Fault lines beneath US politics explain the fragility of democracy and the invasion of the Capitol building. Like a thug armed with high explosives, President Trump exploited each weakness and lit the fuse to guarantee an explosion.
Centuries of racism and consequent social and economic inequalities nurtured the injustices addressed by the Black Lives Matter movement. That racism was compounded by Trump’s support of white nationalist hate groups and by official indifference to threats posed by the Trump base of well armed far right organizations.
Police response to the invasion of the Capitol showed one rule for Afro-Americans and another for white anarchists. The mob which stormed the Capitol met little resistance from police and were able to leave without being arrested. By contrast, campaigners against racism have met massive displays of armed forces confronting mostly non-white protesters. If black Americans had invaded the Capitol, there would probably have been a blood bath.
President Trump is a violent bully who thrives in a political culture which enhances violence as the way to solve problems. In geological fault terms, violent plates rub constantly against the fabric of US society. Part of a second fault line is visible in citizens‘ possession of guns, in police forces armed with military equipment, in foreign policies built around the maintenance of a massive military and involvement in needless wars. Taken for granted violence is apparent in Trump’s hurry to execute Federal prisoners before Joe Biden takes office.
US mainstream and social media have promoted conspiracy theories to influence the thoughts and actions of millions. Trump’s Twitter lying has promoted his version of reality and depicted opponents as leftist enemies to be beaten by any means, even by denying the outcome of a Presidential election.
Media feeding citizen paranoia is a fault line clearly exposed since Trump’s press secretary said there were ‘alternative facts’. In common with social media’s fantasy world, branches of radio and television have enhanced division and colluded with Trump’s falsehoods. Murdoch controlled FoxNews has derided science, viewed public service with suspicion and encouraged the influence of religious fundamentalism. Misogynist, racist Trump is no Christian but Evangelicals are part of his base, so waving a bible is a way to gain converts.
Commentary on the pathology of US politics should not allow holier than thou asumptions about the Australian policial scene. Prime Minister Morrison does not condemn Trump, is unwilling to be held accountable for rorts which look like fraud; and he protects his own conspiracy theorists. George Christensen claims the Biden victory was stolen. On his Facebook account, Craig Kelly argues that neoFascists and Marxists infiltrated Trump supporters and these leftist loyalists influenced the invasion of the Capitol.
Who cares about facts and truths when you can swallow stories from conspiracy theorists ? In their repertoire, the epithet ‘left’ is used to lie and confuse, to stereotype opposition, to promote ignorance and historical absurdities?
Craig Kelly, George Christensen, Scott Morrison are in step with most US Republicans. But let’s return to the geomorphic survey of US politics.
A long lasting fault line is buried so deep in the American psyche that it is difficult to contemplate, let alone cast it aside. Assumptions about American exceptionalism – world’s greatest democracy, the home of liberty, the best example of capitalism’s success – contributed to the Trump slogan ‘Make America Great Again’.
Myths about exceptionalism have been cultivated by successive Democratic and Republican administrations and have concealed the need to deal with racism, with police violence, with the gun culture , let alone with the denial of health care to upwards of 40 million Americans.
Exceptionalism includes the notion that anyone can be President, a claim exposed as ironical and dangerous with the election of Trump whose four years of lying were assisted by the failure of Republican law makers to speak truth to power. Their collusion and cowardice became fuel for the thuggery in Washington, a poltical eruption which had been threatening for so long.
Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus Univ. of Sydney and author (2020) of Cruelty or Humanity. Bristol: Policy Press