I woke up at 4:45a today to watch former President Trump leave the White House, make his final remarks, and depart for Florida to the strains of the Village People’s YMCA, which was strange but apropos. Good riddance, I whispered in my dark, still-sleeping house. I flipped the bird for good measure, and returned to bed for a few hours of sleep before my first meeting at 8a.
Is he gone, the h asked sleepily as I climbed in. I responded with something not printable, and we slapped five and drifted back to sleep, our dog snuggling between us.
We celebrate the presidential inauguration in a time of great sorrow. Yesterday, the number of deaths from COVID-19 reached 400,000. In DC there was a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial. The bell of the Cathedral tolled once for each one thousand deaths. Four hundred lights lined the reflecting pool in a memorial light display. A Michigan nurse sang a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace.
The entire day and night before today’s inauguration, you could almost feel the entire country holding its breath. Would there be violence? That it was planned and attempted has been verified: one man with false inauguration event credentials was detained with more than 500 rounds of ammunition (he claimed to be ‘just a country boy’ who ‘made an honest mistake’). Twelve National Guardsmen were removed from inauguration duty, having failed the FBI vetting process to root out extremists among them. A New York man was arrested for making threats; a Connecticut woman was arrested for trying to enter the Capitol grounds impersonating a police officer (and claiming to be a Cabinet member).
You could argue this is all little stuff, except with a backdrop of five dead – not to mention the Pennsylvania woman arrested trying to sell the laptop she swiped out of Nancy Pelosi’s office to the Russians – none of this is really little stuff.
According to an FBI affidavit seeking his arrest, one of those Capitol invaders filming himself in Nancy Pelosi’s office during the January 6th attempted insurrection was one William McCall Calhoun Jr., an attorney from Georgia. The FBI got Calhoun’s name from a tip off – lots of sons and daughters are calling the cops on their rioting parents, it turns out.
It’s been easy to focus on the shirtless, organic food-eating, horned hat wearing idiot with the face paint and dumb tattoos – there is something so quintessentially *American* about him. If everyone in the mob were like this guy, there’d be no problem. Entitled, benighted, aggrieved, pampered, partying, chill revolutionaries, unite! Here’s a cold kombucha. Sign in is by the chai station, hot stone therapy sessions start at 8p.
But the thing is, they aren’t all like him. This guy Calhoun, for example, posted a lot on Parler about joining what he himself called a mob searching through Speaker Pelosi’s offices:
“The first of us who got upstairs kicked in Nancy Pelosi’s office door and pushed down the hall towards her inner sanctum, the mob howling with rage.”
Even if most of the mob wasn’t interested in enacting violence like kidnapping, injury or hanging by the neck until dead any Democrats they found, it only takes one bad apple to embolden a few others and suddenly you’ve got a situation where things are going much farther than anyone expected. Ask Nancy Pelosi’s staff members how many rotten-to-the-core apples they heard rifling through the Speaker’s office as they crouched under a table in a darkened, locked conference room fearing for their lives, while less than twenty feet away from a man posting to Parler wrote
“Crazy Nancy probably would have been torn into little pieces but she was nowhere to be seen.”
America watched in real time as a violent coup took place in its Capitol building, interrupting the legislative body in its work as a mob containing lawyers and realtors and hairdressers screaming for blood streamed into the chambers and took laptops and selfies. It seems to me – and I’m not expert by any means – that any lawmaker associated with the insurrection, any off duty police or military associated with this action, should be given a chance to tell their side of the story, and then be permanently removed from active duty. I don’t know what punishment they should get, if any, and I don’t know if they should be given an opportunity to be pardoned by Trump, or Biden (what if they gave public apologies for promulgating lies and misinformation that led to the deaths of their fellow citizens? what if they met with the families of the dead and asked for forgiveness?)
There’s a whole history of treason and prosecution and applied law that much smarter people will bring to these questions. What I do know is they should not be holding positions of public trust – they’ve proven they can’t be trusted to uphold democracy. Trying to overthrow your own government is a strong signal that you don’t share the values enshrined in the American Constitution, and should not be trusted to not bear arms against the populace you are meant to serve.
