The Congress Has No Clothes: The Capitol Occupation & Post-Trumpian PopulismJohn Morgan
Audio version here
As an American observing Wednesday’s “mostly peaceful” protest at the Capitol from abroad, I admit I was taken by surprise. Foreign acquaintances had been asking me for months if anything dramatic would happen in relation to the election. While I was sure that a Trump victory would have led to BLM and Antifa violence on a scale we had never seen before, I assured everyone that in the event of a Biden win, discontent would be limited to the “proper political channels” and social media — not that I was happy about that, but that was my impression. But some friends back home had told me not to underestimate the anger that was brewing on the populist Right, and I realized I should have listened to them as I watched the incredible images on my screen.
It’s still too early for anyone to say what this event will mean in the long run. Perhaps it will lead to a crackdown on the Right that will equal or dwarf what happened in the wake of Charlottesville. Perhaps it will lead to the birth of a genuine national populist movement in the US. Perhaps it’s just a flash in the pan that will ultimately mean nothing. I’m quite certain it wasn’t the death knell of the American Empire. But I’m sure I speak for many people reading this when I say that it gave me a lot of pleasure to see it happening. If nothing else, for one brief, shining moment, the white working class took center stage in American politics and brought the grinding engines of the Washington machine to a halt.
Part of the difficulty in evaluating what happened is that it’s unclear who exactly was behind it. From all appearances, however, it wasn’t planned in advance. Unlike what his many detractors are saying, it’s not at all apparent that President Trump encouraged the crowd to occupy the Capitol; there is most definitely no hint of a call to violence in the speech that he gave beforehand. Also, the speed with which he condemned the occupation and agreed to concede the election the following day would seem to belie the theory that the event was part of an overall plan for a pro-Trump coup.
Rather, it seems to have been a spur-of-the-moment decision by the crowd to escalate a mere protest to an occupation, inspired by their anger at a system that consistently ignores and rebukes them. Thus, there isn’t any particular group or organization with discernible goals that we can identify as being at the center of it; presumably, there were just as many reasons for people to go into the Capitol that day as there were people who were there. We can safely assume that the people who participated were a ragtag group of Trumpists, populists, Right-wingers, QAnon believers, and other political non-conformists who oppose the prospect of a Biden presidency. They certainly didn’t seem to have any specific objective in mind, either, or if they did it wasn’t apparent from the outside.
I think for most of us who were watching, we simply had an overwhelming feeling of Schadenfreude — seeing the political elite that’s been selling us down the river and making our lives hell for decades for once the ones cowering in fear. This was most especially true of the Democrats, who got a taste of their own medicine after endlessly excusing and justifying BLM and Antifa violence over the past four years. Only a few weeks before, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had tweeted an ill-timed message justifying protests, writing, “The thing that critics of activists don’t get is that they tried playing the ‘polite language’ policy game and all it did was make them easier to ignore . . . The whole point of protesting is to make people uncomfortable. Activists take that discomfort with the status quo and advocate for concrete policy changes. Popular support often starts small and grows. To folks who complain protest demands make others uncomfortable . . . that’s the point.” On this, we can agree with her.
The whole point of protesting is to make ppl uncomfortable.
Activists take that discomfort w/ the status quo & advocate for concrete policy changes. Popular support often starts small & grows.
To folks who complain protest demands make others uncomfortable… that’s the point.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 2, 2020
But for me, I was no less happy to see the Republicans on the run. After all, it is they who have been stoking the anger and resentment of populist Americans, secure in their belief that they had conjured a monster they completely controlled and that they could endlessly exploit for their own purposes no matter what they did. Well, that monster turned around and bit them on their fleeing asses on Wednesday. The “people,” whom they love to claim they represent, went from being an ideological abstraction to an angry mob after they felt cheated and decided to take matters into their own hands. It’s important to remember that, according to reports, what first inspired the protesters to descend on the Capitol was when word reached them that Pence had refused to challenge the certification of the Electoral College result. They weren’t just angry at the Democrats; they were angry at the whole lot of them.
