The Capitol Occupation & Post-Trumpian Populism
As an American observing Wednesdays mostly peaceful protest at the Capitol from abroad, I admit I was taken by surprise. Foreign acquaintances had been asking me for months if anything dramatic would happen in relation to the election. While I was sure that a Trump victory would have led to BLM and Antifa violence on a scale we had never seen before, I assured everyone that in the event of a Biden win, discontent would be limited to the proper political channels and social media not that I was happy about that, but that was my impression. But some friends back home had told me not to underestimate the anger that was brewing on the populist Right, and I realized I should have listened to them as I watched the incredible images on my screen.
Its still too early for anyone to say what this event will mean in the long run. Perhaps it will lead to a crackdown on the Right that will equal or dwarf what happened in the wake of Charlottesville. Perhaps it will lead to the birth of a genuine national populist movement in the US. Perhaps its just a flash in the pan that will ultimately mean nothing. Im quite certain it wasnt the death knell of the American Empire. But Im sure I speak for many people reading this when I say that it gave me a lot of pleasure to see it happening. If nothing else, for one brief, shining moment, the white working class took center stage in American politics and brought the grinding engines of the Washington machine to a halt.
Part of the difficulty in evaluating what happened is that its unclear who exactly was behind it. From all appearances, however, it wasnt planned in advance. Unlike what his many detractors are saying, its not at all apparent that President Trump encouraged the crowd to occupy the Capitol; there is most definitely no hint of a call to violence in the speech that he gave beforehand. Also, the speed with which he condemned the occupation and agreed to concede the election the following day would seem to belie the theory that the event was part of an overall plan for a pro-Trump coup.
Rather, it seems to have been a spur-of-the-moment decision by the crowd to escalate a mere protest to an occupation, inspired by their anger at a system that consistently ignores and rebukes them. Thus, there isnt any particular group or organization with discernible goals that we can identify as being at the center of it; presumably, there were just as many reasons for people to go into the Capitol that day as there were people who were there. We can safely assume that the people who participated were a ragtag group of Trumpists, populists, Right-wingers, QAnon believers, and other political non-conformists who oppose the prospect of a Biden presidency. They certainly didnt seem to have any specific objective in mind, either, or if they did it wasnt apparent from the outside.
I think for most of us who were watching, we simply had an overwhelming feeling of Schadenfreude seeing the political elite thats been selling us down the river and making our lives hell for decades for once the ones cowering in fear. This was most especially true of the Democrats, who got a taste of their own medicine after endlessly excusing and justifying BLM and Antifa violence over the past four years. Only a few weeks before, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had tweeted an ill-timed message justifying protests, writing, The thing that critics of activists dont get is that they tried playing the polite language policy game and all it did was make them easier to ignore . . . The whole point of protesting is to make people uncomfortable. Activists take that discomfort with the status quo and advocate for concrete policy changes. Popular support often starts small and grows. To folks who complain protest demands make others uncomfortable . . . thats the point. On this, we can agree with her.
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