In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte Marx wrote:
Hegel remarks somewhere[*] that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.
In this instance, it is not clear exactly who or what the pathetic combination of Odin impersonators and Confederate Flag waivers who stormed Capitol Hill this week appear as. Some have compared this to the British sacking of the Capitol during the War of 1812, but the regiments of Redcoats and bonfires were conspicuously absent. Still other comparisons could be suggested such as Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch or Mussolini’s March on Rome. But the whole matter has more the air of a Beer Hall brawl or of a farce, rather than an organized march or putsch. If the German putschists of the 1920’s expected military backing, Trump’s supporters knew (or they are even more delusional than they appear) from the outset that this would not materialize. Perhaps there was an expectation that Vice President Mike Pence would play the role of King Victor Emanuel and hand the Government to Trump. But the Vice President had already stated that he would not depart from his Constitutional and purely ceremonial role. A more apt comparison might be to the ragged mob that descended on Washington to celebrate the inauguration of the know nothing, nativist Andrew Jackson in 1829, though the ragged mob of 1829. This time the ragged mob arrived to protest what they believed to be an election stolen from Jackson’s political heir. That their actions crossed the line from protest to riot and that there is evidence to charge multiple participants with crimes ranging from vandalism, unlawful entry and murder is clear: whether this was an insurrection or a coup is not. The fears that this affair was just a dress rehearsal for the next time when competence, organization, planning and military support might actually lead to the installation of an American Peron, are regardless, justified.
Yet as of now, given the present state of the evidence, the calls to treat the matter as Seditious Conspiracy are premature and there are good reasons why people on the Left should resist this view. The statute itself, it should be noted is vague and like all such vaguely worded statutes pose the risk of elevating misdemeanors to major felonies. A “conspiracy” to blockade a military base through civil disobedience might be considered “seditious conspiracy”. Similarly, caution is called for in accusing the President of inciting violence. The President’s rhetoric, though inflammatory, when actually parsed did not actually reach the point of incitement to immanent lawless activity. In the famous case of the Chicago Seven this same theory was applied, and ultimately, rejected. At the same time, to say that Trump has a defense, is not the same as saying that the House will have no case for impeachment. The articles will have to be drafted with care. The President would do well to ditch Giuliani and rely on Alan Dershowitz.
Whether the President himself is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors remains to be established, but if he is not, his conduct has nevertheless been reckless, dangerous and betrayed an underlying contempt for democratic process. He has spent the last two months spewing increasingly bizarre and baseless allegations of election fraud in spite of losing approximately 60 court cases. Initially, the President appeared to understand that he was engaging in performative politics. Then somewhere, he appeared to come to believe his own performance. What began as a peaceful protest and political rally however turned into something much worse. The mob, already angry, armed with the belief that the election had been stolen from them and in at least a few cases actual arms, was urged to march to the White House and demand that Trump be declared Il Duce. And march they did. What happened next is not clear.
Those who claim that the Capitol Police, at least initially, treated this disparate mob with the kind of kid gloves that had been absent from the protests against racial injustice by the police are in my view, absolutely correct. That noted, at least one protestor was shot by the Capitol Police and they were also outnumbered and quickly overwhelmed by the mob. The crowd surged forward and pushed past the police into the building, destroying property, occupying offices, and chanting for the Vice President to appear. A total of three protestors died, two apparently by accident at their own hands or trampled underfoot by other protestors. Two Capitol Police Officers were murdered, one beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. This was not a Bill Buckley Conservative crowd (which is not to idealize or lionize Bill Buckley). The crowd that rushed the Capitol was composed of Q anon conspiracy theorists, Proud Boys, people pining for the Confederacy and apparently, a few actual, outright Nazis.
