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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/18/21

A Brief but Portentous Insurrection

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Part I -- Protest vs. Insurrection

There is a difference between attempts to change policy through public pressure and seeking to change the very nature of government through an insurrection.

The civil rights protests of the late 1950s and 1960s; the anti-war protests of the latter half of the 1960s and early 1970s; more civil rights protests (these have occurred repeatedly) in the latter half of the 1970s and the 1980s; the recent climate protests and those of the Black Lives Matter movement all sought to pressure changes in government behavior and policy. They could at times get disruptive -- by stopping traffic in Washington, D.C., or being met with unwarranted police brutality, but no one characterized them as attempts to overthrow the country's democratic system. In fact, George W. Bush, when faced with a huge February 2003 protest against the invasion of Iraq, dismissed the participants -- as a "focus group."

However, what happened in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, January 6, was qualitatively different. With President Trump playing the role of agent-provocateur, the events of that day sought the overthrow -- based on demonstrated falsehoods -- of a legitimate, thoroughly vetted national election. It sought the replacement of the election winner by the egomaniac who had lost. If successful, it would have undermined the integrity of the nation's electoral process, putting in jeopardy the nation's democratic form of government. Whatever one thinks of the policies and practices of American governments, challenging them in this fashion -- is not the product of protest or civil disobedience. It is insurrection.

Part II -- 74 Million Sympathizers?

A big hint that the U.S. had a problemone that could encourage insurrectioncame when some 74 million Americans chose to vote for a racist neofascist in the 2020 national election. While Trump nevertheless lost the election, a multitude of like-minded rightwing candidates won, as they say, "down ballot." These folks: gun fanatics, religious fundamentalists, conspiracy mongers and anarchists are now plaguing congress and tearing up the Republican Party. In the end, such "representatives of the people" are not so different in their mindset than the January insurrectionists.

The folks who sent them to Congress have a litany of complaints: economic, social, racial, religious, and so on. As voters, they have bought into over-simplified explanations for their discontent -- they do not like the federal government either because of what it has done (all those equal rights programs, etc.), or alternatively, what it has not done (given Trump four more years in office). And then there are the ever-multiplying conspiracy theories. These folks are true believers and constitute the infamous "Trump's base."

Most of those enamored of Trump are members of self-reinforcing communities. These communities are often relatively rural. Thus, many (though not all) of the January 6 insurrectionists come from roughly the same sort of environment: small towns in the South, West, or Upper Midwest, places with a homogenous racial make-up, places that are on the economic margins, regions where white people sense their place in the nation changing in discomforting ways.

And the majority of these places are "wired." Conservative social media outlets, rightwing talk shows, Fox TV, fundamentalist ministers, and the like have all latched onto, and very successfully promoted, a range of rationales for the popular discontent of Trump's insurrectionists. Under their tutelage these discontented Americans now confuse middle-of-the-road politics for communism; identify their indigenous culture first and foremost with gun ownership; and cultivate an unthinking, visceral hatred of liberals. Their numbers are significant and were enough to send thousands to Washington with the aim of overturning the results of a presidential election.

Here is another unsettling fact: the hard-core conservatives of these communities have always been with us. They are the same type that made lynching occasions for picnics and public holidays. They are the ones who later screamed at and used dogs against African Americans trying to desegregate society. If you get a chance, look for the photo or YouTube video of the guy walking through Congress with a Confederate flag over his shoulder. You might at first think he is in the wrong century. However, as one historian noted, under Trump, that flag penetrated deeper into the halls of Congress than it ever had during the Civil War.

Then there is the fellow sporting the hoodie that reads "God, Guns, Trump." Take away the "Trump" and the guy represents a frontier belief system as old as the nation itself. Unfortunately, these people can't see themselves as American history's losers, because your are not really a loser until the battle is over. For these folks the battle is never over. And so they cling to the symbols of their never-quite-lost causes as if they were symbols of their own personal worth.

Part III -- Fooled by Initial Success

Events at the Capitol on January 6 have been interpreted as a success by Trump's insurrectionists. They overwhelmed a suspiciously understaffed police contingent and violently broke into the Congress building. They ransacked part of the building, scared the heck out of legislators, and then most of them, at least temporarily, walked away. It is not difficult to see how this sent a misleading message to both the crowd and its rightwing cheerleaders.

Here is one version of that message: "we will return on January 19, 2021, carrying our weapons, in support of Our nation's resolve, which the world will never forget!!! We will come in numbers that no standing army or police agency can match."

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Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign
Policy Inc.: Privatizing America's National Interest
; America's
Palestine: Popular and Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli
; and Islamic Fundamentalism. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

His blog To The Point Analyses now has its own Facebook page. Along with the analyses, the Facebook page will also have reviews, pictures, and other analogous material.

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