Comment Editor Marino Unger-Verna on Trumpism, the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol, and how our definition of what it is to be “American” is implicitly flawed.
It is Wednesday, January 6, 2021. The United States Senate convenes to confirm the election results, a process typically likened to a rubber stamping – a necessary formality. Republican objections to Biden’s 74-vote lead in the electoral college, however, make the day’s meeting anything but cut and dry.
US President Donald Trump addresses a group of protesters in Washington DC. Mere days after a recording in which the “leader of the free world” begged the Georgian secretary of state to “find 11,780” votes was leaked to the press, Trump stood proudly before his supporters to tell them: “We will never give up. We will never concede. […] We will not take it anymore”.
At approximately 3:05 p.m. local time, Senators are forced to evacuate the floor as Trump supporters stage what CNN refers to as an “insurrection”. Waves of shouting men and women flood into the building wearing MAGA hats and brandishing American flags as they take up seats in abandoned rooms. Nancy Pelosi’s office is vandalised and looted while a Capitol police officer tells the New York Times: “We’ve just got to let them do their thing”. An unnamed civilian is shot inside the Capitol and is pronounced dead hours later. At time of writing, nobody knows who pulled the trigger.
Let me be absolutely clear. These people are not Republicans, nor are they Democrats or even Independents. To claim affiliation with any of these groups implies integration with the system of democracy the United States holds as its core ideal. As one of these insurrectionists told the Washington Post: “Nobody’s listening to us. […] We’re Trumpers”.
The truth of the matter is, we have been listening. We’ve been forced to listen for years as lies and half-truths were spouted by a man either too ignorant or self-centred to care about the consequences of his actions. Donald Trump is a man who, above all else, wants to win. When finally forced to address the mob invading the seat of American representative government, he did not admonish them. He did not condemn their actions and he did not tell them the truth. He told them he loved them, that he feels their pain, and that, wouldn’t you know it, the “other side” knows he won and simply won’t admit it.
When peaceful Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the US in the summer of 2020, Donald Trump sent in the national guard to protect his capitol. Non-violent protests were escalated by the very people charged with the defence of democracy. Democracy, which protects the equal rights of all law-abiding citizens, regardless of belief. Democracy, which necessitates the peaceful transition of power when the people have spoken.
When DC officials requested that same National Guard be present at the Capitol on January 3, the US Defence Department issued a swift denial.
The evidence of Biden’s victory in the 2020 election is plentiful and indisputable, and yet Donald Trump refuses to accept it, because its very existence is incompatible with his understanding of freedom. Trump sees his right to “freedom” as a golden ticket to have whatever he wants. It is the flawed definition he shares with his “Trumpers”, and it one of the most dangerous threats to American democracy because it is a cancer that strikes from within. Freedom is not an individualistic concept. Everyone has it, and so it is by its very nature limited; one person’s cannot violate another’s.
For four years, Trump’s supporters have had a champion of this ideology in the Oval Office. We, the members of the “other side”, watched, listened, and waited. When we were given the chance to change things, we did. For Trumpists, this is inconceivable. How could Trump possibly lose, when his loss would represent a breach of their inviolable freedoms? How could so many people disagree with their fundamental rights? How could news outlets report Biden’s victory when their own friends and family all voted for Trump?
In episode three of the West Wing, a Congressman asserts that the members of his Congressional District are “so patriotic that if the President of the United States himself were to show up, they’d kill him”. The very notion reads as obvious satire – unless, of course, your “America” allows you to do whatever you please. Unless, in your “America”, a government official telling you to wear a mask, or not buy an assault weapon designed to kill human beings, or trust the electoral systems overseen by hundreds of thousands of people, violates your right to an undefinable, utterly unconscionable version of freedom in which you are judge, jury, and executioner.
Responding to the events at the Capitol Building, President-elect Biden insisted that the mob’s attempts at insurrection “do not reflect a true America”, but what is a true America? I am an American, but I do not agree with all of Joe Biden’s political stances. I most certainly do not believe in Donald Trump’s, but apparently over 74 million American voters do. When people are willing do storm the Senate floor and take matters into their own hands with no more proof of fraud than the wave of a would-be dictator’s hand, are they still Americans?
Somewhere along the line, when the government told these people they could keep their machine guns and escape prosecution by simply agreeing with the man in charge, I think they started to listen. Trumpers now know that, as far as the American system is concerned, they can take matters into their own hands and secure their own “freedom”. The assault on the Capitol was horrific to watch, but even more shocking was the fact that, deep down, it didn’t surprise me in the least.
I believe in individual Americans who recognise that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and that the rights of others are equal to their own. Until every American understands that truth is inflexible and freedom is universal, I can no longer believe in the American ideal. It does not exist. That one word, “American” – both undefinable and yet so often defined as to lose any cohesive meaning – is what caused this. On January 20, Joe Biden will become the rightfully elected President of the United States, but Trump’s supporters will not go away. I am tired of calling what I see on CNN “unbelievable” or “insane”. It is simply American now, a single definition amidst the thousands. We can only hope the next iteration is a kinder one.