Autopsy of a coup

The first hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021, assault on the national Capitol was a masterclass in the depth and breadth of the Republican trickery that went into Trump’s attempt to steal the presidency in 2020. What it was not was a revelation.

The basic outlines of the story of the coup attempt had been known to anyone paying attention:

·         The January 6 attack was no spontaneous event but part of a bigger plan to get Trump back in the White House regardless of the electoral results. It included a reconnaissance mission of the Capitol building enabled by at least one member of Congress

·         A world-class liar in the White House, conscious of his own mendacity.

·         A supine Republican Party unwilling to brave Trump’s wrath by contradicting the president’s lies no matter how outrageous or dangerous.

·         The collusion of all but a small minority of GOP members with the second stage of the coup, the attempt to turn into a battle royale what has always been historically a routine counting of Electoral College votes submitted by the states.

·         The roads and byways Republicans tried unsuccessfully to use to overturn the election—among other dozens of failed lawsuits and the engineering of bogus slates of electors in certain states intended to replace the legitimate slates.

As all these failed, ever wilder schemes emerged, including ordering the armed forces to take possession of voting machines and rerun the election in states in which Trump had lost by a close margin. This plan was discussed at length at the White House by Donald Trump and members of his bunker, hardliners willing to do whatever necessary to retain Trump in power.

In the end, none of it worked and Trump had to relinquish power, disgracefully kicking and screaming all the way and never conceding his loss. The whole thing reminds me of the title of one of Dali’s paintings The Persistence of Memory. Absence of grace is deeply ingrained in Trump’s psyche like a serve is built into the muscle memory of Serena Williams.

The hearing reinforced what everybody not deluded by Trump’s lying rhetoric or afflicted with white panic already knew about the former president. He is a cheating, scheming, cruel man. Nothing spoke louder about the extent of Trump’s cruelty and disloyalty than his comments to the effect that the crowd’s call to “Hang Mike Pence” might be a good idea.

Liz Cheney addressed her Republican colleagues who she said were “defending the indefensible” by saying: “One day Donald Trump will be gone, but your dishonor will remain.”*

Although Cheney, along with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and a handful of other Republican leaders, showed integrity in breaking with the norm of obeisance to the Leader, enough dishonor remains to go around for three or four Republican parties.

During the last four decades, the GOP has acquired the hallmarks of a fascist party. These include first an authoritarian, narcissistic leader adept at mesmerizing a portion of the people through lies and distortions that no member of the party may contradict without being punished or purged. Second, a pseudo-populist rhetoric that appeals to the basest sentiments of the crowd while systematically favoring economic elites. Third, an extreme nationalism that allies itself with other authoritarian states. Fourth, a race-based idea of national identity consistent with racism and xenophobia. Fifth, an embrace of the most toxic forms of masculinity which includes misogyny, homophobia, and violence.

The question that American democrats of all origins, beliefs, identities, and lifestyles need to confront now is fascism. Fascism has been growing silently like a cancer and, like many malignancies it often does not reveal itself until it is too late.

The scope of fascism has been growing and widening in just the last few years. Florida, with its DeSantis, its book bans and gag orders against teachers who would speak the truth about our history has fully joined the Deep South. Homophobic violence has always existed but, as the recent foiled attack against a Pride event in Idaho suggests, it is on the way to becoming a militia-style collective phenomenon, another part of the culture of the wider hate movement.

The most toxic element among all the disparate substances that make up the witches’ brew that defines the ultra-right is the panic over the possible loss of white power. Ironically, white Republicans, by stubbornly refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19, might be making the Great Replacement theory a self-fulling prophecy.

*(From the opening statement by Liz Cheney, vice-chair of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, addressing Republican colleagues)