A lot of Americans have been looking around since January 6th saying, what the hell just happened?! It is hard to use the word coup, looking at that yokel in his horned hat wandering around the Senate chamber howling like a frat boy at a tailgater when a fresh keg has been tapped. If this was a coup it had to be the dumbest coup of all time. But don’t be fooled by that dumbness, says Indi Samarajiva in a recent Medium article. We have in fact been coup’d. Indi knows coups, even dumb coups – he is from Sri Lanka, where there was a coup of similar dumbness to our recent dumb coup. The Sri Lankan coup was put down in the short term but in the long term, the coupsters were duly elected and came to legitimate power and now the coup is in charge. Indi lived through that and says he can see the signs of the US beginning the same cycle, if we don’t find a way to restore trust in elections.
Trust in our elections is a shared norm that makes the US a democracy as much as our Constitution does, maybe more. That trust, that our voices will be heard, acts like a glue that holds the US together under an umbrella of democracy. Now, says Samarajiva, that glue is coup-weakened. Garry Kasparov, chess grandmaster and vanguard member of the Russia pro-democracy movement is also sounding the warning.
“Perhaps …most ominous …is the 24% of Republican voters who don’t accept the results of the election, leaving the question of whether they will accept the results of any election ever again.”Garry Kasparov, author & political activist
If the norm becomes a coup whenever the election results are not liked there will be no accountability for those who are elected, or even for those who seize or subvert elections, and the great American experiment will be over, democracy will be over, we’ll be just another oligarchy morphing inevitably into a kakistocracy. We can do better; the question is, will we?
We are a country facing multiple crises, not least among them what are we doing to do about all the white supremacy that persists like a miasmatic illness. It’s hard to argue we live in a post-racist society, as so many conservative friends have insisted, when a mob succeeded in seizing the Capitol and FLYING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG. Which is why Kasparov in this moment, with the historic duo of Biden and Harris duly sworn in, advises Americans not to celebrate, but instead repudiate, rebuild, renew. Above all, remember, he says, so it doesn’t happen again.
I have a friend who tells his daughter the world is a cold hard place that will not help you and will kick you when you are down. I don’t agree with this world view (and certainly not sharing it with a child). He’s lived a middle class white guy’s life his whole life which is not to say that he has not experienced real difficulties, because he has – but they aren’t “working three jobs to make ends meet” level difficulties, or “have to be wary of being shot during a routine traffic stop” level difficulties, or even “indifferently schooled by a defunded public education system headed by the queen of the opioid empire” level difficulties. I live in a city in which there are more billionaires per capita than any other, and our method of dealing with homelessness is to send a dump truck over to their tent cities and just pitch all of their meagre belongings into the maw and grind it all up. And that was before the pandemic, which has created so many more homeless and jobless and even foodless. What divides us is much more than rhetoric; if we are to heal this divide, we must heal inequality. It is the only way forward, something Joe Biden seems to realize if we are to judge by the content of his remarks today. Time, of course, will tell.
Trump’s final speech was notable for noting that “All Americans were horrified by the assault on the capitol on January 6th”. One wonders how Josh Hawley, the Missouri Senator photographed fist pumping the rioters as he heads into the Capitol building to object to the electoral college certification that Joe Biden was duly elected president, heard that line. Quaking in his soon-to-be civilian boots, one hopes.
In his speech, Trump ridiculously urged us to “rise above partisan rancor,” as if the Capitol rotunda weren’t still ringing with the shouts of rioters he sent there for insurrection. He warned that America’s greatest threat is not the pandemic, not the fact that the Doomsday clock is 90 seconds to midnight, not the planet heating up beneath our feet, but “our loss of pride in ourselves”.
No nation, said Trump, can thrive if it loses faith in its history and heroes. Personally, I think faith is best practiced as a forward-looking endeavor but I am an atheist, what do I know. Pride is a trickier matter; the legendary Bruce Lee once opined that the core of pride is self-rejection. That is, we have more faith in what we imitate than in what we originate because in imitation, we are surrounded by the reassurance of the mob, while being original requires us to stand alone. As comforting as a never-changing past might feel, surely there is more thriving available to us if we seek not to enshrine our history but improve upon it, if we seek not to applaud the old heroes forevermore but make room on the dais for the continued originality of new heroes for a new age.
Trump finished his speech saying “I go from this majestic place with a supreme confidence that for our country and our children the best is yet to come” and for once, I can’t argue with what he’s saying, though later as I watch the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, I decide the 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman, resplendent in her yellow coat, said it better in her poem “The Hill We Climb”:
“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. and this effort very nearly succeeded. but while democracy can be periodically delayed, It can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.”
Thank you for supporting my writing!
Your small donations make my writing career possible.