Capitol crimes

Published January 5, 2022
Mahir Ali
Mahir Ali

TOMORROW’S first anniversary of the US Capitol riot will be commemorated with a presidential speech, as well as a news conference by the previous White House incumbent. It isn’t hard to guess which of the two will offer better entertainment value.

Almost a year after his inauguration, Joe Biden is living up to the expectations only of those who doubted his ability to deliver, or at least push for, some of the socioeconomic changes that would propel America in a moderately saner direction.

It’s hardly surprising that his popular approval rating has been declining, and it is widely assumed that next November’s midterm elections will be a bloodbath for the Democrats. Given the party’s tiny majority in the House of Representatives and parity in the Senate, such an outcome would mean that Biden’s narrow legislative window is going to decisively be slammed shut.

Should that plausible prediction come to pass, the obvious beneficiary will be a Republican party still in thrall to the monster of depravity who emerged as its presidential candidate in 2016.

The US has more to worry about than last year’s siege.

Back then, the Republican rivals who had suffered his tongue-lashings demonstrated astounding velocity in somersaulting to the cult of Donald Trump. And they will remain ensconced in that hellhole as long as it continues to pay electoral dividends. It’s highly unlikely Trump will face any serious challengers if he decides to have a third go at the presidency in 2024.

In his eventful four years at the helm, the maniacal narcissist became a figurehead for many of the fascist elements that have long scarred the American political landscape, at least on the fringes. Some of them became more prominent during the Obama years, discombobulated by the very idea of an African-American president, even though his predilections (sadly) barely differed from those of his predecessors.

To an extent, Trump’s 2016 success lay in harvesting both the racist resentment and the ripened fruit from the seeds of discontent sown by Barack Obama’s unwillingness to live up to his reputation as a ‘hope and change’ candidate. Somewhat more surprising, given Trump’s fairly brazen attraction to sin, was his deification by evangelical Christians, a substantial constituency. But then, the extremities of religion, whatever the faith, invariably involve a great deal of hypocrisy.

On Jan 6 last year, the then president offered the baying mob a few battle cries, but ducked out of accompanying it to the Capitol. He had spent the previous weeks and days desperately seeking means of overturning the election result. Nothing came of it. The election had clearly been lost, not ‘stolen’; there was no evidence whatsoever to back the latter claim, and none has emerged in the interim — although that doesn’t prevent about a third of the electorate from firmly believing otherwise.

The frenzied mob was a last-gasp effort, but the pointless and potentially dangerous tactic hadn’t been thought through. It has lately emerged that a number of diehard Trump supporters, and even members of his family, were almost begging his chief of staff to persuade the president to call off his attack dogs. For three hours or so, Trump defied the mounting pressure.

Since then, he has wavered wildly in his pronouncements, from embracing the rioters to disowning them. Just recently he repeated one of his favourite canards by blaming that day’s violence on ‘antifa’, while simul­tane­ously claiming that the real ‘insurrection’ occurred not on Jan 6 but on the previous Nov 3 — election day.

Tomorrow’s press conference may rev­eal whether there’s anything new in store, beyond a social media platform to make up for his disadvantage in being booted off Twitter. There can be little doubt, though, that were Trump to attempt a comeback in 2024, he would stand a reasonable chance of success.

The crescendo of dire predictions about the threat of right-wing authoritar­ian­ism or even fascism has, tellingly, not diminished during the first year of the Biden presidency. But then, the task of repairing American democracy or making it more resilient cannot go very far without recognising the flaws that have blighted it since the founding fathers conceived a slave state and called it a revolution.

The relentless right-wing attacks on ‘wokeness’ and ‘critical race theory’ are intended to perpetuate the ignorance that has served the ruling classes all too well in the US and everywhere else. Much of the media has long been complicit in this task; for instance, it has helped to more or less kill the Build Back Better bill by focusing on the political machinations surrounding it rather than its content.

Its failure even after it was whittled down to what could be rechristened the ‘Build Back But Just a Little Bit Better’ bill could serve as a reminder that Trump, Senator Joe Manchin and even Biden are merely symptoms of a malaise yet to be countered with a viable antidote.

Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2022



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