If there is a “class base” for this motley collection it is not clear. To blame this on worker immiseration is in my veiw, reductive. That they are angry at “elites” is clear, yet there seems to be no actual coherent understanding of who or what an “elite” actually is. This is not to say that there are not economic factors at work such as the loss of a stable base of well paying blue collar jobs that contribute to a general sense of anomie. But the mob is motivated apparently by a generalized anger at some amorphous, cultural other. The belief system which underlies this action is not a rational, thought out political ideology-its just plain unhinged. There is a nativist and totalitarian aspect to the movement. They may rail against a stolen election or perceived censorship of large tech companies, but they are not civil libertarians or free speech absolutists. While railing against the deep state, they actually have demanded more political repression and an end to actual democracy. If at this point they are not representative of Fascism in the classical sense, they at least form the social base for the emergence of a Fascist movement.
But the question remains: what did the mob think would happen? There is plenty of speculation, none of which actually makes sense. Did some of those present intend to take hostages? The taking of hostages would have radically escalated the situation and demanded a fully armed response. Would taking hostages have altered the outcome? It is dubious that this course would have had any impact other than decreasing sympathy for their cause. At some point the mob chanted for Pence who had now been transformed from Trump ally into arch villain, or possibly been replaced with a body double after having been arrested by the military. If you doubt these bizarre beliefs circulated, just Google “Pence as body double for Satan”. There is no rational scenario in which the kidnapping of the Vice President or members of Congress would lead to any path other than complete disaster for any kidnappers. If they were in fact erstwhile terrorists or coup plotters, they entirely lacked organization and planning. And therein lies part of the problem: this not a rational movement. It is the Dionysian resurgence of the Fascist simultaneous rejection of modernity, while simultaneously wishing to supercede modernity. The mob is not, for the most part, composed of careful students of Fascist ideology. They are the embodiment, as is Trump, of the irrationalist and counter-enlightenment base of Fascism.
How should those committed to Democracy respond? Some have argued that we should evoke “Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance” and simply refuse to tolerate the rabble. There are several problems with this. Firstly, Popper was in actuality no friend to Democracy and no friend to the left. His views on the “Open Society” (from which the alleged liberal and master of one way currency bets, George Soros takes his inspiration) are an extension of his “falsificationist” approach to science and his embrace of Austrian economics founded on an epistemology of skepticism to the very project of social science as science. His “paradox of tolerance” was always aimed as much at the left, as at the right. The application of Popper’s paradox of tolerance would also embrace prohibitions on non-democratic left tendencies of assorted erstwhile revolutionary Leninists. This does not however eliminate the very real danger presented by the normalization of the kind of far right discourse in the Republican Party and Conservative movement that was largely rejected in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
More to the point, we should steadfastly resist the urge to combat authoritarianism with authoritarian measures and tactics. There is a long history in which the creation of new acts, laws and enhancement of the security state are turned against legitimate dissent or movements for greater democracy and equality. Giving large tech companies, or even demanding that large tech companies exert the power to decide what is “information” or “disinformation” will not lead to better discourse. It will lead to large tech companies acting in their own interest. In a purely legal sense, it is true that large tech companies, like any other companies, have no legal obligation to allow or foster political pluralism and open discussion. That is the state of current law. That does not mean it is a viewpoint that should be embraced. Their power will be used against those on the left, or anyone else who dissents from the current centrist and liberal romance of the FBI and CIA, even as MSNBC commentators push their own brand of unhinged ranting about Russian conspiracies which also undermine and polarize discourse in America. The disinformation that leads us to destructive, costly and immoral foreign wars will continue. It may, temporarily and partially remove some of the more odious and absurd rightist rantings from social media but it will not put an end to them and it will further fuel and validate their views. My argument I stress, is not directed against the enforcement of reasonable “community standards” that are applied even handedly, but against the practice of increasingly widening the net about which political viewpoints, or which news stories, are and are not allowed to be discussed on social media. Nor is it auspicious when an incoming President, long known for his penchant for federalizing crime, suspicion of civil liberties and advocacy of enhancing the security state mulls the idea of more spending, resources and new laws to fight “domestic terrorism.”