Image: AP News
My Thoughts about the Media Response to the Events of Last Wednesday in Washington D.C.
Written January 9, 2021. Revised January 11 for minor wording issues
This past Wednesday, hundreds of Trump supporters convened in Washington D.C. to "take back" the country in support of Trump. This was a disgusting act, and a profound danger for everyone in the U.S. However, something has really annoyed me about how liberal-leaning U.S. media has approached these riots. I think it is really problematic that most of the coverage around the storming of the capitol focuses on the act itself rather than who was behind the act and why it was performed.
Let me explain myself:
The political establishment seems to feel that the act of rioting or seizing control of political spaces is a sort of "desecration of democracy." While many liberals (read: not left) have been alarmed and upset by the rise of white supremacy, this is not specifically what the majority of them have criticized. Much of the liberal media coverage of these events has placed the emphasis on denouncing the desecration of political spaces. For them, it is first and foremost the act that has crossed the line. While the GOP is solely upset with the lack of decorum, liberals seem also to emphasize this in their outrage. This act of desecration is portrayed as one of Trump's most obscene offenses even after almost four years of his far-right ideology growing and gaining influence.
This is alarming for two reasons:
1) Liberals are more upset with the far right because of their desecration of democratic spaces than they are outraged by the far right's ideology and motivation.
Discontent with the act seems to suggest that, in many but not all cases, liberals are more upset by the far right's procedure rather than their ideas. They are upset because Trump supporters (many of whom openly and publicly use white supremacist, antisemitic, confederate and Nazi imagery) committed these "treasonous" acts, rather than because of the far right's participation in politics first and foremost.
It feels that many are fine with white supremacists in the capitol (or the White House) as long as they got there somewhat "democratically" rather than by breaking in. It's a politics of "correct procedures" and "civil discourse." For them, "If the far right was just a bit more polite, they wouldn't be a problem." It is therefore in this vein of thought that their opposition to Trump is articulated as an opposition to him first and foremost because he violates democracy, rather than because he enables white supremacy (which they see as "undemocratic" or refuse to believe could come to the U.S. through "democracy"). Sure, they might see this as bad, but acceptable within the frameworks of "free speech" and “liberal democracy."
Again, just like during the Black Lives Matter protests over this last summer, property is more important than equal and expanded rights. Disrespect of federal property is what upsets U.S. liberals, rather than the ideas these acts represent. This is as true, on a fundamental level, for the GOP as it is for Democratic Party.
This "Democratic system" becomes a holy entity, and anything beyond it is "unruly" or "irresponsible." An attack on a democratic space is sacrilege. The BLM protests are (quietly) seen as undemocratic by some liberals exactly for this reason: they fail to respect these sacred democratic values and eschew the correct and agreed upon procedures for effecting change.
This brings me directly to my second point:
2) U.S. Democracy should not be seen as sacred.
Democracy, as we refer to it in this country, is not even necessarily progressive or liberating. Many senators, congresspeople, and political figures at all levels of government have been and are elected despite holding or gaining support from white supremacists as well as companies and people who have been horrible for workers, LGBT individuals, and women. They were elected democratically (without fraud) in their districts, their states, and elsewhere. Democracy and free speech are not always, then, the sacred, liberating force liberals expect them to be. In an unfortunately tactless invocation of Godwin's law, I remind you that Hitler was voted into office by a liberal democracy.
And the United States is not a very good liberal democracy at that. Like many other "developed" states, people have always been excluded, as much extra-judicially as judicially, from participating in political and economic systems.
The U.S., however, is a particularly striking example of how undemocratic a so-called "democracy" can be. Today, migrants who contribute socially and economically to the country are judicially excluded from representation, and other voters in certain areas are underrepresented because of districting and allocation of representatives. Furthermore, different forms of voter suppression continue both legally and illegally across the country. We should think twice before celebrating the capitol as a symbol of progress or even a symbol of democracy itself.
The invasion of the capitol on Wednesday cannot, therefore, be considered wrong because it was "violent," "anti-democratic," and "un-American." We live under political and economic systems which themselves are fundamentally undemocratic.
The act of rioting, the performance of political violence, in itself are neutral, amoral forces. Many movements in the U.S. and across the world have employed these forms of protest to demand for better rights, for political and economic freedom, and for justice. This does not, however, justify the acts of this week's assault.
Instead, the act of storming the capitol must be condemned and fought against for the simple fact that those behind it are ... well ... Nazis and fascists (and this is not hyperbole, many have openly adopted these labels). We should be focusing our anger on this, rather than the fact that they didn't do democracy right. So far it has felt like the outrage comes more as a reaction to lack of decorum, than from any sort of meaningful concern for what effect these ideologies are having on people.
As a side note, it is some mix of amusing and gross that this event has provided a convenient point for platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but also businesses, most laughably, Coca Cola and Chevron, to voice their dismay with the Trump administration, less than two weeks before his final day in office. Along with high profile Trump supporters like Betsy DeVos, they invoke the image of rats jumping from a burning ship.
We cannot expect that by simply greasing the wheels of a broken electoral system or by making sure the far right abides by "respectful" standards of conduct, we will address poverty, white supremacy, and patriarchy. Trump has an approval rating hovering at around 38 percent, which remains a huge part of the population. Rather than focusing on how "respectfully" this group engages politically, anyone claiming to want to reject white supremacy, racism, antisemitism, etc. should be focused on countering these ideas in the first place, rather than allowing it into the democratic process at all. More broadly speaking, we might need to fully reevaluate whether "democracy" as we know it is working. I frankly don't think it is.
Real democracy looks like participation beyond just the political sphere. It means inclusion, justice, and power over our lives, and solidarity with our neighbors. It does not just mean electing people to office, but rather making decisions about how we live, how we work, and what we need. We've got a long way to go before the capitol, the white house, and Washington D.C. as a whole, genuinely represent real democracy. Until then, I couldn’t care less if White Supremacists smeared excrement across the capitol hallways. That is not what was actually harmful here.