Just as among conservatives, there are those on the Dissident Right who see this event as a tragedy, primarily because they believe that this protest has discredited the populist movement. To such people, I can only respond: What were you getting out of being well-behaved? It was already clear before the Capitol occupation that no real attempt was being made to win justice regarding the election results. Those Republicans who have backed Trump in his efforts to challenge Biden’s alleged victory have, for the most part, only done so because they want to be able to tell their Trump-loving supporters that they did their best, but that, in the end, the Democrats cheated them. I’m quite sure that they’ve known for weeks that they had already done all they could do through legal procedures; what they’ve been doing in the meantime was merely theater for their constituents. None of them really wanted to challenge the establishment; they are the establishment. So, from our point of view, what is there to be gained by backing a lost cause? A lost cause that, moreover, didn’t offer much to us to begin with, given that every Dissident Rightist has been deeply disappointed in the Trump administration? Sure, a Trump win was preferable to a Biden win from our perspective, but it’s hardly worth quietly and passively going down with the ship for him.
Of course, even before the Capitol had been cleared, I started seeing the conspiracy theorists coming out of the woodwork to claim that this was yet another “false flag” event, just like every other historical event to have occurred over the past 70 years. The main support for this claim that I’ve seen is that it has been asserted that known Antifa members have been identified in the crowd that occupied the Capitol. Even if this is true, I don’t see what difference this makes. People in Antifa are known to be attracted to violence and chaos, so it’s hardly surprising that a few of them may have shown up to take part.
But as the mainstream media has already made clear, several of the people who occupied the Capitol were known figures on the populist Right. Ashli Babbit, the woman who was tragically killed by Capitol police, was a 14-year veteran of the US Air Force who had been posting pro-Trump videos to social media for years — not exactly your average Antifa thug. Therefore, to accept this theory one would have to believe that either all of the thousands of people who occupied the Capitol were undercover Antifa agents, which clearly isn’t the case; or that the ordinary citizens who were there were all duped by a small number of Antifa infiltrators into doing things that they wouldn’t otherwise have done. Besides being implausible, that doesn’t speak very highly of the intelligence of those who participated.
Moreover, if we are to believe that the entire event was orchestrated by Antifa organizations, it would mean that Antifa had decided to undermine the christening of Joe Biden as the next President — a goal which their paymasters such as George Soros and others have been working hard to achieve for the past year.
Others claim that the Deep State was behind it all. This again presents the improbable pictures of the crowd either consisting entirely of Deep State agents, or of a handful of agents tricking thousands of ordinary people into doing something that they wouldn’t otherwise. Even putting this aside, however, it requires one to believe that the Deep State was willing to present the embarrassing spectacle of the seat of American government being taken down by a ragtag army of unarmed citizens to the entire world.
As a side note, I’ve been wondering how the Capitol — which I’m sure most Americans, including myself, imagined to be an impregnable fortress — fell so easily to an unarmed crowd. Is affirmative action taking its toll? This certainly hasn’t done any favors for the American government’s standing in the eyes of other nations and America’s adversaries in particular. Thus it seems improbable to me that the Deep State was willing to sacrifice the sense of American invulnerability it projects across the globe simply in order to discredit the populist movement when there are many other, less self-harming methods it could use instead.
Yet others on the Dissident Right seem to hold the Capitol occupiers in disdain because of their appearance, or because they don’t want to make common cause with MAGA rubes from Middle America. Admittedly, some of them were dressed as if for Halloween — but this also isn’t unprecedented in American history. Many of the colonists who participated in the Boston Tea Party dressed in Mohawk warrior garb in order to hide their identities and assert their identification with America over Britain.
There’s no accounting for others’ tastes, but regardless, these are the people who will form the backbone of any national populist movement; if you hold them in disdain, then you are putting yourself outside the realm of being able to do practical politics. Even more to the point, these were the people who were actually on the streets doing something as opposed to sitting at home and watching it on TV and social media. They may not tick all the ideological boxes that we would like, but in the final analysis, these are the people who will determine America’s fate, one way or the other.
For me, the Capitol occupation was a spontaneous and dramatic expression of the white working class’ frustration with the Washington establishment and an indication that they won’t tolerate a return to business as usual. The Democrats — and more than a few Republicans — blocked and worked against Trump’s agenda from the day he took office. Stealing the election was merely the final prong in their assault on him and on the wishes of ordinary Americans. If Washington doesn’t begin to take populist demands seriously, violence is inevitable.
