn out to be worse than 2020. The pandemic is far from over, and these folks are planning for January 20th. And assuming Biden is inaugurated, they will not consider this to be over. For four years, Trump broke every norm and more than a few laws. Many Republicans enabled him. There were no consequences for any of this. The few people who went to jail are now free, thanks to Trump’s pardons. And the white rioters on January 6th also learned that they would largely suffer few consequences. Trump should have been rode out of town on a rail, but he still occupies the White House. They have learned that they can push our system to the breaking point, and it may already be broken. Trust is hard to earn, and once it’s gone, it’s hard to get back.
Here’s a quote from CNN from the right-wing echo chamber: “Trump or war. Today. That simple.”
These folks have been wishing for civil war for a long time. If we aren’t prepared, they may get their wish. Be strong. Stand for what is right.