I know I’m late with this one (not that I work to any strict timetable) but I needed to be in the mood and have a little more time for reflection than usual before I put pen to paper (or index fingers to keyboard) this week. Does one write a blog post and ignore events less than a week after they occurred, in this case after the President of the United States appeared on television screens in America and around the world appearing to give the green light to tens of thousands of his supporters, who had descended on Washington to back his groundless claim that November’s presidential election had been “stolen” from him, to march on the Capitol and demonstrate against this “theft” of what was “rightfully” his? Giving him the benefit of a teeny-weeny modicum of doubt, perhaps he was unaware that mingled with those who truly believed his claims were assorted thugs and anarchistic groups with agendas and, seemingly, operational plans of their own, who found that the President’s egging on of his own supporters presented them with an opportunity to wreak havoc to American democracy by threatening the lives of the duly elected legislators who had gathered to give formal legitimacy to the results of the election that had taken place a little over two months earlier ?
His words were more than just a call to thugs and other assorted idiots to march on the building that is the home of American democracy but to disrupt—if not bring to a complete end—the democratic process of rubber-stamping a result that everybody had been aware of for weeks, i.e., that Trump had lost the election. Perhaps a man who cannot bear to be labelled a “loser”, whose narcissism was dealt a mortal blow, was not entirely aware that his words would be taken so literally and beyond. What followed this seditious call for an insurrection and the overturning of the will of the people to replace it with the will of Trump just beggared belief. This was happening not in Belarus or in Libya or Zimbabwe or some other banana republic but in the country which has prided itself as being the embodiment of democracy, a showcase for the rest of the world, armed with ironclad institutions to protect it.
The President of the United States had just incited a mob to disrupt —and perhaps prevent— the peaceful transfer of power from himself to his democratically elected successor. Perhaps he intended that they just create a rumpus outside the building and intimidate those inside from afar; perhaps he did not did not plan that they enter the Capitol and lay waste to what they found there—but that’s what happened. And the fact that so many Republican legislators seemed to think that it was all okay — until the mob entered the building, that is — is scary enough but that ⅔ of those who voted for the Republican Party at the last election think so, too, is scarier still. His call later in the afternoon, while the hoodlums were on the rampage, “We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens you see the way, others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home and peace.” would have sounded like a bad joke if only it wasn’t serious and frightening — not just for the USA but for the world as a whole.
The unreadiness of the Capitol police to foresee what was about to happen and to do anything about it when it started it was equally terrifying. Meanwhile, the Capitol has been turned into a large camping space for part of the 20,000 National Guards who will (hopefully) protect those at the Inauguration of President Biden. It’s not America and how it prepares for elections is perfect — far from it. Just think on the one side of the crusades to register “people of colour” and on the other, legislation to make it more difficult for them to vote. Or the perpetual deeds of gerrymandering to influence the results of the election before people cast their votes at all we begin to understand how divided American society is and has always been.
But how America has changed! It used to be if that if there were a close result here or there, after all the recounts and examination of claimed irregularities had been exhausted, the losing candidate would deliver a concession speech and pledge allegiance to the new President, his administration and Constitution or whatever. Not this time around.
And while I was listening to Trump’s angry incitement last week and to the reports coming from Washington, I had also started reading Bob Woodward’s Rage, his second book on Donald Trump and had got to the following description from four years ago, just after Rod Rosenstein, who had occupied the second spot at the Justice Department for just 12 days, came in charge of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had just recused himself from the investigation. Rosenstein had just appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate this, telling one of Trump’s aides that the president should be encouraged because Mueller was going to expedite this and find out whether Trump aides had coordinated with Russia but not to get Trump. A special counsel investigation, he said, would be best for everyone. When Trump was informed (and this was in 2017!!!), he said, “This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked!”
“In line with Rosenstein’s assurances”, wrote Woodward, “the official White House statement from Trump released … that evening said: ‘As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know—there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.'”
According to Woodward, “Trump’s placatory tone was the opposite of his mood. The following morning Trump tweeted … that he wondered why there had been no special counsel for ‘all of the illegal acts’ of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration. ‘The Russia investigation’, he said, ‘is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.’ … Trump’s anger, more than any previously seen by his inner circle, was uncontrollable. He oscillated—stormed—between the Oval Office and his private dining room. ‘We barely got by,’ said Rob Porter, then the White House staff secretary. Trump is a large man—around 6-foot-3 and about 240 pounds, almost the size of a football linebacker. On the move and in a rage, he is frightening. Why Mueller? ‘I didn’t hire him for the FBI.’ Trump had interviewed Mueller for perhaps another tour as FBI director and rejected him. ‘Of course he’s got an axe to grind. Everybody’s trying to get me.’ Impeachment talk was on the TV. ‘What power does a special counsel have?’ Trump asked. ‘Virtually unlimited’, Porter, a lawyer, explained. … Trump stayed mostly on his feet, continuing to move between the Oval Office and the dining room. ‘I have to be fighting,’ he said in a frenzy. ‘I am the president. I can fire anybody I want. … ‘”
Seemingly little has changed in four years—five years, actually if you count the first Trump election campaign—so America had plenty of time to get used to the idea of a crazed man being in charge, a crazed man who has emboldened or perhaps scared into quiescence and pliability the right wing of the party he has led as well as spawning more extreme members of the other party to behave likewise. As for the witch hunt, according to the President yesterday, it’s still ongoing and is now the worst witch hunt the whole world has ever seen. Paranoia magnified by ego and self-obsession gone mad.
And this was all so beautifully summed up by Kal in last week’s edition of The Economist newspaper.
And then, what raced through my mind was whether or not something like that could happen here in Israel given the plethora of rightwing fanatics and desperadoes of all shades — secular, religious, strictly religious, Jews and Arabs — there are and, as repeated lockdowns have shown, prepared to ignore decisions taken by politicians. But, it turns out that it’s already happened, albeit nearly 70 years ago and not because of a disputed election result. However, it was something I had not been aware of before and which illustrates my ignorance on yet another issue!
And I can’t help wondering whether or not it could happen again though I think that even Bibi Netanyahu, arch-panderer to Trump, might have been surprised by what took place in Washington last week.
But then if we look back just 25 years …. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhMF30VLZCA
Meanwhile here in Israel, the campaign for the country’s fourth election in less than two years has been launched officially with the Prime Minister receiving his second dose of the vaccine, once more on live television. Whereas I could understand the cameras being there when he received his first jab three weeks ago (setting an example to the population at large, &c. &c.), this time around when people had already seen him sitting, wearing the same black short-sleeved shirt as he did then, his stalwart self-satisfied smirk sitting smug on his mug, you knew for sure that the election was upcoming, and especially when the news reported yesterday that if things go according to plan, the adult population of Israel should have all received — or at least been offered — vaccinations by mid-March, i.e. just one week before the election