Additionally, the occupation was a show of strength; it showed what a crowd of angry white Right-wingers — usually regarded as well-behaved and docile, which has always been one of the failings of our people — can do when they decide to take action. The Swamp had better take notice of this, not only in order to win elections but to defuse the pressure cooker in Middle America that led to Wednesday’s explosion of violence in the first place. This means they have to stop attributing the fact that working-class whites aren’t on board with their agenda to the influence of scapegoats like Trump or conspiracy theories and instead finally recognize that our nation’s yeomanry have legitimate grievances that won’t go away just because Trump does.
For its part, the American Left, which now has Biden as its figurehead, really has no moral authority whatsoever to condemn the Capitol occupation given that they’ve been bending over backward to excuse the violence of BLM and Antifa for years now. Remember “punch a Nazi”?
Not that these are in any way comparable to what happened in the Capitol; BLM and Antifa violence has resulted in dozens of deaths, rapes, other violence, and untold billions in property damage across the United States. The Capitol protesters, by contrast, were mostly peaceful and caused very little serious damage (if there had been extensive damage it seems unlikely the House would have been able to reconvene so quickly). Most importantly, they were not attacking innocent bystanders’ private property. There also doesn’t seem to have been much looting apart from a few items taken as pranks; compare this to the scenes we witnessed from Minneapolis last spring, when we saw black rioters stripping entire shopping centers down to their frames.
The Left, of course, will never accept this logic; for them, the occupation was the next Charlottesville, if not the next 9/11 — but we have to never cease from reminding them of their hypocrisy. In looking at the photos of politicians scurrying for cover as the protesters began to break into the House chamber, I was reminded of the mockery that Trump took from Democratic politicians back in May when word got out that he had been briefly sent to the emergency bunker beneath the White House after it had been besieged by BLM rioters. There’s also a delicious irony in the fact that some of the politicians who have been calling for police departments to be defunded were hiding behind these very same police when their constituents came calling.
How it started: How it’s going: pic.twitter.com/DnCZLIq1Is
— Gaddius (@GaddiusMaximus) January 7, 2021
The tragic part of the day was Ashli Babbit’s death at the hands of a Capitol police officer. Several videos of the shooting have been released, and it’s not clear from any of them what Ms. Babbit did that warranted her death. Certainly, the officer who fired the shot must be called to account. I imagine that the Left and the false Right will attempt to turn her into the new Heather Heyer, placing the blame on Trump and the populist Right rather than on their own security personnel, where it belongs. While we must mourn her death, national populists should cast her as a martyr for the cause — something which, given her dedication to Trump, would surely be worthy of her. Three others died during the occupation, although we have been told that these were the result of “medical emergencies” — it’s not apparent from the reports so far that their deaths had any direct connection to what happened at the Capitol, however.
One thing is certain: While real-world demonstrations are important, America will not undergo real change through building occupations alone. If we’re lucky, a real populist movement — independent of the Republican party — might catch fire and spread as a result of the spark provided by the Capitol protest. Only time will tell.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of it is the fact that American populism is now forever divorced from Trump. Realizing that not only his political but also his personal future might be in jeopardy, Trump was quick to concede the election and promise a peaceful transition of power — showing that when things get tough, it’s his own hide that he’s thinking of. We can thank Trump for what he did to get the ball of American populism rolling over the past few years, but what the Capitol occupation shows above all is that the populist current has grown beyond the ability of Trumpism to contain and channel it.
We need a new movement and better leaders who are more responsive to what ordinary American people really want, more articulate at making the case for populism, and better at making it happen. Trump may continue to play a role as a symbol, but the time has come to say goodbye to him as the leader of the movement and to embrace “Trumpism without Trump.”
Ignore the naysayers. America wasn’t founded by well-behaved protesters who complained through the proper channels and were careful to never do anything illegal. Events like what happened at the Capitol are part of our heritage. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” as Thomas Jefferson told us. “It is its natural manure.” The first blood has now been spilled.
More blood is unavoidable unless true populists are allowed into the Capitol via the political process rather than battering rams.
On Wednesday, the world heard the voice of American populism. It wasn’t Trump’s voice; it was that of the American people. And perhaps, just perhaps, the people are beginning to rule. This isn’t about Trump anymore — it didn’t start with Trump and it certainly won’t end with him. As for myself, all I can say is that, for the first time in a while, on that day I actually felt proud to be an American.
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