January 6, 2021 will be a day not easily forgotten in the United States. The storming of the Capitol by scores of supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, egged on by his appearance at a rally hours earlier in which he ranted that “we will never concede”, will be remembered by all - but likely in very different ways.
For Trump’s diehard supporters, four of whom appear to have been killed, they will remember their “martyrs” who perished in a feeble attempt to let their objections to the confirmation of November’s election result be known. They will likely remember the actions of the mob as necessary and heroic, since they have swallowed baseless claims of voter fraud peddled by their man in the White House.
For the incoming Joe Biden administration and the Democratic Party machine, they will look at this as a dark day they would like to cast as somehow being at odds with the goodness of what the United States is supposedly all about.
Biden confirmed as much when he spoke to the country during the incident, attempting to cast the actions of the Trump mob as an aberration to patriotism, democracy and “bordering on sedition.” Predictably, Biden turned to American exceptionalism to proclaim that the actions of the rioters contrasted with a country “so long the beacon of light and hope for democracy.”
As a socialist, my view doesn’t correspond to either of these positions.
Certainly, I am appalled by the fascist fiasco that descended on Congress, just as I have been with the array of white supremacists and far-right forces that have been given wind in their sails by having a friend in the country’s highest office for the past four years.
I also believe that basic democratic rights, including the right to vote that Trump attempted to impede by championing racist voter suppression, are as important to fight for now as when radical and socialist voices fought to win them in the past.
Still, I am not naïve enough to believe that America’s limited, bourgeois democracy translates to a genuine expression of what a democratic society should – or could - really look like, or that Congress fulfills that role.
I think we can also count on the testimony of the dozens of democratically-elected governments around the globe in the past century or so that were overthrown by the U.S. as evidence enough to laugh off Biden’s “beacon of light” comments.
In terms of the gravity of what took place at Congress, it’s important to have a bit of context in how law enforcement has historically responded to protests in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere across the country.
I have attended and participated in countless anti-racism and anti-war protests in D.C. over the past decade or so, whether at the White House, Congress or elsewhere. Usually there is a certain intimidation factor from law enforcement that they attempt to establish early on, which essentially lets you know if you "cross any lines" you'll be dealt with using brutal force. Many times, that line is a literal one that sits far from the halls of power - and, more times than not, I've seen that threat backed up by violence, and almost always at least arrest.
It seems completely inconceivable that if socialists were to attempt to storm the Congress that we would not see the full force of the heavily armed state come raining down on us. Yet a fascist mob was essentially invited in, allowed to roam freely, and then able to leave without as much as handcuffs on. There was clearly some level of cooperation between at least elements of law enforcement and these white supremacist goons, a fact that should hardly be seen as surprising given the ingrained racism of the state.
This speaks to something that any recourse to empty words like what we saw from Biden about what does and doesn't constitute "patriotism" or "Americanness" frankly can't answer. It requires - as always - going to the root in looking at what this system is and isn't, what it allows and suppresses, and where the lines are drawn.
Biden can position himself as the voice of reason and an opponent of hate speech – something rather easy to do in contrast to Trump.
Yet it’s important that we see Biden’s comments on the Capitol Hill incident in a broader light. He demanded law and order within Congress, but he has also demanded it across the country during a period of tumultuous struggle waged on behalf of one of the most oppressed sectors of the population.
Biden has denounced Black Lives Matter protests for property damage and running the line that “violence is never acceptable”. It is, of course, the deep irony that it has undoubtedly been this ‘violent’ uprising of black youth since the summer that has finally made figures like Biden himself take racist police terror seriously – at least for the sake of garnering votes. Hearing him use expressions like ‘systemic racism’ is odd given his track record in building the mass incarceration state. It does show, however, that mass, united struggle is key to winning concessions.
In under two weeks, Joe Biden will be president. He and the Democratic Party establishment will be intent on returning to ‘factory settings’ – that is, the smooth functioning of bourgeois democracy. It is, after all, the preferred method of governance for the ruling class. The fact that most Republicans have gotten on board with the new boss in town shows they understand and accept this.
Yes, Trump has been a particularly dangerous president for his willingness to incite hatred and racism, and we will have to fight Trumpism in all its iterations. It is highly unlikely that as a movement it fought its final battle on Capitol Hill.
At the same time, it is also necessary to have the understanding that it is the orderly functioning of bourgeois democracy that got us to this point. This system hasn’t worked for millions of people for a long time, whether the disgruntled white farmer in rural America or the young black men victimised by racist mass incarceration policies -- but it has worked for the two parties that do capitalism’s political bidding.
Biden has so far bent over backwards to prove that he is completely disinterested in championing a progressive agenda. His agenda can’t even be considered a liberal one in any meaningful sense. Now that the Democratic Party will have control of both houses of Congress, what excuses will his administration provide to the people to not push for meaningful, progressive reforms that are deeply popular, whether Medicare for All or a Green New Deal?
Indeed, the day may have to come when the people united by class consciousness and an understanding that Congress functions as a vital instrument of capitalist domination over their lives, storms Capitol Hill. That would be one act of sedition that I could fully get behind, as it would usher in a system much more in line with the creed of what the United States claims to be about. It seems clear that under those circumstances, Biden and Trump would almost certainly both be united on the same team.