Written by Alasdair Bell
Wednesday, 10am. Rudy Guilani, the lawyer of Donald Trump, stands before a sea of red caps and redder faces and calls for a ‘trial by combat’. At the end of the day, the day that saw thousands of Trump supporters storm the Capitol Building to stop the confirmation of a democratic vote, the day that saw tear gas, windows smashed and bullets fired, the president himself stands before America and says, ‘We had an election stolen from us… Everyone knows it, especially the other side’. Lying on the floor, left behind in the chaos, a flag reads: ‘Liberty or Death: Don’t Tread On Me’.
You would be forgiven for thinking, after reading that description, after seeing the Confederate flag raised in anger, that America was on the brink of civil war. Fox news’ Tucker Carlson summarised the events by saying: ‘What happened today will be used by the people taking power to justify stripping you of the rights you are born with as an American’. Late Night host Stephen Colbert decried Republicans for ‘coddling this President’s fascist rhetoric’.
On all sides of the political spectrum, language is becoming charged with violence. With division and with finality. Trump says the election was stolen by the ‘other side’, flags ask for ‘liberty or death’, news stations say a properly elected individual is ‘taking power’. Even a chat-show host, meant to be representing middle-America, stamps half the country as sympathetic to fascism. Patriotism is stood against democracy.
These conclusions do nothing but fuel the fire.
We are talking about social dynamics as significant and profound as liberty, democracy and constitutional rights. We are talking about them despite none of them being actually threatened. The issue with American politics is that everything is seen as either red or blue. As far-right or far-left. And to those pointing the finger, both are extremist and dangerous, with the potential to collapse ‘life as we know it’. The reason why this type of language is being used and these extents are being reached for is exactly because of that. Society in America has been split either side of a chasm that defines the way the world is seen. Once you are on one side you cannot cross and you most certainly cannot stand in the middle. Those taking part in the Capitol riot must be seen as representative of all who vote Republican. Those who find violence and disturbance in the protest must be seen as stealing power and hating their country. Wednesday’s events must be cataclysmic and announce the crumbling of the world’s most symbolic democracy and the alienation of half of a 328 million large population. These conclusions blind us from constructive conversation and prevents those voices of reason from finding more volume in the public sphere.
There is a vacuum between reason and ideology. Returning to Tucker Carlson, the news anchor spoke to those who saw the riots as wrong, saying: ‘If you don’t bother to pause and learn a single thing from it, from your citizens storming your capitol building, then you’re a fool. You lack wisdom and you lack self-awareness’.
Indeed. Surely he can see the hypocrisy in defiling the building that represents the values of America, whilst chanting ‘USA!’. Surely he himself possesses the self-awareness to take his own advice and learn something from Wednesday’s events. To learn that as long as ideals dictate action, coherence, structure and progress can never be achieved.
Trump, of course, is largely to blame for this entrenching of ideology. For the drawing of battle-lines. He stood before the crowd preceding the violence and said that Vice-President Pence ‘didn’t have the courage’ to go against the constitution and prevent the confirmation. Apparently a politician must have the virtues of a soldier rather than be driven by representing their people and following the law. We are a long way from physical war. But blue and red uniforms are being adopted nevertheless. One of the great American novelists, William Faulkner, puts in The Sound and the Fury: “No battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.” This is a battle with no winner, no advantage is to be gained by point-scoring and misrepresentation. Folly and despair is being revealed by the insistence to find it everywhere it is not, in everything and everyone.
Oddly, the voice of calm at the end of the day was found in Vice President Pence as he sat back down to resume the votings of congress. ‘Let’s get back to work’, he said. Yes, let’s. But learn from the Capitol Building protest and the questions it raised instead of using it to fan the flames.