Yesterday was the culmination of Donald Trump’s Presidency. It was entirely predictable and yet still shocking to see images of a deranged mob storming through the Capitol building in costume, with Jesus 2020 banners, and the Confederate Flag.
Lying in politics and mass cynicism have destroyed people’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Yesterday we clearly saw the effect of constant lying in politics in the wink-and-nod of Trump’s empty words. It would not have mattered what he said, his followers would have heard him to be using double-speak and taken anything as further affirmation of their idiocy.
This was not a coup. These people are not revolutionaries. They are not patriots. This was a group of individuals organized on the Internet who rampaged through the Capitol to take photographs of themselves in costume. They have no real politics, no real political principles; they are self-interested individuals who mirror the narcissism of Trump and the vanity of social media culture which rewards stupidity with likes. This is evidenced by what they did once they got inside the building. They were not there to “take over.” They broke into Nancy Pelosi’s office and posed for photographs with her paper mail. They were there to take selfies, to triumph in being able to say, “Look what I did!”
The police are complicit. It appears that the Capitol Police enabled what happened. They opened the gates and allowed the protestors to enter into the building. If they were told to stand down, they abandoned their posts and held hands with terrorists. If they chose to stand down, they willfully neglected their duties. Either way, they should be held legally accountable for abetting the insurrection which delayed the vote count.
Yesterday further revealed the deep hypocrisy of policing, racism, and violence in America. The United States government can send armored vehicles to Walmart during a Black Lives Matter protest to protect the sanctity of private property, but it is not willing to stop terrorists wearing “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirts from breaking the windows of the Capitol building.
The breakdown of class society, the loss of class mobility, the loss of faith in government, the distrust of experts, the ideology of racism preceded Trump’s presidency. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt talks about the alliance between the mob and the elite. Yesterday we saw Donald Trump speak at a rally and incite an insurrection, activating a mob he created. But, as Arendt pointed out, the mob doesn’t magically manifest overnight. The seeds of discontent were sewn long before Trump ever ran for President.
We are living in a time of mass cynicism. And the mass cynicism that we are faced with today is a reflection of the breakdown between the real world and the digital media world of conspiracy theories and lies. The collapse of American politics began when it became impossible to distinguish the news from entertainment television. People joke that yesterday was the season finale of “America,” but this is only funny to the extent that it reveals the truth. In a world where everything is treated like something to be watched, seen, and rated, nothing is real. And when the delusional and cynical lies shaped on social media channels appear in the public realm, authority collapses and chaos ensues. It is a dark, surrealistic comedy of political breakdown.
This isn’t a fight between Democrats and Republicans, it is a fight between people who live in reality and people who live in a fantastical version of reality which is bolstered by maniacal politicians who treat politics like a video game. The Republican Party, which has been gasping for the past four years, was split late last night between Republicans who always supported the Rule of Law, Republicans who were willing to acknowledge the events of the day and change their position, and Pro-Trump Republicans who supported the insurrection. It should be clear that the Republicans who jumped ship at the last second are intentionally trying to preserve their political careers, which means that Trumpism isn’t going away anytime soon. And, there is a very real possibility that the events of yesterday and the new Democratic majority will only further to strengthen these factions within the GOP. As much as yesterday was a call back to reality in which we live, it is also a call to radically reassess the political parties and the relationship between parties and voters.
From the rise of Qanon and intergalactic light workers who believe Trump was sent from an imaginary planet to heal the world, to Pizza Gate and the insurrection on the Hill, we are living in a deeply troubled time. Reality itself is up for grabs. Facts no longer matter. Truth has become an ideal. Common sense has been abandoned. Reason has become irrational. In a way it is darkly comedic, a reflection of the rampant individualism that has defined American politics for far too long. At the same time, it is profoundly sad, and illustrates how damaged the ideal of American democracy is and has been. None of this is new, and none of this is going away anytime soon.