A year after Capitol Hill riots: Trumpism alive with full vigourtext_fields
The January 6 Capitol Hill attacks demonstrated how democracy as a political philosophy can be manipulated and turned on its head by democratically elected leaders in many countries by their use of unruly mobs. Do violent mobs represent the people of the country or are such mobs holding democracy to ransom?
The world is today clearly at the crossroads between finding ways to salvage democracy as a political philosophy or plunging deep down into dark chaos, where racial and religious zealotry and 'might is right' attitude will rule the roost. In the recommendations of the White House Committee investigating the January 6 Capitol Hills riots lies the hope of avoiding such a civilizational assault in future.
It is no surprise that former US President Donald J Trump finds the House Committee investigations uneasy. Last Thursday, he has asked the Supreme Court to block the release of the 700 plus pages of US National Archives documents related to what transpired between him and a group of high-level government officials in the lead up to the mob attacks, that sought to subvert the democratic poll victory of Joe Biden as the new President of the USA and successor to Trump.
Two days after the Capitol Hill attack, on January 8 this year, @realDonaldTrump had tweeted: The 75,000,000 great American patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and Make America Great Again, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future". This was followed up with "To all those who have asked, I will not be going to the inauguration on January 20."
Twitter scanned the two above tweets by the ex-President for their potential to mobilise audiences in different parts of the country to replicate the criminal acts of the January 6 mob and decided to suspend Trump's Twitter handle. The alternative social media methods Trump adopted to skirt the ban could not hold the interest of the millions of his followers for long.
However, despite all social media banishment, the man is still alive and kicking. This was evidenced at the great reception he received during his Christmas Greeting at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, last Sunday, where the Senior Pastor Robert Jefress hailed Trump as the "most pro-life, pro-religious liberty and pro-Israel president in the history of our great country" and "the most consequential one since Abraham Lincoln."
Trump's Christmas Greetings stretched well beyond religious matters touching upon Afghanistan, US borders and inflation. Once again the message was to Save America; Our nation is in great danger; we will Make America Great Again. Going by the overwhelming response of his Christmas Greetings at the church and the crowd that gathered outside the church building, it was plain that Trump's regular clientele remains intact long after he has become invisible on most public platforms.
The American electorate was in a none too enviable position when Trump was pitted against Hillary Clinton in 2016. The Podesta mails had shown up Hillary's strong relations to powerful interests on Wall Street, as well as the alleged quid pro quo benefits granted to campaign donors.
While one represented corruption per se, the other represented big money interests and racism together with the Bible. It was a fact that Trump himself was weirded out when in the 2016 US Presidential elections, the people democratically voted him to the most powerful office on the planet.
America witnessed for the first time a new kind of rabble-rousing presidency that came in a barrage of tweets and the guffaws made during press conferences. Trump's muddled facts on democratic traditions, international conventions, world history and geography, will-full lies, lack of empathy, grace and public decency all showed delusions of power by a maverick who was raised to a responsible constitutional position.
Erstwhile rallying points uniting all Americans under one 'Mission Democracy' worldwide - Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria - were winding up, plagued by realisations of meaningless military spending on foreign wars on the one hand and human stories of US military excesses on civilian populations there, on the other.
In the absence of these, and especially at a time of steep global economic downturn, Trump channelized the average American white man's apoliticality into white racial pride and hate towards all perceived 'outsiders'. How "antifa" (anti-fascism/anti-fascists) came to trickle top-down as a cuss word in the largest democracy became the biggest irony of the Trump years.
The state's law-enforcing machinery, police force, curfews, tear gas, rubber bullets, smoke bombs plus the United States National Guard were pressed into action to control the June 2020 civil rights protestors on US streets. On June 1, 2020, forcefully removing peaceful George Floyd civil rights protestors from the streets in Washington DC using riot control tactics, Trump, for the optics, walked out of the White House through Lafayette Square to St John's Episcopal Church known as the Church of the Presidents, and got photographed there holding aloft a Bible.
The game has always been to use the Bible, Jesus, Christmas, churches and Christianity at the right times to wipe out the real sins of (mis)governance and utter lack of empathy on the part of the democratically elected president towards just causes. The plan is always to persuade 70% of American citizens, who identify as Christians, and to secure their votes in elections as the first step; and if things don't go according to plan, to incite violent mobs to subvert the democratic traditions of the country.
The January 6 Capitol Hill riots set a very bad precedent as it tried, though unsuccessfully, to take over the seat of power by annulling a democratically fought election result. To get to the bottom of this, the White House records need to be scrutinized. The White House Committee investigations at hand are much higher than a mere question of embarrassing a former president.
In India too, where five states are going to the polls starting early 2022, PM Modi's holy Ganga dip follows the same template – to use Hinduism to democratically win the majority votes on the one hand and to subvert all democratic traditions simultaneously using the unaccountability of violent Hindutva mobs on the other. Rampant mob rule behaviourally violates all democratic traditions enshrined in our Constitution and threatens the peaceful onward development of the country.
A book that came out in 2019 is particularly relevant in this context, the only one of its kind that provides a comparative analysis of the majoritarian tendency underpinning the politics of Modi and Trump. ('Open Embrace: India-US Ties in the Age of Modi and Trump' by Varghese K George.)
(Leena Mariam Koshy is an independent writer based in Kozhikode, Kerala )