National Post (Latest Edition)
While America itself has been slipping into a state of political psychosis for at least a decade now, disenchantment and disaffection with democracy is a growing phenomenon worldwide.
Anyone who genuinely cares about the fate of the 245-year American experiment in revolutionary democracy might be forgiven for having wishfully imagined last Wednesday that the excitement in Washington, d.c., was really just about an extraordinary lapse in security planning, and a howling mob of slackjawed yokels that managed to rampage through the Capitol building after taking donald Trump’s deranged rhetoric more seriously than the outgoing president had intended.
you could say there is a kernel of truth to that version of events. But it’s just a kernel. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the terrorist outrages that have occurred in NATO capitals over the past few years, it’s that it usually takes several days for the facts to sink in and the true story to reveal itself.
The deeper gloom involved here is that the very idea of truth in America is itself problematic nowadays — a derangement that did not begin with Trump. But a week has passed, and what we can now confidently assert as truth is that what transpired last Wednesday was an act of terrorism, purposefully organized and meticulously planned, aided and abetted, and at least arguably incited, by no less than donald Trump himself.
Several heavily armed, farright militias were involved in Wednesday’s terror, and the convulsion was not confined to the district of Columbia. rightist belligerents and obscure neo-fascist militias descended on a dozen state capitols across the country last Wednesday.
Capitol precincts were shut down entirely in Texas and New Mexico. In Georgia, where armed “protesters” have made daily appearances since the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, the capitol went into full lockdown. In Arizona, state police had to surround the executive tower with double-link chain fencing. In Olympia, Wash., armed insurrectionists rushed the governor’s mansion, making it into the front door. In Salem, Ore., a man was arrested trying to get into the capitol building with a firearm, while protesters burned an effigy of the governor outside.
The mob that smashed its way into the Capitol building in Washington did give every appearance of having come straight from the Burning Man festival, or screen tests for duck dynasty, and the mob did appear to materialize almost spontaneously. “It is hard to think of a comparable insurrectionary moment,” historian and author Timothy d. Snyder wrote in the New york Times, “when a building of great significance was seized, that involved so much milling around.”
But in the crowd was a committed contingent of Trumpist militiamen that came prepared to do extreme damage. Their whole point was terror. Their explicit intent was to prevent Congress from certifying democrat Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election.
Some came heavily armed with military-style weaponry, incendiary devices, pipe bombs and jars filled with homemade napalm, and even as they were smashing their way into the building, Trump was egging them on in a speech to his “Stop the Steal” rally nearby. Five people were killed, dozens of would-be insurgents have been arrested and the FBI is on the chase for several dozen more.
The pathology that led to last Wednesday’s outrage is not confined to the dregs of the dregs of the republican party’s disgraced Trumpist faction. Neither is it merely a defining characteristic of the republican party, and while America itself has been slipping into a state of political psychosis for at least a decade now, disenchantment and disaffection with democracy is a growing phenomenon worldwide.
A recent report by the university of Cambridge’s Centre for the Future of democracy, which compiled data from 154 countries and four million survey respondents, shows that satisfaction with democracy is in decline in most major democracies. In the united States, the proportion of the disenchanted now outnumbers the voters who are satisfied with democracy.
Just as u.s. law enforcement agencies knew, or should have known, that a violent rightist putsch in Washington had been in the planning for months, everybody knew what Trump’s response was going to be if he lost the election. In a speech in Wisconsin last August, he made it plain: “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged. remember that. It’s the only way we’re going to lose this election.” What has gone unnoticed is that this happens to have been the majority view of democratic party voters, too.
A Gallup poll in October showed that fewer than one in five Americans were “very confident” that votes in the Nov. 3 election would be accurately cast and counted, and a yougov poll showed that when asked what would explain a Biden defeat, 57 per cent of democrats said it would be because “republicans stole the election.” Almost exactly the same proportion of republicans — 56 per cent — said a Biden win would mean the election had been rigged.
And that’s pretty well exactly how things played out after Biden won, clearly and unambiguously. A Nov. 13-17 reuters/ipsos opinion poll showed that 52 per cent of republicans said it was their guy, Trump, who “rightfully won” the election.
While it would be puerile to directly equate the months of self-styled Antifa mayhem in cities like Portland and Seattle with a national coup of the kind Trumpist militants attempted last Wednesday — and similarly disingenuous to identify Biden with Antifa’s riots — democrats are not so different from republicans in the slovenly attitudes they’ve taken on lately towards political violence.
Last October, a consortium of researchers from the hoover Institution, the New America think tank, the hudson Institute and Louisiana State university found that one in three Americans, democrat or republican, say violence can be justified to advance their favoured parties’ interests. In September polling, 44 per cent of republicans and 41 per cent of democrats said there would be at least “a little” justification for violence if the other party’s candidate were to win the election.
While it’s useful to wonder whether Canada is susceptible to this kind of political brutalization, it’s also necessary to point out that Canada’s political culture is only superficially comparable to the American malaise. Canadians have bucked the anti-democratic trend that has taken hold in the larger countries like France, the united States and the united Kingdom. We’re more like the people of Switzerland, or Luxembourg. We’re generally satisfied with our political system.
The united States of America is a deeply wounded country. What ails America is not just Trumpist hooliganism, or the republican party. America itself is deeply damaged at the moment. At the same time, it’s an indispensable country, and still a great country. That’s the truth of it. The truth matters, and if there’s a legitimate place for wishful thinking, it’s in the wish that with Joe Biden in the White house, the healing can at last begin.