Analysis Politics

Trump loyalists unleash anarchy at the Capitol

Martha Hobson explores how the future of American democracy is in jeopardy.

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Image Credit: Ted Eytan

On Thursday, in the wake of the storming of the Capitol, Joe Biden was officially confirmed as the President-elect by Congress. Outraged Trump loyalists had deliberately disrupted the count of the Electoral College votes by occupying the US Capitol building. The events are historically unparalleled, with hundreds of people scaling walls; breaching the building; flying Confederate flags outside Senate rooms; breaking into and vandalising offices.

The storming of the Capitol raises important questions about the future of democracy and the danger of increasingly partisan politics.

Senator Cory Booker responded to the events with a vehement address to the Senate on the worries of their wounded democracy, and notably, of the cult of personality that caused this rampant response. He accused Trump of “fanning the flames of conspiracy theories”, and provoking the anger televised in the Capitol.

Over the past year, Trump has been bolstering his loyal following for his election defeat. The election was by no means straight-forward, with the difficulties of COVID affecting voting. However, far before the election, Trump’s rhetoric invited and incited an undermining of the validity of the democratic system. He asserted that the election was rigged if he did not win. Even after the storming, his final word was to concede a smooth transition, despite the fact he “totally disagrees with the outcome of the election”.To reject democracy so brazenly has dangerous repercussions. America’s hyper-partisan politics already produces chasms in American culture, however the total denial of a Democratic win, has provoked a new degree of divisiveness.

The majority of Republicans responded to the insurrection with harsh condemnation. Pence trumpeted the idea of freedom over violence, and Senator Mitt Romney directly blamed Trump’s “injured pride” for causing the riot.

However, Trump’s reaction to the storming was underwhelming. Mobs were described as “very special” and he expressed his “love” for “them all”. Twitter has, again, had to suspend Trump from posting, after he seemed to condone the violence at the Capitol. This reaction, in addition to the minimal police response, has evoked comparisons to the BLM protests last summer. The tame police interactions with white supremacists breaching the Capitol, are pictured alongside police in June, blocking kneeling protestors and using tear gas and violence. There is no hiding the inconsistent behaviour which characterises the police’s treatment of BLM protestors, in comparison with white Trump supporters. Democrats and Republicans alike were shocked by the storming and the complicit police response to a monumentally unacceptable moment in American history.

The effect on democracy is huge. Trump pushes Republicanism further into a corner of the alt-right, normalising fictitious rhetoric, aggression and illegitimacy. This widens the gap between the two US parties. As far as Democrats see Republicanism as synonymous with Trumpism, democracy is weakened.

It is clear that American democracy is under threat. The plainly partisan American system is nothing new and the storming of the US capitol has shown us it is unlikely Trump’s loyalists will leave with him on 20 January.

Perhaps Booker and Romney are right to blame Trump, however Trumpism is a name for an idea much wider and deeper than one man. The consequences of Trump’s administration on redefining the Republican Party, aggressively opposing the Democrats and undermining democracy are likely to affect American politics for years.

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